We lost two comedians in one week.
John Weiss was familiar to veteran East Coast comedians, particularly those who came up on Long Island.
Rahn Ramey was a St. Louis native who resided in New Orleans. He had been battling colorectal cancer since at least 2001.
From a reader, comedian Doug Doane, comes an email (reprinted with permission):
Hey… I don’t know if I ever told youse guys this story, but every time I see the name of your site, (which just popped up in my feed) it reminds me of it.
My Mom was a radio personality for NBC in NYC back in the 30′s, a Big Band singer in the ’40′s, and then put together a Jazz nightclub act in the late 50′s as the Big Bands began to fade away. In 1962, her show, “The Lucille Linwood Quartet”, got booked into the brand new Tropicana Hotel as the opening act for… Shecky Greene!
Mom brought me and my sister along on this tour. It was supposed to be for 6 weeks, but she got her contract extended and we wound up living there for about 7 months. I was only 8, and could care less about what Las Vegas was. It was just another gig for my mom, and I was used to her working all over the country, UNTIL, I discovered she was working with Shecky Greene. See, Shecky Greene wasn’t a stand up comic to me back then. Why he was “Private Braddock” from the TV show Combat!, that every 8-year-old boy in the country was glued to each week.
I bugged and bugged my mother for weeks to introduce me to “Private Braddock”. Mom told me I was too young to be allowed in the nightclub. I was relentless. She became good friends with Shecky and finally got permission to bring me in early and took me to his dressing room. I drove him crazy with nothing but question after question about what it was like to “Kill Krauts” with “Sargent Saunders” and his crew. I’m sure there was some signal by Shecky to “get this damn kid out of here,” but soon our meeting ended. It made my year. When we eventually returned to Ohio, I was the envy of every kid on the block…I got to actually meet “Private Braddock”.
So every time I see your Shecky Magazine moniker…it always brings a fond smile to my face as I think back to that wonderful memory with my Mom.
Hope you guys are doing well,
Photo at right depicts Keenan Wynn (left) and Shecky Greene in a publicity still from the ABC series. (You can buy the pic on eBay for $24.99!)
The Male Half was a huge Combat! fan but doesn’t remember Shecky Greene being in the series! (Greene was only in the first season.)
People ask us why we don’t post for long periods of time. And then we post furiously. Only to disappear again. The obvious answer: Sometimes we’re busy, sometimes we’re not.
We like to think of ourselves as “comedy cicadas.” We lie dormant for a while, then we come out and make a lot of noise and annoy people. Then we disappear again.
“If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.”
– From a recent episode of Mad Men entitled “Man With A Plan.” Dying former CGC creative director Frank Gleason drops the Sun Tzu* quote into a conversation with former boss Ted Chaough, in response to Chaough’s frustration with ongoing drama at SCDP-CGC.
We’ve been in this business for over 25 years. Many times we’ve said, “There’s goes another one.”
*The quote is variously attributed to Sun Tzu or Confucius.
We watched the “debate” between Jim Norton and insipid busy body Lindy West on FX’s Totally Biased, hosted by W. Kamau Bell.
(The word “debate” is in quotes because West clearly was unable to present any cogent point beyond “You can do whatever you want to do as long as you don’t do anything that I don’t want you to do.”)
West is a blogger who caused controversy with her “Open Letter To White Male Comedians.” See what we wrote here. Of course, we didn’t expect West to say anything we might agree with. But we were taken aback that she was even less effective on television than she was in print.
It was a slaughter, a knockout for Norton and an embarrassment for West. Over and over again, she prefaces each statement with a weak profession to be all about free expression, art, free speech, etc. But she eventually circles back to banning certain types of speech that make her (or those she purports to represent) uncomfortable. She dresses it up with all sorts of lame, high-minded doublespeak (with a dash of third-wave feminist code words), but it all comes down to a prohibition of speech and violence on free expression.
The two key points that Norton makes are that people enter a comedy club with the expectation that what they’re going to see is comedy. And, as such, those people shouldn’t (and necessarily can’t) take what is said seriously. His second companion point is that comedy has never inspired violence.
West isn’t satisfied. “It’s not just making jokes about a thing. It’s contributing to a culture that perpetuates that thing,” she says.
At 4:35, Bell, perhaps sensing that Norton’s points on free speech are threatening to bring a swift end to any real “debate,” shifts the focus to a topic that can’t be debated.
“So, I mean, that’s the question, I mean, other people are saying, like, you know, are comedy clubs inherently hostile environments for women?”
This is utter nonsense, but it’s right in West’s wheelhouse. It’s a notion that can’t be proven or disproven. It’s merely a vicious, outrageous claim that merely seeks to demonize comedy clubs, their patrons and the people who mount the stage. And, as a bonus, it helps in the effort to portray women as victims.
West describes comedy clubs as “dark basements full of angry men.” This is sheer crackpottery and should make everyone who earns a living at standup comedy– waitstaff, club managers, comedians, owners, bookers, agents, managers– frightened and outraged.
Though the statement is made somewhat in jest, it is chilling. And any statement that follows it– indeed, anything from West– should be discounted as so much claptrap. She gives no credit to comedy club patrons. And her bleak portrayal of comedians is horrific. Her screed is inarticulate nonsense, based largely on emotion and vague pseudo-academic babble.
Norton’s response is solid and, in a perfect world, would mark the end of the entire discussion. It starts at 6:22. He ends by saying:
“There’s a great difference between even a harsh rape joke and saying, ‘All kidding aside, folks (raps on table) rape is good!’ Like, we all know the difference between that… I think there’s a difference, too, between a comedy club– where you understand that we’re trying to have an emotion pulled out of us, which is laughter– and standing up at the office party and going, ‘To RAPE!’”
Her response is chilling. Her prefatory statement, however is worth noting:
First of all, I’ve seen comedy acts that are not that far away from that…
Of course, you’ve heard statements that are “not that far away from that,” Ms. West… but the important point is that they are far enough away– by virtue of the fact that they are delivered as comedy in the context of a comedy club– that they are not in any way, shape or form equivalent to standing up at the office party and saying, “To RAPE!” If you fail to see the distinction, you are being willfully blind.
But her followup is almost as chilling:
I’m sure it’s super comfortable and nice to believe that there aren’t systemic forces that are affected by speech, but that’s not true. And those of us who are affected by those forces know that that’s not true.
If we can cut through the drivel and interpret what West is trying to say: Speech causes violence. We know this because the people who were the victims of violence in the past wince when such statements are made and they tell us that it is true. End of story. Case closed.
Of course, that’s nonsense.
Fortunately, all West and her like-minded mob have going for them is big mouths and a lack of shame for the lameness of their argument. As long as we’re around, we’ll rebut this kind of quackery. And Norton and others seem to be ably batting back the babble, too.
If they get it in their heads to actually attempt– through legal means– to suppress such speech, they’ve got Oliver Wendell Holmes to contend with. Schenck vs. The United States? You may have heard of it? Not ringing any bells? How about “clear and present danger?“ Back in 1919, the Supreme Court of the United States said, “The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that the United States Congress has a right to prevent.” And, according to Wikipedia, “Following Schenck v. United States, ‘clear and present danger’ became both a public metaphor for First Amendment speech and a standard test in cases before the Court where a United States law limits a citizen’s First Amendment rights; the law is deemed to be constitutional if it can be shown that the language it prohibits poses a “clear and present danger”. However, the “clear and present danger” criterion of the Schenck decision was replaced in 1969 by Brandenburg v. Ohio, and the test refined to determining whether the speech would provoke an ‘imminent lawless action.’”
Of course, all of the above is with regard to political speech and safeguards against sanctions from the state.
But if there’s one thing that’s been drilled into our heads over the last forty years or so it’s that freedom of artistic expression is even more sacred than political expression! Good luck trying to suppress speech delivered from the stage of a comedy club. (Didn’t we resolve this back in 1964 or so? Has Ms. West heard of Lenny Bruce?)
Host Bell basically let the combatants talk (good for him). On one occasion, though, he revealed his true leanings on the subject (or, at the very least, he revealed an inability to grasp the seriousness of what he himself was saying) when he briefly tried to rebut a statement by Norton. It’s at 3:18, when Norton decries the practice of offended audiences targeting advertisers.
(Full disclosure: We disagree with Norton on this point. Norton contends that “the marketplace should dictate what’s funny.” We maintain that offended listeners who seek to pressure advertisers– and folks who join the fray after hearing about “offensive” speech third and second hand– are in fact part of the marketplace. And we’ve been consistent when we say that a network sitcom is a completely different animal from the performance delivered from the stage of a comedy club.)
But if we didn’t remove financial support and target advertisers, we’d still have Glenn Beck. I’m just saying sometimes, sometimes target the advertisers.
Of course, Bell is wrong– we still have Beck… and from his position atop the GBTV enterprise, he’s worth $100 million. But, more importantly, Bell seems to rather frankly and blithely suggest that, in the case of Beck, it was a good thing. Of course, when Terry Rakolta sought to have Married With Children removed from the air, she was the devil incarnate just for having the audacity to suggest that viewers exercise their right to pressure Coca Cola. There’s a double standard here. And the case could easily be made that it’s a dangerous double standard. (Of course, the show is called Totally Biased, so we probably shouldn’t be all that surprised.)
There’s a website called “Every Day Victim Blaming.” We know, we know… it sounds like a satire or a parody site… something the Onion might come up with. (The title certainly sounds like it was named by one of the Festrunk Brothers–
“We’re two WILD AND CRAZY GUYS! Please to read our site, ‘EVERYDAY VICTIM BLAMING!’ The FOXES DIG IT!”)
But it’s real. And they ran a trainwreck of an essay from Bobbie Oliver called “The Subtle Oppression of Women by Comedy.” Normally, we would ignore such sad and pathetic blather but it seems to be part of a trend/a symptom of the current inability/unwillingness of some folks in comedy (and in the media and elsewhere) to think/speak/write clearly on some important topics that impact standup.
It shouldn’t surprise us that EVB ran this particular essay. At the top of the site is this:
EVERYDAY VICTIM BLAMING
a campaign to change the language, culture and attitude around violence against women and children
Anyway, Oliver comes out of the box (you’ll pardon the expression) with an anecdote:
“If you don’t want your daughters to get raped, don’t let them shop at American Apparel,” quipped the radio host interviewing me, then he quickly moved on to another topic.
“Um,” I said. “Can we back up a second? Rape has nothing to do with what the woman is wearing. Women in burkas get raped.”
“Well, that’s how it is in that part of the world.”
“You mean Stubenville?”
I added, “Rape predates miniskirts and rape culture exists all over the world. Sorry, but you aren’t going to get away with victim-blaming on my watch.”
Then there was the look on the faces of the interviewer and the other comedians on the panel. A look I see a lot. That look that says, “God Bobbie, it’s just comedy. Don’t be such a drag.”
We submit that any comedian that ceases being a comedian and instead becomes an activist or ideologue will get that look a lot. Especially if the comedian is booked onto a radio show as a comedian but shifts gears into feminist scold. She has every right, of course, to shift into ideologue mode, but she can’t expect the segment to instantly turn into anything but a frozen turd. Oh, sure, it makes for a great story at the next meeting of the Lena Dunham Fan Club, but she can’t expect here riposte automatically provide rock-solid proof that we are all living in a hellish, unsympathetic “rape culture.” She was (we assume) brought onto the show as a comedian… she might consider responding to a joke with… a joke! Fight jokes with jokes– a novel concept! (We’re reminded of the time Jon Stewart bristled when the hosts of CNN’s Crossfire expected Stewart to be jocular. “I’m not going to be your monkey,” he said. Well, no, you were booked on the show to be their monkey. Suddenly, you want to be “the next Mencken.” Producers hate shit like that.)
A few months earlier, I had hosted a Women in Comedy Roundtable, excited to pair female comics with female agents, managers and club owners. I couldn’t wait to discuss all the issues that women in the industry face on the road and off. During the discussion, I brought up that I have been put up in comedy condos (a condominium owned by a comedy club that houses that week’s comics: usually shared by three people, at least two of them are men) in which the front and/or bedroom door had no lock on it and there was no porch light out front for when we returned back after midnight each night after the shows. I found myself in total shock to hear (female) comedy managers say that women should not complain about these things or we will be seen as “high maintenance” and not be rebooked by the club.
Those managers– regardless of their gender– are stone cold morons and a danger to themselves and to their clients. The conditions described– which were so quickly dismissed by these so-called managers– are a danger to any comedian regardless of gender. No comic should tolerate such conditions. And any comedian who considers bookability (or re-bookability) when tacitly accepting such conditions is putting some sort of vague notion of comedy success over safety and security. (We suspect that a few comedians without management have swallowed hard and accepted slovenly, dangerous conditions, but a manager who tells her client to do so is without conscience and a special kind of sleazebag that is lower than the club owner who provides such accommodations.)
Early on, The Female Half, when confronted with similar tattered and dicey lodging at a midwest comedy gig, promptly walked out, found a nearby hotel and told the management of the venue that the conditions at the condo were sub-par and that they could “do the right thing” and reimburse her for the hotel. And, of course, she never returned. She was 23 years old at the time.
A piece just released in Jezebel tells the story of comic Christina Walkinshaw who, while on stage at Yuk Yuk’s at Casino Niagara, a heckler yelled, “Show us your tits! Show us your bush!” The club had a policy that comedians can not engage with the audience. The comic was not allowed to defend herself and the club did not remove the heckler. Christina complained to the club about it after her set and the next time she tried to get booked was told that her complaint resulted in not being hired again. It was, of course, her fault.
Oliver muddies the waters here. This diversion does nothing to reinforce her thesis that “comedy” is guilty of any sort of “oppression of women,” subtle or otherwise. We handled this in an earlier post. Readers are advised to check that out to get up to speed.
I think back to last year (2012) at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles when comic Daniel Tosh had the incident with the female heckler who asked that he not make rape jokes. His response, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…” The woman’s friend wrote a blog about it and was inundated with attacks from Tosh fans, including rape threats and death threats. [God Bobbie, it’s just comedy]. ”The first amendment!! They are taking away our right to make rape jokes!! We can say whatever we want!!” [Unless, of course, you are a female audience member who decides to blog about her experience at a comedy club. Then you need to shut the hell up woman or you will get what’s coming to you.]
Again, We covered this quite extensively. How this makes the case that comedy is oppressing women is quite unclear.
Comedian Bill Burr asks on the stage the question, “What did Rihanna say right before Chris Brown hit her?” And then discusses with comic Joe Rogan on Rogan’s podcast if a woman has a responsibility in her own safety not to push a man’s buttons. “At what point are you guilty of provoking the next level?” he poses. He also says on stage that we should stop talking about domestic violence so much. [I know. I know. It’s just comedy.]
We’re not familiar with the bit. But we trust that Burr handles it deftly, as he handles every other subject he touches on. The inclusion of Tosh and Burr in Oliver’s piece seems incongruous, until we realize that the main purpose seems not so much to provide any real evidence of any oppression as much as to demonize various people and, ultimately, portray female comics as victims. (Ironic, considering the ostensible mission of the website it appears on.)
After all of that, I remember a friend of mine, a brilliant female comic, confessing to me late one night that she had been raped on the road by a staff member of a comedy club. He held her captive in her room all night. She cried as she revealed the horrible details of her secret. I could not even imagine what she must have gone through. “What happed (sic) to the guy?” I asked. “Did he go to jail?” She looked up at me and said, “Nothing happened to him. I didn’t report it. I knew if I did I would never work in this business again.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it’s just comedy.
That’s just great. Our “brilliant female comic” puts her career over the security of any future comics (female or otherwise) who might play the club at which she was allegedly raped. So… to review: Our Brilliant Female Comic gets to carry on with her career, while allowing a “rapist” to roam free. Awesome. Is this supposed to be the ultimate example of “comedy oppressing women?” (Ultimately, a meaningless concept.)
Any clear-thinking person will read the above and see that this is the worst possible example she could have cited to cap off this awful screed. Sadly, though, it’s elicited a torrent of “attagirls” from both female and male comics.
It seems as though folks are building a case that seeks to pit female comics against comedy. All it does is make female comics look like pathetic, weak, ineffectual people. Which we know them not to be. Female comics (at least the ones we have had the pleasure to have known) are some of the strongest, most robust people on the planet. But memes take hold. And these particular memes are pernicious. And we are not Malcom Gladwell… we have no idea why some memes gain a foothold in the public psyche and others don’t. We don’t know where the tipping point is on the horizon. But we don’t see this all ending well.
And then, there’s Jerry Lewis.
You know, there was a time, way back when, when the occasional oldster would blurt out some sort of dated, embarrassing, old-school notion and we would all politely avert our glance and our attention and change the subject. We’d chalk it up to some sort of generational gap and we’d accord the speaker of said gaffe a modicum of respect but we’d all agree that what was said was hopelessly outmoded and we all politely wave as the offender drifted slowly out of sight on the little chunk of the cultural glacier that he occupied. And we’d get on with the discussion of real things with relevant people who had substantive things to say.
Now, however, we “discuss” it. We inadvertently legitimize the gaffe by treating it as though it’s something that “must be addressed!” We see it kicked around on serious websites that purport to tackle “systemic oppression” or “underlying hostilities” or “ongoing prejudices.”
And we’re to the spectacle of people (people who should know better… our comedy colleagues!) beclowning themselves by actually assembling lists of funny females. As if this will help! As if this were some sort of antidote to the benighted burblings of an octegenarian who is baited (for the fourth time!) at a press conference in Cannes solely for the purpose of generating headlines! How many times will we fall for this? We suppose it doesn’t matter… the damage is done.
It’s as if ancient Grandpa has piped up at Thanksgiving dinner with his boilerplate “The blacks have ruined everything!” rant and, instead of escorting Grandpa to the TV room– or ignoring him completely and changing the subject– the other guests merely counter his rambling by assembling a list of “good African-Americans!” And in the case of Jerry “No Funny Females” Lewis, our colleagues have inadvertently slapped female standup comics in the puss because, when they assemble their sorry lists, they take foreeeeevvvver to get around to mentioning any contemporary funny females and they quite often don’t ever get around to mentioning any standup comics!
Thanks a lot! These lists do nothing (NOTHING!) to help out any contemporary (largely anonymous) funny females when they mount the stage next Thursday night at the Laugh Cabin in East Baumsacket. Not that they need the help… but they don’t need this kind of help!
The Female Half dismounted the stage earlier this month at Goodnights in Raleigh– after a killer set– and she encounters an adoring 24-year-old female fan. The fan says, “I love you! But when you first walked onstage, I turned to my boyfriend and said, ‘Oh, no… a chick comic…’” Perhaps the tipping point has already been reached.
When a comedy fan– a female comedy fan, born in 1989– utters such a sentiment to her companion while seated at a comedy club in 2013, perhaps we are past the tipping point. The “Women Aren’t Funny” meme has taken hold with all the tenacity of a badger. How long before a female patron– born during the Clinton administration– claps her arm around a competent, professional female comic and says, “Honey, standup comedy is no place for a woman.”?
Do women have it hard in comedy? Yes. Do men have it hard in comedy? Yes. It’s a tough business.
An acquaintance (a friend?*) of ours, comedian Christina Walkinshaw of Toronto, was recently banned from a casino. Banned! From a casino! She blogged about the incident– the post is called “This Isn’t The Way I Planned on Getting Banned From a Casino.”
I got an email from my agent. She informed me I’ve been pulled from my upcoming shows in Niagara Falls. They don’t want me to perform there, due to an “incident” that happened last time I was there. Being the chronically “Look on the bright side” kind of person I am, I immediately thought of the positive notes of this information. “It’s an hour an a half drive and there’s always so much construction on the QEW during the summer, plus cottage traffic… no hotel… maybe it would be more peaceful to forgo the $500 I would make that weekend, and just relax.” Because tragically, I can be that lazy.
But then the raised endorphins of my cardio infused morning started fueling my brain with another train of thought. “Christina. That “incident” wasn’t your fault. Not even close. Why aren’t you standing up for yourself?” So now I have to tell you what happened.
Five or six years ago, we would have opined about this immediately upon hearing about it. These days, though, what with Facebook and Twitter and websites looking for linkbait and comments– and comments that comment on other comments– we tend to lay back for a bit and let things play out for a while. Quite often, the reaction to a story is more interesting than the story itself. (And, again quite often, we feel the need to eventually opine when we sense that it is our fellow comedians who don’t seem to “get it.”)
Briefly, Walkinshaw got heckled by a group of male patrons (“Show us your tits!” That kinda thing) but she was hamstrung by the policy at the venue. (The venue is Yuk Yuks at Casino Niagara. From what we can tell, the policy is Casino Niagara’s, not Yuk Yuks’.)
As she explained on the website Xojane.com (in an article entitled, “I’m the comic who was fired because 10 men heckled me to show my breasts and vagina– And I’m finally speaking out.”):
We (the comedians) get memos from this particular club telling us “the use of profanity, name calling or abrasive comebacks towards hecklers should be strongly avoided. If you feel hecklers are not being handled in a proper manner during your show, please voice this to the management.”
Walkinshaw bulled through, did her time, adhered to the policy and, when she exited the stage, she registered her displeasure with the way it was handled (or, in this case, not handled):
“Hey, next time some audience members shout “Show us your tits! Show us your bush!” You might want to tell them to be quiet.”
Then I burst out crying. Oh for fucks. I can’t believe I’m confessing to crying on the internet. I never cry. At least I didn’t cry on stage, right? I’m professional enough. My tears seemed to shock her.
“Oh! Sorry! We thought you liked it.”
Of course, the fine folks at Xojane.com prefer to view the entire incident through a third-wave feminist prism– in fact, the URL for Walkinshaw’s essay is “http://www.xojane.com/issues/christina-walkinshaw-sexual-harassment,” if that tells you anything. But the “breast and vagina” part of the story is the “B plot,” if not the “C plot.”
Walkinshaw was put in a bad position. We’ve all been there. Not in this particular, exact position, but we’ve been in situations where our artistic integrity is (at the very least) compromised and/or we’re miserable and/or the “management” of the club (such as it is) is unsympathetic.
But this inicident is more correctly viewed through a business filter– the Casino Niagara policy is… stupid. Unless it’s augmented with strict crowd control by the folks who are managing the venue. Which didn’t happen. (And, judging from the above “We thought you liked it,” statement, the management of the venue is incapable of grasping a situation where intervention might be warranted. Indeed, they seem barely capable of inhaling and exhaling.)
There are some comics who have second-guessed Walkinshaw’s handling of the situation. Some have said that they would have dashed the policy, silenced the hecklers (in some heroic way that adheres to the policy yet magically mollifies ten drunk casino patrons). Of course, there’s no guarantee that would have “worked” either. Like we said– we’ve all been in sticky, miserable situations… and, more often than not, the comic comes out as the bad guy/gal. We weigh all these scenarios on the fly. We adjust, we persevere, we take risks (or not). More often than not, we are faced with that Sophie’s choice (without all the dead kids and all), which we review in a matter of microseconds:
Fuck this place! I’m never coming back here. It’s a hell gig, run by morons! (Then, out loud): “Fuck this place! You can all bite me!”
I’m going to be totally professional, play nice, hope for the best and pray that we… pray that we what? Pray that we can smooth things over and… and what? Come back to this place that three or four nanoseconds ago I had declared was the shittiest hell gig on earth?
Walkinshaw chose to adhere to the policy and complain to management. For this, she gets banned. She loses work. No-win situation. At the very least, one has to admit that the outcome sucks.
When she initially blogged about her experience, the reaction among her Toronto colleagues was swift and supportive. Much to their credit, some of them canceled their upcoming dates with the venue in solidarity. Good for them. Canceling a gig– whether you’re a Canadian comic or an American comic– is not something that is considered lightly. And, considering that the club is branded by Yuk Yuks (who has a near-monopoly on standup in Canada), it’s remarkable.
Yet another article on the incident, this one on Jezebel.com, includes reaction from Casino Niagara. Walkinshaw is quoted as saying:
“The fact is, they want to treat a comedian like an ‘employee’ of their casino, but they won’t protect us like one. I’d be willing to bet all $500 I’m losing by not playing their club, that if a bunch of guys chanted “Show us your bush! Show us your bush!” to a Blackjack dealer, they’d be kicked out.”
And, once again, though tits and bush are involved, it’s less of a sexual harassment question than it is a failure on the part of a business to properly consider what a sub-contractor (in this case, a comedian) needs in order to function at the highest level. And it makes for a less than satisfying experience for those folks who behave themselves. The folks at Casino Niagara screwed the pooch and the best thing they can come up with is to fire the comic who complained. Remember that memo:
“If you feel hecklers are not being handled in a proper manner during your show, please voice this to the management.”
It seems rather clear to us that is precisely what Walkinshaw did.
The Jezebel.com article links in turn to a Toronto Globe and Mail article, which quotes from and email they received (which, we suspect, was solicited by the TG&M reporter):
A Casino Niagara spokesperson says the casino received a comic booking list from Yuk Yuk’s with Walkinshaw’s name on it, indicating availability. “Based on post-show comments from our staff (following the September, 2012 show), we decided not to re-book Ms. Walkinshaw at this time,” wrote Greg Medulan, Niagara Casino’s director, communications, in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail. When asked, he would not provide details of those comments.
“Ms. Walkinshaw’s recount of the evening was outlined using social media. We’ve reviewed all of the details of the evening and stand by our decision not to re-book her.”
It seems that the people at Casino Niagara either don’t know or don’t care that they’re messing with someone’s livelihood.
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* Full disclosure: On a recent road trip back east, we took a three-day side trip to Toronto during which we partied with several members of the TO comedy community. Walkinshaw was among the folks we became acquainted with on that trip.
It’s fast becoming an institution. Any and all comics who are in town (Las Vegas, that is) are invited to partake of cheap booze and free food at the T-Spot at the Tuscany Suites and Casino on Thursday nights. (It is at the T-Spot that Joe Lowers presents “The Joe Show” three nights a week. It’s also the epicenter of the annual World Series of Comedy, produced by Lowers.)
Your hosts for these soirees are Lowers and The Joe Show emcee Steven Roberts and the turnout has been healthy. The Halves of the Staff make a point of attending whenever they’re in town. (We refer to it as “Affterschözen,” but, so far, we’re the only ones who do so.)
Left to right: Steve Rossi (of Allen & Rossi), Dennis Blair and host Steven Roberts
Left to right: Host Lowers, Charlie Viracola, Rob Sherwood
The Male Half of the Staff, half in the bag... before any alcohol was consumed!
Alonzo Bodden and Rondell Sheridan (with mysterious bag in the background)
After getting disinvited to an awards banquet, Bret Easton Ellis wrote a 3000+-word opinion piece for Out Magazine. In the essay, entitled “In the Reign of the Gay Magical Elves,” Ellis comments on his disinvitation and on the media coverage of the coming out of NBA benchwarmer Jason Collins.
Here’s the best part (and the reason we’re mentioning it on a website about standup comedy):
Because of these and similar comments, I’ve been accused by a few vocal sections of the gay community of being a “self-loathing” gay man. I might be a little self-loathing at times (I don’t think it’s an unattractive quality, BTW) but it’s not because I’m gay. I might come off that way because I think life is essentially hard and that scalding humor and rallying against its absurdities is the path on which to move through the world– and sometimes that means making fun of myself or lashing out at media targets in a way that might make it look to a dumbass that I Hate Bret. That a gay man can’t make a joke equating AIDS with Grindr (something my boyfriend and I had used a number of times) without getting punished and being called “self-loathing” is indicative of the new gay fascism. The real shame isn’t the jokey observation. The real shame is the PC gay reaction to the jokey observation. The real shame is that most gay men– who are every bit as hilariously filthy and raunchy and un-PC as their straight male counterparts– have to somehow tow the GLAAD party line in public or else be criticized. A lot of gay men probably feel they can’t be provocatively raunchy or politically incorrect in the mainstream media because it doesn’t represent The Cause. This is where we’re at now, I guess. Within the clenched world of the gay PC police there has been a tightening of the reigns. It’s as if in this historic moment for gay men we somehow still need to be babied and coddled and used as shining examples of humanity and objects of fascination—the gay baby panda—and this is a new kind of gay victimization. The fact that it is often being extolled by other gays in the Name of the Good Cause is doubly stifling.
We caution our readers to pay close attention to the words above that are in bold (we boldified them, not Ellis or Out.com) and ponder how they might relate to standup comedy in general and to recent standup comedy “controversies.” (Extra points to readers who can identify which controversies. Points will be taken off for readers who focus on gay issues instead of issues of free expression.)
Oh… and read the whole BEE essay– it’s fascinating and, let’s be honest, it doesn’t take all that long to read 3,000 words.
And if you don’t know who Bret Easton Ellis is, Wikipedia does.
Oh, dear. There’s an “open letter” making the cyber rounds. This one’s addressed to “white male comedians.”
And normally we wouldn’t comment on something that is this obviously stupid, but it’s making the rounds, like we said. And, even though it brings to the table such hideous and laughable anti-male prejudices and assumptions, it still needs to be addressed and– hoping against all hope– nipped in the bud. (And, judging from the comments on the website it appears on, some people are– much to our disappointment but not to our surprise– swallowing it whole.)
“Lindy West” thinks that unnamed “white male comedians” are “mad at (her).” (Or, if not at her, they’re mad at a figurative version of her.)
Why are they mad? Because she’s “the type of woman who thinks she’s funny, who thinks she understands comedy, who has opinions (and shares them) about what kinds of jokes comics ‘should’ or ‘should not’ tell.”
Well, she’s got it half right. White male comics (and all manner of other comics) might be able to work up some sort of anger at her. But not for any other reason than that she “has opinions (and shares them) about what kinds of jokes comics ‘should’ or ‘should not’ tell.”
All that other stuff about being a woman, about thinking she’s funny, about thinking she understands comedy– that’s all bullshit. (Or, at the very least, it’s a legitimate thing to be disgruntled about… but it has ZERO to do with what’s between her legs. Trust us on this: We here at SHECKYmagazine.com have been blathering rather freely about what we think is funny. We’ve been quite loud about the idea that we might have some sort of understanding about what is funny. We wrote a book about it! But we have ZERO inclination to lean over our gin and tonic and share our opinion about what kind of jokes comics “should” or “should not” tell. That way lies danger and stupidity and encroachment upon creative freedom.)
And anyone who dares try to tell any comic what they should or should not joke about deserves opprobrium. Regardless of the equipment between the legs of the teller or the “tell-ee,” no one– NO ONE– should be telling any comic what they should be talking about onstage. Doing so leads to bland comedy. Eventually it leads to a form of expression that less resembles comedy and more resembles an amalgam of greeting cards on a rack at Spencer Gifts and an assemblage of nuggets from “A 35-Year Collection of Ziggy Favorites.”
West is someone who derives “emotional solace” from standup. She drops that turd in paragraph four. So we’re dealing with someone who is obviously coming at comedy from the wrong angle.
In paragraph two, she says: ” “I don’t believe that ‘rape jokes’ should be a completely unregulated market.” So she is in favor of regulating the subject matter of comedy. (It’s in paragraph two. We’re sure she’s not shy about this.) We suppose she would be in favor of some sort of Human Rights Tribunal like they have up north.
Listen. Being a woman is a bitch. Not only does everyone treat you like a fucking idiot all of the time, being a woman can be scary!… We’re not walking around actively terrified in the middle of the afternoon, but there’s always a small awareness that we are vulnerable simply because we are women. Cavalier jokes about domestic violence and rape (jokes that target victims, not perpetrators) feed that aura of feeling unsafe and unwelcome– not just in the comedy club, but in the world.
So we’re all on pins and needles now. We must stop and think. We must consider the power of our words, our images, the pictures we paint, the “auras” we create.
How is this any fucking different from a “Jesus freak” telling us that– “just wanna throw this out here– you may go to hell if you continue on your current path to (fill in the blank)?”
Dress it up all you want with buzzwords and concepts from Womens Studies 101– it’s still garbage from a “moral scold” (her words from her bio) who is ” attempt(ing) to make social justice palatable by disguising it as entertainment” (again, her words from her bio).
As a person, a comedian and a female, The Female Half of the Staff finds particularly nauseating the following statement:
Because you get to live your life on the firm ground of being a human being first and a man/white person/comedian second. I don’t get to do that. I’m not a person, I’m a woman, which is something I’m reminded of incessantly any time I enter a male-dominated space like a comedy club.
“When I enter a comedy club, I am a person, a comedian and a female.” says TFHOTS. “When I walk into a comedy club– when I walk into any situation– I demand to be treated as a person. Perhaps that’s why I’m not ‘treated like a fucking idiot all the time.”
The spectacle of all white male comedians being lumped together is quite offensive and wrong. Perhaps we misunderstand. Perhaps it’s all a part of making social justice palatable by disguising it as entertainment. The Male Half of the Staff is offended personally– and on behalf of all white male comedians. “I do a joke that mentions rape,” says THHOTS. “I suppose this puts me in the criminal class of comedians Ms. West assails. But I am certain that we don’t need to be taken to the woodshed all at once. There’s plenty of diversity among us. We won’t stand for being regarded as monolithic.” And even though his “rape joke” is less about rape and more about bureaucracy, high car insurance rates and the proliferation of ridiculous categories of traffic offenses, we doubt that Ms. West would make the distinction. After all, she fails to make distinctions among white male comedians. Odd, considering that she seems capable of separating white, male comedians from non-white, male comedians– many of whom (but not all of whom) make multiple jokes that might conceivably “feed that aura of feeling unsafe and unwelcome– not just in the comedy club, but in the world.”
The argument could be made that West’s plaintive whining makes things tougher for females… or for female comics. When, say, Dave Attell makes a joke about domestic abuse, we are all pretty sure it’s a joke. In fact, we’re certain of it. It’s a joke– in spite of West’s unbelievably lame attempt to argue otherwise. These jokes don’t have 1/1000th the impact she imagines. However, when West takes to the blogosphere and portrays females as weak, vulnerable nitwits who can be “diminished and misunderstood… with just a word,” she goes too far. She imbues words with too much power. And she gives folks in “systematically oppressed” groups no credit for being able to deal with… words. Or ideas. Or other people.
Comedy and social responsibility are not mutually exclusive. Comedy and empathy are not enemies. And no subject matters or words are off limits, in the abstract… You do not have to stop talking about rape.
No… but if we read her social justice disguised as entertainment correctly, if we are to address rape on stage, we must do so in a way that pleases her and in a manner that brings about change and which comforts the afflicted. Pardon us if we express our horror at the world she envisions. And pardon us if we don’t see the harm that such a proscription might have on standup as a whole. And pardon us again if we don’t see such a proscription leading to further proscriptions… and a further dimunition of the art form as each and every interest group, gender and ideology seeks to minimize any “damage” that standup might do to their particular cause or members.
You may have heard of Bar Rescue, the Spike TV reality show in which host Jon Taffer and a camera crew descend on a restaurant or a karaoke bar or other similar venue and “rescue” it by re-arranging the furniture, changing the menu or otherwise dishing out tough love to the failing owners and managers. Taffer pulls no punches and, as you might expect, what he gets in return from the failing restaurateurs is rarely thanks but vitriol.
While chatting with some comedians in the green room of Laffs Comedy Cafe in Tucson, the conversation naturally turned to Phoenix– it’s close by (just 115 miles up the road)– and when the conversation turns to Phoenix, the subject of Standup Scottsdale will inevitably come up. We worked the room shortly after moving to Las Vegas, about two years ago last month. We privately cite that weekend as one of the most bizarre weekends we’ve ever experienced. And we cite the owner, Howard Hughes, as one of the least professional comedy club managers we’ve ever encountered.
We occasionally run across some folks who will corroborate our findings. Now, however, we have an entire episode of a reality show that, we hope, will quite clearly demonstrate just what we witnessed firsthand.
Bar Rescue attempted to save Standup Scottsdale! And the results air tomorrow (Sunday, April 14) night on Spike TV! Check your local listings for showtimes! (And if you can’t DVR it, you can wait a while and catch it on the Spike TV website (link above).
The teaser for the episode says, in bold letters, superimposed over a photo of the hapless Hughes onstage, “This guy doesn’t fear failure, he welcomes it.” Totally. Awesome.
The New York Post account of the finale (Yes, that’s right, it’s the season finale!) opens with the title of our posting and just gets better.
“A lot of people think that just laughter is the only emotion that’s appropriate for a comedy show,” Howard Hughes, one of the owners of Stand-Up Scottsdale tells the camera during the season finale of “Bar Rescue” on Spike. “I believe when you can get anger or sadness in there that those are the emotions that people leave with, and will ultimately bring them back.”
Apparently, Hughes also wants the comics to leave with anger and sadness. (Ultimately, however, it doesn’t really bring them back!)
There’s also an account in AZCentral.
We’re not sure if we’ll be able to catch the episode, but we’ll make sure we see it when it hits the Spike TV site.
The punchline to the story (according to our local sources) is that, immediately after the required 60-day period, Hughes removes all of the improvements Taffer makes to the exterior and also restores the interior layout to pre-Taffer specs. Why are we not surprised?
Some vacuous, insipid audience members have been piping up during shows with the above phrase. According to the urban dictionary, it’s a phrase that is calculated to annoy; an argument ender that is currently enjoying popularity among the particularly moronic. Well, that got that part right. In our experience, it’s a phrase that is used by stupid, shallow (usually female) teenagers… or frequently by adults who stil think and act like teenagers. It’s inserted quickly by an audience member– usually during a setup– and it has the effect of destroying a joke. We suggest to all club managers and bouncers that the offender be located and ejected– for a first offense. We comedians have weathered simlar storms in the past– “Not” (shouted after a punchline) was popular for a while. And the teeth-grindingly annoying “Yeah… that’s the ticket” was popular among trendoids who thought it was the height of humor to repeat that catchphrase after each punchline. Hey, assholes: If you want to get some comedy glory, get your brain-dead ass onstage at an open mike and do standup. If you lack the cajones, shut your fucking pieholes.
We are quietly celebrating. It’s been fourteen years since we uploaded the first bits of content to SHECKYmagazine.com! Fourteen years!
Since writing our book and moving to Las Vegas, we’ve been focused on other matters and we’ve taken some time off from the magazine for days and weeks at a time. We aim to post more in the near future. We’re recharged!
Thanks to all of our readers over the years! We hope we’ve made a difference!
We woke up this morning to the news that Scott Kennedy passed away last night. We didn’t know Kennedy, but, judging from the testimonials on the social media, he was a beloved member of the standup community. Kennedy was most notable for having entertained U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, doing, by some estimates, as many as 60 tours over the last 12 years.
From U.S. Army Colonel John Rogers’ Facebook status update:
I awakened this morning to heartbreaking news… A great personal friend and a tremendous friend to the troops, Scott Kennedy, died in his sleep last night. A big, warm-hearted, exceptionally funny man who has dedicated much of the past 12 years to entertaining the troops in theater, Scott was loved and admired by all who knew him.
I am proud to have known you, my friend… Rest in peace.
We’re seeing chatter on the social media that Hal Spear has passed away.
We’re all too certain that it’s true.
We’ve known Hal since forever. The Male Half recalls a weekend in Atlantic City, when he was booked on a bill with Spear and John Ferentino. “We were booked at the Comedy Stop and we had decent lodging at a hotel near the casino,” recalls TMHOTS. ”But Hal insisted on buying a hotel room down the street at one of the groovy, mid-century modern hotels on Atlantic Avenue so we could watch the most recent airing of Star Search, which Spear had recently taped. The three of us partied in the hotel room and watched the set on television. It was surreal. I was only in the business for a couple of years, but Spear gave off the vibe like he’d been in it for the past quarter century.”
Spear (real name “Hal Saperstein”) hailed from Merrick, NY, a town on Long Island’s south shore. He moved to Los Angeles during the early years of the comedy boom and occupied an apartment in Studio City with writing partners Lenny Travis and Dave Hawthorne.
“I visited their apartment on occasion,” recalls The Male Half. ”They always seemed to be having the best time. They were up to their eyeballs in the Hollywood thing– writing scripts, bouncing ideas off each other, preparing to pitch projects. I envied them and their modus operandi.”
We frequently quote Spear around SHECKYmagazine HQ. We always impart one of Spear’s particularly interesting bits of advice to younger comics: “Always take the hotel room!” The larger implication is that we comics should always accept any and all perks offered, as refusing to do so might result in said perks being withdrawn down the line. It was sound advice then and sound advice now.
We hadn’t come across Spear in a long time. We know that he lived in Vegas, we heard that he moved here only recently. We made an attempt here and there to get together since our move, but it never happened.
From Tom Sebastian at Reach Entertainment, writing behalf of Will Smith and James Lassiter of Overbrook Entertainment and the ANA Alliance for Family Entertainment, comes this:
Here are some quick facts about the contest:
· It is being judged by Overbrook Entertainment, the award-winning entertainment production company co-founded by two-time Academy Award nominee Will Smith and acclaimed film producer James Lassiter
· Two winners will win $5,000, a meeting with Overbrook Entertainment, an opportunity to have their TV script further developed, and an 18-month option agreement on their script
· The contest submissions end on 3/21/13 by 1 p.m. PT and it’s free to enter
· The contest has two categories: a 30-minute comedy and a 1-hour drama
We encourage you to visit the contest website here.
Or, take a look at a short video that explains the contest in more detail.
Here we go again. And again. And again. A comedian makes a joke. It offends some folks. People attack the comedian in the most vile ways (and by “people” we mean the media, advocacy groups and, most sickeningly, fellow comedians). And a mighty effort is made to shame the comedian and extract a meaningless apology.
We wrote about this last summer when Dane Cook was forced to issue a meaningless apology for making a joke about the Aurora theater shooting.
And that posting, which was entitled “Showtime at the Apology,” referred back to a posting that we had put up three years prior! So this nonsense has been going on for at least four years. And it’s been going on for longer than that. We said last summer that it’s getting “a little tiresome, defending our colleagues (against scurrilous comments often made by our colleagues!), but we can’t just let it slide. But it’s also getting tiresome watching our colleagues apologize.”
To save time and effort, read what we wrote seven months ago, but substitute “Joan Rivers” for “Dane Cook” and substitute “the holocaust” for “the Aurora shooting”:
Particularly nauseating are the comments on the websites– sites that cater to both the left and the right– which trash Cook, trash comedians in general, and fail miserably to understand that one of the functions of a comedian in our society is to say the unsayable, to give voice to our darkest or most uncharitable thoughts in the service of evoking laughter. We often fail in doing so, but we should be given wide latitude. Cook, by the way, did not fail in this case– the reaction to the joke was described thusly: “His comments regarding the shooting were met with groans that morphed into loud laughter and cheers.” (Daily Caller) Which is as it should be. Does anyone, for one nanosecond, think that the assembled comedy fans who laughed and cheered that night were doing so out of some sort of vulgar or wretched disrespect for the victims or survivors of the Aurora shooting? Can we explain their reaction in a way that allows for some coarseness but also recognizes a healthy catharsis? Are we not told that one way we deal with our darkest fears is by laughing at them? Is this not a case of dealing with fears by laughing? Is it too soon? Apparently, not. Not for the people who showed up at the Laugh Factory a week after the shooting. They were probably keenly aware of the misery and death in Aurora. And they might have been at a comedy club to blunt their fear or their pain. And, who knows– maybe they were subconsciously skittish about being packed into a theater one week after the worst mass shooting in American history. Their reaction might have been borne of that collective consciousness. It may have been that Cook addressed their long-term as well as their vague, immediate fears. We’re speculating, of course. But have you seen some of the speculation as to Cook’s motivation? Have you seen the comments that call him everything from an insensitive douchebag to a has-been to a homosexual? (Yes… that’s right– the comments from left, right and center employ the the “triumvirate of ultimate put-downs.” So far, no one has figured out how his comments were “racist.” Give them time.)
And we just noticed that, in our last few posts, we’ve spent a lot of time defending the people who laughed. That’s kind of important, as the people who laugh are the people who buy our product– live, recorded, televised, etc. It would be deadly if the folks who laugh are made to feel– through repeated tongue-lashings from perpetually offended busybodies– that their laughter is almost as egregious an offense as the “reprehensible” jokes being told by the “potty-mouth” comedians. We stand by them, just as we stand by the comedians who’ve come under fire. Who would you rather have in the audience? The folks who laugh at “inappropriate remarks” or the people who videotape them and seek to squeeze apologies out of the most successful comedians on the planet?
For those of you living under a rock, Rivers commented on a picture of Heidi Klum, on an episode of E!’s Fashion Police.
The last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens
Without getting too deep in the weeds, we’ll start out by saying that the joke was either written poorly or delivered poorly. It should have been, “The last time a German was this hot…” But this is a minor flaw.
And though it has become tiresome, we probably would not have been moved to comment had we not turned on the television and seen a quote from Andy Dick who condemned Rivers’ joke and said further (and we’re paraphrasing) that perhaps some subjects are off-limits when it comes to comedy.
Let that sink in. Andy Dick said that some subjects are off-limits.
It gets worse. We were treated to a sickening lynch mob on Facebook that took off after Penn Jillette, who had the audacity to defend Rivers. Jillette was called all kinds of names– by fellow comedians and by civilians– and one comedian, Andy Kindler, tweeted the following:
Unpleasant blowhard Penn Jillette ignorantly defends the terrible comedy of Joan Rivers. No apologies says Donald Trump’s employee.
It’s official Andy Kindler has jumped the shark.
From the man who said that Dane Cook is worse than Hitler, “because at least Hitler had a point of view,” we are lectured on the “terrible comedy of Joan Rivers.” Kindler once said, “If slavery were legal, VH-1 would be South Carolina.” Doesn’t that trivialize the suffering of millions of Africans who were brought to this country in chains? We call upon Kindler to renounce these jokes. How dare he invoke the ugly episode that was slavery to make such a trivial point about the labor practices of a cable outlet.
Does Andy Kindler, of all people, really want to play this game?
No bigger fans of Kindler were we. We were present for nine or ten of his State of the Industry addresses at the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal over the years. But something’s changing. There were portents of this “evolution” (for lack of a better word). Like this, from our recap of Episode 01, Season 07 of NBC’s Last Comic Standing:
We’re puzzled as to why the show finds it so worthwhile to delve into Andy Kindler’s likes and dislikes when it comes to choice of material. We were upset when a print interview with Kindler quoted him as being disgruntled when it came to jokes about the homeless. He was “uncomfortable.” He doesn’t like it. He also said it on camera, on LCS.
This is not a good thing. We’re not sure why we’re treated to Kindler’s personal preferences when it comes to premises. Isn’t Kindler an Alt Comedy God? Are not the Alts noted for being free to choose what they joke about and how they go about it? Do they not represent a vanguard of free-thinking, daring and sometimes offensive performers who have thrown off the bonds that previously held back so many “conventional” comedians? It is more than ironic then that their patron saint be depicted as the Chief of the Premise Police… on a network television show.
And the fans don’t exactly agree with Kindler on this particular point. Indeed, one of the most tweeted and re-tweeted jokes from Episode One was Taylor Williamson‘s bit about the homeless still being able to own cats.
And was it Nikki Glaser who did the joke last night about the concept of love at first sight being the reason she can’t look a homeless person in the eye? Both great jokes. Both make light of the homeless.
Aside from it being somewhat upside down (and somewhat wrong) that a judge (particularly this judge) be so vehement about his dislike of a particular category of jokes, it then sets an odd tone and furthermore taints any enjoyment of jokes that might touch on that premise.
Witness the Jew Montage. Was there really a need for that? Depicting a group of comics as anti-Semitic merely because the happen to mention Jews? We’re puzzled as to why the producers would go out of their way to make a comic (or a group of comics) look bad because of a premise.
We’ve always been vehemently anti-Premise Police. Someone making a homeless joke– a clever joke that hinges on one participant or another being homeless– is doing nothing wrong. Thousands of jokes have been written that mention Jews and that weren’t automatically anti-Semitic. Indeed, Kindler himself has done it countless times. If a line is drawn arbitrarily and a whole topic is declared off-limits, we are poorer for it. We’re reminded of the comedy club or casino patron who bitches loudly to the club manager (or, in rare cases, to the comic himself) that he “doesn’t like it when the comedian makes jokes about (fill in the blank).” This person is usually regarded as a crank. And rightfully so.
We’re coming up on three years since that was written. (And actually three years almost to the day since the words were spoken by Kindler, since the show was taped in March of 2010.) We suspect, in that time, his views have hardened further. And hardened to the point where he is calling Penn Jillette “ignorant” and an “unpleasant blowhard” for daring to defend fellow comic Rivers.
From the CNN transcript of the Jillette interview on Piers Morgan Tonight:
MORGAN: Back now, my favorite atheist, although of course he can’t bring himself to actually believe that, Penn Jillette, author of “Every Day is an Atheist Holiday.” Let’s turn to this little fury building up over Joan Rivers.
So she made a joke about Heidi Klum in her post Oscars show. And she said this, “the last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens.” Now the Anti-Defamation League’s response, as it has been to quite a few of Joan Rivers’ Holocaust jokes in the past, is that she should know better. “The remark is so vulgar and offensive to Jews and Holocaust survivors and indeed to all Americans.”
Joan Rivers has responded, doubling down, saying the reason she does this kind of joke is to keep the memory of what happened at the Holocaust — and many of her family members died in it — alive with people. Is that a good enough excuse?
JILLETTE: I don’t think she needs an excuse at all. First of all, Joan Rivers knows as much about comedy as anybody alive in the world.
MORGAN: That doesn’t give her a license to be –
JILLETTE: It does, it really does.
MORGAN: Heidi Klum, though, has every right to feel offended by her statement. Is that acceptable?
JILLETTE: You have every right to be offended by it. But she will not and should not apologize. I felt that when “The Onion” did their apology, they actually made it worse, because they took it out of the realm of joke and into something that maybe they could have —
MORGAN: Quvenzhane Wallis (ph), the little nine-year-old. I thought that was completely unacceptable and very, very offensive.
JILLETTE: Absolutely. But when you are doing transgressive humor, when you are trying — when the idea is to be shocking, when the idea is to get a laugh from something that’s outside of the realm of what someone else would say, when that’s your position, that is clearly her job. Her job is to cross certain lines so we all get to think about it.
MORGAN: No limits?
JILLETTE: I think there are limits to each one of us and our tastes and what we will enjoy. But as a society, I think blaming her or — and this whole idea that people are supposed to apologize for jokes seems out of line. It’s not funny. That’s fine. But she is not in any way, shape, or form condoning the Holocaust. To even —
MORGAN: I agree with that. I think the only person who probably should feel rightly offended is Heidi Klum, who had absolutely no reason to be linked to what Germans and Nazis did during the war.
JILLETTE: The joke is actually backwards from what the Anti Defamation League is claiming. It’s actually a joke against Germans. And the Germans might very well want to say, can’t we even have a hot model without that being brought up. She had nothing to do with that. So they are kind of, again, on the wrong side.
But I just don’t know how I can support Joan Rivers more. I mean, I just think that it’s absolutely OK to try anything in comedy. And it’s also OK for people to rise up and argue about that. But she does not need to apologize.
MORGAN: Let’s take a look at the all-star “Celebrity Apprentice,” which premiers this Sunday, March the 3rd. You’re in this.
JILLETTE: I am.
MORGAN: And the reason I know that is I’m in the premier episode.
JILLETTE: But you’re on the other side of the desk.
MORGAN: I went back on Donald Trump’s boardroom side, and I reengage with my old friend Omarosa, which I can only assure people is extremely entertaining. I went back with one objective, to get her fired. And I’ll leave it hanging in the air, but I left a happy boy. I go back into several episodes, actually.
But we’ve got this extraordinary situation where one of your colleagues in it, Dennis Rodman, is currently in North Korea telling everyone that Kim Jong-Un, the supreme leader, is now his best mate. What on Earth is Dennis up to?
JILLETTE: Isn’t that the most beautiful thing in the world?
MORGAN: Not really. Does he know what he’s doing?
JILLETTE: It absolutely is. You know, we’re talking about what really is going to bring people together. The first thing is always going to be — is Elvis. Elvis wins every battle. We have cool. We have rock and roll.
MORGAN: These pictures are just too ridiculous.
JILLETTE: And you’ve got a fan of basketball who’s over in this horrible country, treating their people terribly, nuclear stuff, and they’ve got Dennis Rodman, a good old American, who is over there doing great stuff.
MORGAN: We’ll agree to disagree on that. You’re getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on April 5th.
MORGAN: It’s great to see you again.
JILLETTE: Wonderful to see you, Piers. Thank you.
MORGAN: We’ll be right back.
We re-read Jillette’s comments and we failed to find any evidence of ignorance. We suspect that the only reason that Kindler has labeled Jillette a “blowhard” is because Jillette holds a (clearly) well-thought out and valid opinion that doesn’t quite match up with his own. We here at SHECKYmagazine.com often call people names when we disagree with them. It’s part of our charm over the past 13 years and 11 months. But we follow that up with a logical (and frequently passionate) defense of our position and a passionate (and occasionally logical) flaying of the other guy’s position. We know it’s difficult to do that within the 140-character confines of a tweet. But we can’t seem to find any kind of long-form rebuttal to Jillette’s opinion. Either by Kindler or by anyone else.
But all this hectoring of comedians is troubling. And we normally wouldn’t pounce so hard on Kindler had he not been so vicious when attacking Jillette. And had we not had the creeping, sinking feeling that Kindler represents a more widespread and (dare we say it) dangerous tendency on the part of so many to declaw comedy and try to declare wide swaths of subject matter off-limits. That kind of thinking and speaking is poisonous to comedy and death to the creative process. Of all the arts, of all the forms of creative expression, comedy is the one that is most susceptible to such proscriptions. It’s supposed to be out there on the edge, pushing the limits. If you blunt that edge, you tinker with the fundamental function of comedy.
For the longest while, we comics became a little too comfortable with the notion (that hardened into a dictum, a truth a principle) that only members of a group were entitled to joke about members of that group or their travails or foibles. “I’m black, so I can say that about a brother.” And it’s corollary: “You’re white, so you can’t do humor about black people.” This is in itself, stifling, arbitrary and a symptom of the disease that is political correctness. Now we’ve reached a point where an elderly Jewish comedienne can’t make jokes about the Holocaust. This cannot lead anywhere good.
Click on closebutnocigarmovie.com to purchase the delightful Bob Zany biopic and the Zany special (the making of which was depicted in the biopic). It’s a fascinating look a the career of a comic. Zany surveys his life in comedy with — surprise! — a sense of humor, and the footage of his appearance is priceless! (We won’t spoil it!)
The Female Half of the Staff had the pleasure of sharing the bill for the past week at LV’s Laugh Factory with Rich Hall and Harris Peet. And it was her good fortune to share some laughs in the green room with George Wallace (see above) on Saturday night. The Factory will soon be the LV home of Roseanne Barr (she’s using that version of her name on all the billboards, marquees and advertising), starting her Factory residency tonight with a 7 PM show.
Writing about hecklers is nothing new. And attempting to group them into types is something that The Female Half of the Staff did in a column, “Heckler Alert,” nearly a decade ago. (And that column made it into our book, “The Comedy Bible: The Complete Resource for Aspiring Comedians,” and forms the bulk of our eight-page breakdown of hecklers on pages 102-109.)
We took a practical, pragmatic approach in explaining heckling and hecklers. We knew that heckling was something that happened (though not as frequently as some believe) and that if the comedian understood the motivation behind most heckling, he/she could better deal with it.
One thing we didn’t do was venerate the heckler.
Which brings us to “A field guide to hecklers,” a chirpy, vacuous and ultimately worthless back-and-forth from the Chicago Tribune’s Nina Metz and Chris Borrelli in which they “see if there might be a valid argument on behalf of those of us who are (gasp!) in favor of heckling.”
You read that right. They allow for the idea that there might be a valid argument in favor of heckling. Jacques Deridda’s work is done. We now have what we assume to be two college-educated 20-somethings– writing for a newspaper that has been in some sort of bankruptcy hell since 2008– and their idea of a provocative and entertaining article is to speculate on whether or not interrupting a performance by a professional entertainer might be something that has merit.
As Metz explains it, heckling– for an audience member– “works as a litmus test.” Huh? She elaborates: “The comic who turns hostile isn’t working at the top of their game. (And, we daresay, the journalist who cranks out that sentence isn’t working at the top of her game, either.) As proof, Michael Richards’ infamous Laugh Factory outburst is cited. Yawn. She continues: “But if they can zing back with a really sharp retort– but funny, it has to be funny!– they have my respect for life.”
Which is just what we want– the lifelong respect of this total idiot.
My favorite flavor of heckler, though, is what I call the Productive Heckler, who’s there to keep the comedian honest. Last summer, during the Just for Laughs festival, I caught a show from Chris D’Elia, who co-stars on the NBC sitcom “Whitney.” D’Elia likes to do crowd work, which makes him even more susceptible to those with heckling tendencies. (Actually, it makes him less susceptible! But we don’t have the time to go into Comedy 101. — Editors) He began a joke with this setup: “Why is it so hard to get girls?” This from a good-looking guy on a TV show. All I could think was, “Yeah, right, you have trouble scoring attention.” And, happily, an audience member (female, though does that matter?) voiced the same thought with a one-word response: “Bull—-.” The audience kept D’Elia honest. He was forced to stop and explain why, even for a guy in his semifamous position, it’s not easy to meet noncelebrity-obsessed women. I love Productive Hecklers.
You know what, Nina Metz? Fuck you. And fuck your “favorite flavor of heckler.” And, while we’re at it, fuck your stupid fucking concept of “keep(ing) the comedian honest.” It’s not up to you or some asshole in the audience to keep the comedian honest. It’s not up to you or your favorite flavor of douchebag to keep anything honest. You pay your money, you watch the show, you laugh or you don’t. You stay or you go. Calling bullshit during the performance doesn’t keep the comic honest. It disrupts the show and it’s stupid and rude.
Nitwit # 2 chimes in:
It also sounds like a genuinely interesting moment of revelation, albeit one that was forced on the entertainer. We are now listening to someone say something they genuinely hadn’t intended.
The tsunami of dumb in those two sentences threatens to cause an immense amount of intellectual damage.
Musicians are viewed as artists with integrity who “don’t take requests.” When a musician states that as his policy, we are generally sympathetic and we understand that he has an agenda (called a set list) and that it’s up to him to take us on the trip he has planned. Why are comedians viewed as puppets that audience members can manipulate? Why, when an audience member attempts such manipulation, is it viewed as “a genuine moment of revelation?”
We hate to sound like Grandpa and Grandma Comedy, but these two are self-centered, perpetually immature goofs who think that the world revolves around them. And that we are there to serve them. It’s all about Nina and Chris and they have a much better idea about how Chris D’Elia and Zach Galafianakis and the rest of us should respond when some equally narcissistic asshat ejaculates in the middle of one of our well-crafted sets.
On the other hand, as someone who wants an event to be memorable, yes, I’m pro-heckling. Who isn’t? I have seen countless comedians and forgotten most of them. But I remember each and every time I have witnessed a performer get into it with an obnoxious audience.
We remember shows where we have gotten heckled. And, we suppose, some audience members remember a show where there was an interesting exchange between a performer and a patron. But we mainly like to remember shows where we smoothly and precisely maneuver through a set and we remember the feeling of competently manipulating an audience into the exact state we want them to be in throughout the entirety of a 50-minute set. And we are certain that those audiences were aware that they were witnessing comedy at its finest and that they recall those performances fondly. Only a boorish egotist like this would encourage boorish behavior so that he might have a “memorable” experience.
When a couple of feeble-minded pop-culture magpies at a major, big-city daily even hint that heckling might, in some instances, be “comedy helper,” we cringe.
As journalists and critics, we’re trained to stand and back observe (sic), so I don’t think it’s ever occurred to me to heckle. But I am always secretly thrilled (and nervous!) when someone else does it.
So, what we have here is someone who hides behind her supposed ethics when explaining why she doesn’t dare heckle… but who is “thrilled” when someone else does the heckling for her. She’s an odious combination of a coward on a power trip. “All right, everyone– *Clap-clap*– do my bidding! Heckler– spice things up a bit, as they are in need of some sort of edge! Comedy Boy– Respond in an edgy fashion, so that my boredom does not overtake me! You there, eunuch– bring me my goblet!” Get a load of Caligula over here!
What is wildly amusing about Metz’ orgasm over the “Productive Heckler” who “keeps the comedian honest,” is that half (if not more) of those honest moments she’s witnessed were probably just as contrived and locked down as the rest of that evening’s set. (She probably thinks that her favorite comedians who “riff off the top of their heads and bring us on an intoxicating, exhilarating improvisational ride,” are probably about as spontaneous as the flight attendant explaining the safety procedures of the Boeing 757-300 series aircraft. She probably thinks that reality television is “real.”) We hate to burst your bubble, Nina, but most of us have been at this comedy thing for so long that nothing surprises us. Not only that, but the “Productive Heckler” rarely ever says anything we haven’t heard before. We remember such putdowns and we save them in a file (real or virtual) so that we might use them again. (And, believe us, it will happen again– audience members are about as imaginative as big-city journalists.) So those “interesting moments of revelation” are most likely recreations of similar incidents that happened weeks or months or years before. (We just happen to be able to make it look spontaneous… and simpletons like Nina and Chris fall for it.)
On page 109 of our book, under the heading of “Common denominator,” we say:
Some hecklers may be hard to identify or categorize. But there is undoubtedly one thing they have in common. After the show, they will come up to you and say, “I helped the show!” No… you did not.
This article is nothing more than a pre-emptive version of the inebriated hosebag who comes up to the comic after the show and proudly seeks approval for his sparkling contribution to the evening’s proceedings. We have to break it to you, kids– you did not help the show.
In a perfect world, permission for a guest set would be granted by the headliner. It would be up to him or her if it would be all right if someone did five or six or eight minutes at or near the beginning of the show. But it usually goes down thusly: The headliner arrives at the venue, takes a seat in the green room and, minutes later, the club manager pokes his head in the door and says, “We got a guest set.”
No big deal, we suppose.
But more and more often, we cringe when we hear that there’s going to be a guest set on that night’s bill. In the past, it was no big deal. In the past, the pleasant guest set experiences outnumbered the unpleasant ones. But, in the last ten years or so, the guest sets have been leaving a bad taste. The reasons are many and varied. But there does seem to be a definite downward trend in not so much the quality of the guest sets we’ve followed, but the manners, the attitude and the gratitude.
We’ve examined whether it’s our attitude that’s changed. We’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not us… it’s them.
Herewith, our examination of the guest set. With tips (“Guest Set-iquette!”) on how to handle them. We hope folks take the advice. We can always hope.
The Audition Guest Set
Has anyone ever gotten a headline spot out of a five-minute guest set? We suppose it’s happened. But it’s rare. (You’re most likely auditioning for a spot as a feature or as a host/emcee.) So… don’t act like you’re taping your HBO special. Be competent, be funny. Don’t go up there and try to “blow the headliner off the stage.” You’ll have plenty of time to prove yourself if/when you get a gig. Until then, you’re part of a larger show. You are… a guest.
You might ask, “But how am I going to prove that I’m a hotshit standup comedy monster if I don’t go up there and crush, kill destroy?” Don’t worry, Pancho– the club manager probably isn’t even watching. And if he is (and he’s an astute observer of standup comedy, by which we mean that he’s utterly bored by watching guest sets and he wants to gouge his eyes out whenever anyone does a guest set), he’ll be able to recognize within about 20 seconds whether or not you are: A headliner, a feature act, an opener or an opener who might be able to feature some day soon. Or a feature act who might be suitable as a headliner when the headliner gets stuck at the airport and can’t make it into town on night number one. In other words, the guest set isn’t a slam dunk sure thing. It’s part of a process. It’s an adjunct to all the other tools you use to secure a booking– your press kit, your website, your exceptional prowess at schmoozing during a phone call, your local cable access credit, your increasingly popular podcast.
It is both the most certain way– and perhaps the riskiest way– of getting into a club. There are so many variables. Conversely, it’s a quantum leap over a mere DVD or Youtube clip, as you are in front of a club manager, in the flesh. (Which makes good behavior all that much more important… see the “Hot Tips” at the end of this posting for more on that.)
The “I have a couple new jokes I wanna try out” Guest Set
This is usually a set granted to a comic who is already working the club or already familiar to the club’s management. If your new stuff is dying a horrible death, you have an obligation to those who might follow you to switch gears and start doing tried and true material that elicits laughter. Don’t make your headliner and/or feature act work from a hole.
The “Hey, you wanna do some time?” Guest Set
You’re in town doing a coporate set. Or you’re working across town and you only have one show that night. You’re passing through town on the way to another gig. Whatever. You stop by the club and the manager (or the headliner) says, “Hey, you wanna do some time?” You say, “Sure!”
Keep the ego in check. Calm down. Do a tight ten minutes and get off. Hey, maybe even do eight. This isn’t your show. You… are a guest.
The “OMG! Look who just stopped by the club!” Guest Set
Note to Club Managers: Stop putting the “I just happened to be in the neighborhood” Celebrity Headliner on BEFORE your scheduled headliner. Not to scheduled Headliners: Stop insisting that you should follow the Celebrity Headliner who just happened to be in the neighborhood. What is to be gained by such behavior? Such a strategy is fraught with potential disaster. Of course, it all depends on what the club’s manager wants to do. But, if you have any input at all, insist on doing a normal (if, perhaps, truncated) closing set and then bringing on your “very special friend who just happens to be in the neighborhood…” The Celebrity Headliner looks like a hotshit, you look like a hotshit, everybody goes home happy. And the Celebrity Headliner can do as much time as he wants (within the confines of the provisions of the club’s liquor license, of course).
Note to Celebrity Headliners: Stop accepting the offer to go up onstage and do a set BEFORE the scheduled headliner. It is fraught with potential disaster. It completely destroys the dynamic of the show. It’s like serving death by chocolate cake just before the lobster. (And there’s always the tiny possibility that the Celebrity Headliner will– GASP!– bomb horribly. If you thought it was tough following a Celebrity Headliner that kills, just try following one that dies. It’s like doing standup after a screening of “Schindler’s List.”)
The “I haven’t been on stage, I’m feeling a little rusty” Guest Set
If you are granted some stage time on a paid show because you want to clean out the pipes after a bit of a layoff, it is imperative that you give it your best shot. Don’t act like the stage is your playground. It’s still a show that people paid to see. They’re not aware that you’ve been laying about, unshaven, in your underwear for the past two weeks.
Hot Tips for the Guest Setter:
Don’t ask a comic, who doesn’t know you and has never seen your act, to arrange for you to do a guest set. (And no, being someone’s Facebook friend is neither and excuse to drop that comic’s name nor an excuse to ask that comic to go to bat for you.)
He doesn’t know you… He doesn’t know how you operate… He can’t predict how professional you’ll be. If you go in and fuck up, it doesn’t just reflect poorly on you, it reflects poorly on him.
Don’t get upset when a comic who does know you well refuses to set up a guest set for you. Often a comic might not feel secure enough in his position at a club to arrange a guest set for someone else. No two situations are alike. But nearly all guest sets have one thing in common: it’s a favor.
Actually, it’s multiple layers of favors. The comic who sets up a guest set is doing the auditioning comic a favor. The club manager who agrees to allow the auditioning comic to do the guest set is doing the auditioning comic a favor. And often the club manager could be considered to be doing the comic who brokers the deal a favor. There is, quite possibly, a whole lot of social capital being spent. Acknowledge the various directions in which that capital flows.
Never call a club (or stop by a club) and use another comic’s name in order to request a guest set UNLESS you have that comic’s absolute, unqualified permission to do so.
Don’t go over your time. If the club manager says, “Give me six minutes,” give him six minutes. Or, better yet, give him 5:45. Nobody’s really counting the seconds… until you go over. It doesn’t matter if you’re “crushing” or “killing” or “blowing the feature off the stage.” It doesn’t matter if you “wanted to get off on a big laugh.” If you go over, it indicates a glaring inability to follow simple directions. Or, worse, it indicates a ludicrously inflated ego. Consider that you are taking time away from the other comics on the bill, and act accordingly.
Should a guest set comedian use the word “fuck?” Depending on the venue, it’s either up to the club manager or the headliner. Some club managers don’t care. Some do. Some club managers will say, “Ask the headliner.” If the club manager doesn’t care, we would advise you to ask the headliner.
We would advise any guest set comedian to refrain from using the “f-word.” Unless you are specifically instructed to do so (which never happens). Or if you are given express permission to do so (which rarely happens). If you aren’t clear on whether or not it’s permissible to use foul language, err on the side of clean. For years, we have been of the opinion that working clean is no harder or easier than working dirty. Working clean is difficult. Working dirty is difficult. Being funny is difficult. Our advice to work clean during a guest set does not contradict that sentiment. However, using foul language in the short space of a five-minute set might make it appear as though you are incapable of working without using foul language. If you say “fuck” twice in 300 seconds, you’re averaging one “fuck” for every 2-1/2 minutes. Extrapolated over a 30-minute set, that’s 12 “fucks,” which some club managers might calculate to be an awful lot of “fucks” for an audience to handle.
Don’t sell merchandise. If you can’t grasp the concept that your guest set is taking time away from the regularly scheduled comics on the bill, then you can at least understand that your ill-considered decision to sell your gag T-shirt after your guest set is taking money out of their pockets. If you can’t afford the gas or hotel for your guest set adventure without the proceeds from merchandise sales, then find another way. Once again, the underlying concept is: “This isn’t YOUR show.” You are… a guest.
How about a nice “Thank you!” (before or after the show) to all the comedians who are making this guest set possible? (Oh, sure, it’s ultimately up to the club manager to decide who gets on that stage, but it would be swell to show your gratitude to the other acts on the bill– from the top to the bottom.)
And, prior to the thanks, please introduce yourself to the other comics on the bill. You’re going to have to interact with the emcee/host, there’s no getting around that. He’s most likely the one who will bring you up. But throw a “Howdy” to the feature and the closer while you’re at it. (And say “Hey!” to the other guest sets, should there be any.)
And don’t cherry-pick. Or try not to. Any comic would want to do a guest set in front of what is typically the best crowd of the week– Saturday, first show. But club managers shouldn’t allow it. (Really, what is learned by putting a guest set on in front of a hot, packed crowd? The club manager sees a comic kill in front of what is arguably the easiest crowd of the week. The auditioner kills in front of a hot crowd… it’s like falling off a log. So who benefits?)
For God’s sake, DO NOT sit up front after doing a guest set. It is the mark of a rank amateur. How many times have we witnessed a guest set exit the stage, then scramble to a chair in the front row to sit and enjoy the rest of the show with his college buds or his co-workers from his day job? Very bad form.
Don’t bring a group of friends to a show, do a guest set, then allow those friends to exit the show immediately after you’re done. It’s incredibly bad form. All of them should stay for the entire show. If your group is there to see you– or to “support” you– they should have the courtesy to watch and enjoy– and “support” the entire show. If their intention is to leave as soon as you’re done, tell them to stay home. Of course, they can do whatever they want… they can also spit on the floor or play Angry Birds during the show… but we’re asking for courtesy here. It’s something that’s voluntary.
Don’t bring an entourage into the green room. (Again, it’s up to the club manager, but…) If you’re doing an eight-minute set and you arrive in the green room with an coterie of hangers-on that rivals that of the heavyweight champion of the world– and the paid acts have nowhere to sit– you’re exhibiting a special kind of rudeness.
Hey– what’s this crap about asking to come back the next night and do another guest set? What, exactly is the point of that? If you’re asking to do a second guest set, then maybe you’re not clear on the concept of the guest set. (See above.) Of course, once again, it’s up to the club manager. But we’re of the opinion that guest sets should be rare and special. Are you coming back and doing a tight 4:30 in anticipation of a television appearance? Are you prepping for an impending shot in a contest? Both might be good reasons for serial guest-setting. Other than that, with rare exceptions, you might be a stage hog.
News flash: Just because you did a guest set (and perhaps got a good response), it does not mean that you are automatically entitled to a future booking. How should one proceed? Very simply: Ask whoever is in charge exactly how to proceed. “Can I call you for a booking?” “When?” “How far in advance are you currently booked?” Such inquiries will probably be met with definite answers. If they’re met with uncomfortable stares or vague, rambling replies, you’re probably not going to get a booking out of the deal. Wait a decent interval and ask for another guest set… say, six months.
Did we leave anything out? Certainly. We suspect that folks will comment.
Our hearts go out to Freddy Roman. Variety and other outlets are confirming social media reports that his son, television producer and writer Alan Kirschenbaum, died last night. Kirschenbaum co-created Yes, Dear with Greg Garcia. CBS ordered several episodes of a new sitcom, Friend Me, which he co-created with Ajay Sahgal.
Kirschenbaum was the son of Catskills comedian Freddie Roman. “One great thing about my dad was that he would never make me go to sleep, so there were always people over at the house late — Morty Gunty, Myron Cohen, Corbett Monica, Dick Capri and Mal Z. Lawrence — telling stories,” Kirschenbaum recalled in the New York Times. “It was magical to me.”
Writing topical humor is tough. Writing topical humor on a deadline is exhausting. Writing topical humor after the fact is one of the more difficult tasks a comedian can undertake.
We had a gig– for a very short time– where we were the “creative team” for an afternoon drive radio show. We’d arrive at the station at about 9 AM, go through the newspaper (this was 1994, so the internet was still expensive, clunky and sparsely populated), single out the outrageous stories, then write several dozen jokes on the hot stories of the day. Not all of it was gold. And we quite often would hold back some jokes because they just weren’t all that good. But, after months of this routine, you get greased up and it gets… less difficult. But it never gets easy.
Which brings us to 2012. Now the internet is huge. And we’re all connected via Facebook and Twitter and cable and network television. And everyone, it seems, thinks they’re writing for a radio (or a television) show.
So, every day– on Facebook and Twitter– we’re bombarded with hundreds of jokes about incidents from the previous 24 hours.
And most of it– 99 per cent or more– is dreck. Truly awful, uninspired, boring and often illogical crap.
And way too much of it is written by comedians. It starts to get to you after a while. It’s the exact opposite of inspiring.
Initially, it might have been inspiring. Initially, seeing such ghastly gags might have given us a slight spasm of pride– a sudden realization that, no matter what we came out with, our jokes were automatically superior. But, after months and years of marinating in this mediocrity, we’re demoralized. We’re seriously considering hiding, unfriending or unfollowing the habitual offenders.
We can tolerate the occasional “nice try.” But after thousands of not-so-nice tries, we’re exasperated. We’re worried that prolonged exposure to such lame drivel might start to effect us in ways in which we’re not even aware. And we’re aghast at the low quality of some of the “jokes.” Too many of them seem to be manufactured by some sort of beta version of a computer program that purports to create jokes by merely connecting the various elements of a story into a compound sentence held together by an adverb or two and a definite article. Or they remind us of an anxious child who, upon observing the adults at the table creating humor, blurts out something that only accidentally makes sense and elicits little more than perplexed stares and shrugs.
We don’t mind the occasional attempt that fails. We ourselves have probably been guilty of that here or there. But the constant barrage of lazy, unimaginative one- and two-liners that are carelessly smeared across our screen every AM is mentally exhausting. How about a little quality control? Have you all lost your sense of humor? Is there some sort of grossly relaxed criteria for Facebook and Twitter jokes that we’re not aware of? Is this the result of too many bringer shows? Are people so utterly oblivious to the fact that a good number of these bits aren’t at all funny and, indeed, sometimes only barely logical?
Is it too many “bringer” shows– the end result of too many aspiring comedians doing too many sets in front of too many people who are all too willing to laugh at the mere effort (and totally suspend the requirement for actual wit or humor)? Has the “Everybody gets a trophy” mentality finally thoroughly corrupted even standup comedy?
Or has Facebook become the largest bringer show in the universe?
It’s disheartening. And, what might be even more horrific is that a lot of these pathetic phrases (we can’t bring ourselves to call them “jokes”) are rewarded with “Likes!” It’s infuriating!
This morning, it was the “binder” jokes. Earlier this week it was “Lance Armstrong” jokes. Every so often the race to the bottom of the barrel involves the latest celebrity death.
The overwhelming majority of jokes revolving around Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” statement were maddeningly lacking in any kind of humor or surprise. So many of them appeared to be borne simply of a desire to somehow cram the phrase into a sentence or two which mentioned the candidate’s name, something else related to the candidate and something else related to the candidate. Initially we weren’t moved to comment on it, being content to merely grouse privately about the vast waves of mundanity. But then we came across this:
My mother taught me to use breadcrumbs and eggs when cooking, telling me that for many recipes they are good “binders”…..damn, little did I know I was already in the “binder” when making meatloaf!
That. Was. It.
Marvel at the sheer below-averageness of it. The bar wasn’t just lowered with this “joke.” The bar was buried deep beneath the earth’s crust and it rests somewhere just north of the planet’s smoldering core.
And three people immediately “Liked” it!
What has happened?
It is a joke that only Pavlov could be proud of. And a joke that only his dog would react to.
It contains only one (maybe two) of the least important features of a statement that gives the creator permission to call it a “joke.” It fails on many levels. And it is profoundly disappointing.
Multiply the above joke by 500 other equally and similarly bad jokes and you can see why we’re cranky.
This rant is not in violation of our past condemnation of the premise police. Far from it. We’re not for one second suggesting that folks might be cautioned against making a joke that centers on a debater’s turn of phrase. We’re not saying that we should all be prohibited from making binder jokes– or any jokes centering on the phrase du jour.
But we are suggesting that the jokesmiths think twice before hitting “Post.” Please do yourself and your FB “friends” the small favor of beating back the excitement. Suppress the urge to quickly post the first malformed witticism that pops into your head. Try harder. In the long run, you– and we– will probably be better off for it.
Two days ago, we posted about tonight’s (Friday’s) segment on ABC’s What Would You Do? in which comedian Rich Vos was enlisted in one of the show’s hidden camera gags.
From what we can tell by watching the trailer, they tape a bunch of people at a comedy show and record their reactions as Vos does a Rickles-from-hell number on the club patrons. The headline on the video clip is “Comic takes insult jokes too far, audience boos.” The voiceover says, “Would you stand up to the standup?”
And, as Quinones and crew are depicted breaking in for the “reveal,” the episode is described as “An hour so explosive, we almost couldn’t break in fast enough!” The trailer depicts various patrons reacting to Vos’ insults– booing, shouting at Vos (at one point, telling him he “stinks!”), with some appearing to get up and walk out.
Of course, we’re sure that the “explosive” hour will turn out, upon viewing, to be not nearly as incendiary as it’s depicted in the breathless and craftily edited trailer, but we’re still rather nervous about the whole thing.
Turns out we had reason to be nervous.
The segment, as aired, while it may have been entertaining, was a failure as a psych experiment. And, if we regard it as a sociology experiment, it was, as the eggheads say, “flawed.” They set it up, they planted some people in the audience to act as foils for the comedian’s barbs and then the cameras rolled as the uncomfortable patrons fidgeted, contemplated walking out or, in a few cases, became verbal in registering their discomfort with what was transpiring. They made a passing reference to Daniel Tosh and the controversy he encountered in a Hollywood nightclub back in July, but, outside of that, the prank bore little resemblance to that situation, nor did it directly address any of the issues involved in the Tosh incident. To be fair, there was a gang of comedy fans in the back of the room who actually dug what was going down… or at the very least, they had a better grasp on the boundaries of a comedy club and the First Amendment (and a healthy hostility toward “political correctness”) than most comedy club patrons do. But the overall focus was on the folks who were livid.
Vos was properly presented as a veteran comedian and it was quite clear that he was in on the gag and that he was doing an exaggerated version of what he does in his nightclub act. But after the reveal, he was given an alarmingly short amount of time to expound on the comics’ side of the story. Vos is understandably peeved and he said as much in a recent Facebook status, posted after the show aired tonight:
To anyone that watched WWYD I take my career very seriously, and I am very pro First Amendment. When I was asked to do the show I said under one circumstance– That when I do the show in an interview I stand up for comics and get to say the only recourse an audience member has, if offended, is to get up and leave. The show agreed. In my interview they asked, “When does a comic go too far?” I said, “Never.” I asked, “When does a rap group go too far? When does a movie go too far?” I then said people should do research to know who they are going to see. I made it perfectly clear the audience has no right to yell or disrupt the show– get up and leave if you don’t like it. Well I got a call Thursday– the head of the news network said to take out that part and there was nothing I could do. I was quite edgy and rough but it’s network, so they aren’t going to air what most people know I do. I have taped specials where they have chopped up bits, taken out bits, there is almost nothing you can do unless it’s your show and you have the power to say “That stays in.” Other comics were at the taping and saw me interviewed. You don’t always make the right choices in life and career. I shouldn’t have trusted they would put my interview in. Live and learn.
Live and learn, indeed.
It’s fascinating that the folks who produce a show called “What Would You Do?”– which is a show that seeks to discern the moral values of regular citizens– have basically behaved in a less than upstanding way. What would ABC do? They would enlist the services of a professional comedian, promise him one thing, then do another. And in the process, they present a lopsided– and wholly unrealistic– scenario in a comedy club and seek to make the comedian– and all comedians!– look bad. And they also indirectly give comedy club patrons the idea that they are totally justified in interrupting the show.
In order to concoct the situation they wanted, they asked Vos to do something that he wouldn’t normally do– that is, mercilessly berate someone in the audience, and continue to do so even after the audience– and the “victims” of his vitriol– have made it clear that they’re unhappy. Professional comedians– all of them– know when to pull back, know when to dig in. And they can sense when an audience’s mood is turning against them. We’re like sailors who can sense a subtle change in the weather by observing seemingly unimportant details in the wind or the sky. We’re adept at picking up on the subliminal signals given off by audiences or audience members. We rarely, if ever, provoke the kind of full-scale revolt depicted in tonight’s show. One of the “Fat White Chicks” that served as a “victim” was actually “crying!” No comic in his right mind would 1)abuse an audience member to the point of tears or 2)fail to pull back and defuse the situation once the waterworks started. Vos was asked to violate those rules for the sake of the prank. But this wasn’t made clear enough for our liking. And it could have been handled quickly, with just a sentence or two. It was falsely represented that a comic would be mean just for the sake of being mean. A comic– even an “insult comic” is being “mean” to get laughs. (Of course, there are examples throughout comedy history of a comedian who has violated 1 and 2 above, but it’s rare. It’s the exception. And, again, it’s a subtle thing. And, if a patron thinks that things are going too far, he/she should leave, not stand up and disrupt the show.)
The segment was a failure. And it could possibly be a bad thing for live standup. Folks could get the wrong idea that failing to stand up and defend an audience member who is being berated by a comedian are somehow doing the wrong thing. It’s a dangerous notion to say the least.
The episode of WWYD will probably be available for viewing shortly on ABC.com.
We’ve all been there. You have a gig coming up. You want to maybe supplement the income from the engagement with the money from another gig, a one-nighter, in somewhat close proximity. But there’s one problem– it’s an atrocious gig. Awful. So awful that you vowed– halfway through your first time there– that you would never do it again. And it didn’t just go poorly for you. Oh, no. It goes poorly for nearly everyone. One comic after another proclaims it to be a “shitty gig.” A historically crappy one-nighter that is poorly conceived, run and executed. (One of those venues where, as you’re doing your set, you wonder to yourself, “Why are you, the audience, here? I know why I’m here… I’m getting paid… handsomely so… but why are you people here? There’s only two walls, you’re not paying attention, you can barely hear me over the cacophony of the surrounding casino floor… there’s no effort made– either through good lighting or sound or other theatrical niceties– to signal that a real-live, professional comedy show is being presented… why are you here?”)
So you cross it off your list…
But in a moment of weakness… you send an email inquiring as to whether it might be available. You wait a bit.
Then you receive an email that says that the venue …doesn’t want you back!
HA! A cosmic joke! The shitty one-nighter doesn’t want you back! It’s a classic!
Then you hate yourself for that moment of weakness. You’re not all that upset that the venue has made it clear that you are not to return. That’s happened a lot. In fact, it’s kind of a relief. It’s freeing. That’s not the bad part. The bad part is that you had that moment of weakness. That momentary breakdown in integrity that allowed you to momentarily suck it up, resolve that you can endure the mild humiliation that comes with sticking it out on a stage that regards the comedian as an afterthought, a prop, a tool to push patrons one way or another in the hope of maximizing this or that. It’s that Wile E. Coyote moment where you hit send, then open up the email response and watch the fuse on the dynamite stick fizzle down to its last millimeter and BOOM!
A few years back (in fact, a long time ago), we resolved to knock off the one-nighters. We swore off shit gigs. We washed our hands of the taverns and restaurants and hit-or-miss, fly-by-night dates that so often disappointed, deflated and demoralized. And, by golly, the world didn’t fall apart. Not only did the earth stay intact, but we were happier for it. And we ended up working smarter, not harder. And it turned out to be one of the wisest decisions we could have made– business-wise and soul-wise. “Leave the crappy one-nighters to the folks who might truly benefit from them!” was one of our mantras. It seemed like everybody was a winner.
In the intervening years, we’ve shed the hell-gigs (and the often shady promoters/bookers that went along with them) like a snake sloughing off its skin. (Or, to make us less reptilian, like a bird shedding his feathers.) And this entertainment ecdysis has had multiple direct and indirect benefits.
Occasionally, we’ll hear about a tremendous one-nighter that pays well, is well-produced and is consistently pleasant for all who perform there. And you take it and it is a great experience.
But when you hear that a gig is awful, and you do it anyway– all the while hoping it will go better for you– and it goes horribly wrong… and then… against all your better instincts and plans and policies… you request it again… that’s just wrong. The rejection is a cosmic glass of cold water in the face telling you to hew to your better nature, avoid the horror and figure out a way to do without.
ABC runs a successful Friday night block of programming that kicks of with Shark Tank, then What Would You Do?, capped off with the human-interest heavy, 60 Minutes knock-off 20/20.
The fearless Rich Vos will be featured on What Would You Do? Friday night at 9 PM EST.
If you’re not familiar the show, it’s Candid Camera but with a moral angle. (And if you’re too young to remember Candid Camera, it’s Punk’d, but without the celebrities… and without the elaborate planning.) Basically, ABCNews reporter/producer John Quinones concocts a situation– with the help of actors, props and hidden cameras– in which unsuspecting citizens are videotaped reacting (or failing to react!) to bad behavior which runs the gamut from rude all the way to criminal.
The situation is allowed to progress until the citizens react in one way or another and the whole charade is then brought to a halt by the appearance of Quinones and crew, usually to the relief of all involved. The footage is analyzed, commented on by eggheads and experts, and various (dubious?) conclusions are reached about human nature and society. The “subjects” are interviewed and asked about how or why they chose to act or not act. Often, the producers will switch up the players involved, messing with their gender, race or age, to see if the results are different.
Regardless of what you think of it as entertainment or journalism (or social science), it’s done with some imagination and it does well in the ratings.
Enter Vos. From what we can tell by watching the trailer (which you can watch here. Sorry, ABC doesn’t allow embedding!), they tape a bunch of people at a comedy show and record their reactions as Vos does a Rickles-from-hell number on the club patrons. The headline on the video clip is “Comic takes insult jokes too far, audience boos.” The voiceover says, “Would you stand up to the standup?”
And, as Quinones and crew are depicted breaking in for the “reveal,” the episode is described as “An hour so explosive, we almost couldn’t break in fast enough!” The trailer depicts various patrons reacting to Vos’ insults– booing, shouting at Vos (at one point, telling him he “stinks!”), with some appearing to get up and walk out.
Of course, we’re sure that the “explosive” hour will turn out, upon viewing, to be not nearly as incendiary as it’s depicted in the breathless and craftily edited trailer, but we’re still rather nervous about the whole thing.
The sub-head under the trailer asks, “Is this comic making jokes at his audience’s expense?” To which we reply, of course he is! We were not aware that making jokes at the audience’s expense was any sort of moral transgression. Which is the main problem we might have with this episode.
We’ll reserve judgement until we watch, either in real time or via time-shifting. But we’re letting our readers know about it.
One other thing of note: On the trailer, when Quinones and his camera crew break in to defuse the situation, we hear Quinones announce (and the words appear on the screen), “Hi ladies, hold on!” Interesting that the volatility of the situation is (or is perceived to be) fueled mainly by women. We note this only because it seems to us that the last few high-profile incidents involving hecklers or offended audience members have involved not males but females. These days, it is women who are more likely to be offended… or, at the very least, more likely to make their outrage known. Not sure if this is a thing or not.
Speaking of Vos, the documentary directed by his wife Bonnie McFarlane (and produced by Vos) will be sneakily previewed at Caroline’s at 1 PM, Nov. 10, as part of the New York Comedy Festival. The movie will be followed by a panel discussion– the moviemaking couple will be joined by Susie Essman, Morgan Murphy and others.
The Male Half scheduled a spot at the Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach on Friday night. He also had to be in Ventura to do two “Headliner Showcase” spots as part of the Ventura Comedy Festival. We planned a quick, in-and-out trip to SoCal.
Just a couple days before we lit out across the desert, we found out that the folks in California who fix things were planning to shut down ten miles of the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles so they could demolish (and eventually fix) the Mulholland Drive Bridge. And, since the 405 is a main, main, main traffic artery in Los Angeles, the media and the politicians were convinced that everyone in Los Angeles was going to freak out. They called it “Carmageddon II!” (Carmageddon I was a year ago July.) They advised everyone to “stay local!”
Of course, none of the predicted chaos and mayhem occurred. We overnighted Friday at a motel near LAX, then headed up the legendary Pacific Coast Highway to check in to our Saturday night lodgings in Oxnard. (Oxnard! How utterly appropriate that we stay in Oxnard– familiar to many who watched Johnny Carson-hosted Tonight Shows, as Carson’s imaginary tailor was “Omar of Oxnard.” It never failed to get a laugh!)
We dined at Henri’s of Oxnard, but we didn’t find any Omar’s.
Safely 35 miles west of the traffic anxiety of the Los Angeles basin, in the heart of the strawberries and lima bean fields of Oxnard, we focused on Saturday evening’s festivities.
In addition to being a comedian Randy Lubas is also a partner in the Ventura Harbor Comedy Club (VHCC) and, for the past coupla years, he’s organized the Ventura Comedy Festival (“Laughter By The Sea”) which boasts more than 100 comics in six venues over 27 shows.
The harbor is a classic California crescent of shops, restaurants and free parking overlooking an eye-popping array of sailboats, peppered with pelicans and seagulls and happy tourists and locals. The VHCC– a high-ceilinged, second-floor rooom that holds 150 or so– has been a comedy venue off, and on, for at least 20 years. And for good reason– it’s got some sort of standup mojo and perfect dimensions that magnify the laughs and practically guarantee a great show. When we arrived, the TV Showcase was causing a stir. The Male Half poked his head in the room, just to get a handle on the space. Twenty minutes later, he realized that he had done a show there waaaay back in 1992 or so, when it was called Hornblowers… or was it The Golden Sail?
After an 8:00 show at the tiny, wine and tapas bar that served as one of the six Fest venues, we headed back up to the VHCC for the second of the evening’s Headliner Showcases.
Festivals, no mater how large or small, are tremendous opportunities to establish relationships and renew old connections. (Sounds cliched, but it’s damn true!) We were tickled to be able to meet/hang with/re-connect with folks like James P. Connolly, Grant Cotter, Warren Durso. Bill Kalmenson, Andrew Norelli, Erik Passoja. David Race, Aldo Juliano, Rondell Sheridan, John Mendoza, Sid Davis, Paul Steocklein, Lisa-Gay Tremblay and Johnny Walker. Interestingly, there were four people in the house– The Female Half, The Male Half, Aldo Juliano and David Race– who all had an intimate connection to the Philadelphia comedy market at one point or another over the past 20 years… but had never met! It is at such festivals as this that those dots are connected. Also in the house– XM/Sirius Radio. Also in the house, due to his connection to XM/Sirius– star of stage, screen, television and radio (terrrestrial and satellite), Jay Thomas!
Lately, we’ve been just dreadful at taking pictures. In the past, we would have been snapping away and we would have supplemented our words with images. We’re always forgetting to document our exploits visually! We think it’s because of the fact that we’re carrying around smart phones with cameras built into them. It’s a paradox. One would think that having a reasonably sophisticated camera in one’s pocket or pocketbook would mean that more photos are taken. Well, that may be so with other, normal people. It works quite the opposite with us. (We even went out of our way to purchase a kinda costly “bridge” camera about a year ago, in hopes of upping our photo output. It has resulted in FEWER PICTURES! We have to work on that.)
How about another quote?
Freedoms must not interfere with the freedoms of others. If someone insults, what would you do? Is insulting other people not a form of crime?
That’s from the UN speech by the freedom-loving Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Sounds like a Red Hot Chili Peppers album. But it’s just all the elements that ping pong around our heads when we read this article in Esquire, about Teller’s encounter with a magician who ripped off his signature bit, “Shadows.”
In the article, entitled “The Honor System,” Teller’s travails in dealing with the thief leads into a mini profile of magic trick inventor Jim Steinmeyer, who, tired of being ripped off, has pretty much ceased creating tricks and has taken to writing about magic instead.
Along the way, ideas like honor, patents, thievery and inspiration are explored. One of Steinmeyer’s “builders,” Bill Smith, says:
“Things are just out of control,” Smith says. “It’s the world, and it’s getting worse. There have always been thieves in magic, but thievery has never been so bad as it is now. The biggest shame is, guys like Jim– Jim is retreating. I’m sure he has tons of other good ideas, but he’s not making them, because it’s not worth it. He’s writing books instead.”
In one of those books, Steinmeyer writes that “the best tricks are a “collection of tiny lies, in words and deeds, that are stacked and arranged ingeniously.”
Tricks are compared to jokes.
Like jokes, tricks should have little plots with a twist at the end that’s both implausible and yet logical. You shouldn’t see the punchline coming, but when you do see it, it makes sense. The secret to a great trick isn’t really its method; the method behind most tricks is ugly and disappointing, something blunt and mechanical… What matters in magic is the idea– not just the idea, but the expression of the idea.
Steinmeyer expresses some exasperation at the theft.
“A great trick, like a great song, should be an inspiration,” Steinmeyer says. “It should lead you to other things that are also wonderful. That’s what happens in literature, and it happens in music, and it happens in art. But in magic, they don’t do that. They just take it. You would hope that what you do inspires, but instead it just inspires theft.”
We’re compelled to examine the difference between magic and standup. It seems that 50 years or so ago, when, according to our pet theory, comedians evolved into the “singer-songwriter” mode, comics (and maybe their agents and managers) got a little more stern about enforcing intellectual property claims. We theorize that television may have had something to do with it. We here at SHECKYmagazine were even quoted in an abstract by two fellows at the University of Virginia School of Law! (Read “Woe To Those Who Violate Our Norms-Based IP System!”)
Magicians, it seems, have never had a “norms-based system of IP enforcement.” Quite the contrary– young magicians start out with a “magic kit,” master certain “traditional” tricks, then shape and mold an act around those elements. All the while, their colleagues seem not to flinch at using tried-and-true tricks. Indeed, they seem to encourage the dissemination of such tricks throughout the community– to the point where, the article’s author points out, “many magicians have convinced themselves that every trick is fair game so long as they’re able to crack its code.”
Yet there are many magicians out there who have gone to great lengths to separate themselves from the pack, to be meta-magicians– much like Penn & Teller, who, the author says, have invented “a ridiculously poetic method” of exposing the trick. Or, in some cases, inventing a poetic (or comical) method of winking at the audience while doing technically spectacular illusions.
Read the whole article. It’s fascinating.
Deadline Hollywood super crank, Nikki Finke, regarding the Emmy award for Julie Bowen, says some dumb stuff about comedy:
Listen-up, Hollywood: beautiful actresses are not funny. They don’t know how to do comedy. (As Bowen demonstrated with her acceptance speech that repeated the phrase ‘nipple covers’ 3 dozen times. To zero laughter.) Only women who grew up ugly and stayed ugly, or through plastic surgery became beautiful, can pull off sitcoms or standups. Bowen isn’t a comedienne. Because it’s all about pain and humiliation and rising above both by making people laugh with you instead of at you. So stop casting beautiful actresses when you should be giving ugly women a chance. This also applies to handsome men, by the way. Now argue amongst yourselves.
Of course, Finke is being deliberately provocative. It’s how she attracts the vast majority of her readers. Were she to merely write about Hollywood– sans the snark– her blog would be nothing more than a snooze-inducing electronic industry newsletter with gossip of interest only to the H-wood one-per centers.
It’s over! The winner of the 2012 World Series of Comedy is… Landry! The one-named, Atlanta-based comedian beat out Tyler Boeh and Alycia Cooper in the finals last night at the Tuscany Suites Hotel, bringing the six-day competition to a close. Did we get a picture of the winner? Er… Uh… no. We will run a pic from Tanyalee Davis‘ Facebook feed:
That’s Tanyalee on the left. Landry on the right. Tanyalee was passing through town on the way to the San Francisco International Comedy Competition. (That’s going on this week through October 6.)
By all accounts, the WSOC was a smashing success. Landry won the top spot among the comedians. And the Tuscany won high marks from all the attendees. (This year was the first year that the WSOC was held at the new venue. When WSOC Commissioner Joe Lowers moved his show from the Alexis Park to the Tuscany earlier this year, the World Series naturally came with him.)
That’s the Commish. Snapped just outside the T-Spot, the showroom where it “all went down.”
It’s been some time since the “Fryers Club” (sic) has been held in Vegas. That’s the informal gathering of comics that occurred weekly here in the desert over the past couple of years. All local comics– and any comics visiting town– were encouraged to attend. It’s been moribund for the past few months for a number of reasons, and has occurred only sporadically. This week, it happened over several nights, at the Tuscany, as several visiting comedians– Mike Saccone, Larry “Bubbles” Brown and Paul Ogata among them– joined some of the late-night, post-WSOC gatherings at the bars inside and outside the T-Spot. And Lowers created laminated passes for many of the local (or “resident”) Las Vegas comedians.
The Male Half participated (all-too-briefly, as he is a terrible poker player) in the WSOC Poker Tournament, held Friday afternoon at the Tuscany. But he had a splendid time working all week at the new Laugh Factory at the Tropicana alongside Judy Tenuta.
That’s a photograph of the DiamondVision marquee outside the Trop. That the Male Half’s name, in letter several feet high. (It’s running over a Judy Tenuta music video but the “shutter speed” of the Female Half’s Droid 3 makes it look like it’s been through a Cuisinart.)
We always marvel at the bonding that goes on at these affairs. When you consider that, out of about 150 comics that show up (of which 101 actually compete), only one “wins,” the real benefit of such gatherings is a crazy, alcohol-fueled stew of networking, bonding and debauchery that takes place, day and night, that starts on Monday afternoon and roars on for five more days. Many of those in attendance will forge enduring relationships over bowling, poker, steak and eggs, $1.50 Fosters and impromptu treks to any of a number of comedy venues throughout LV.
There’s “industry” in attendance– and that’s important… and a lot of business cards get swapped. (And it’s surprising that there isn’t more. Agents and managers are always bellyaching about seeing the same people over and over again at the major fests. And they’re always bellyaching about how all those same acts are already nailed down by this agent or that manager. But this is a “fest” (technically, a competition, not a fest) that is not yet “corrupted” by agents and managers– there’s a lot of talent that is hungry and unrepresented. You would think they’d flock here. Throw in the backdrop of Vegas and it’s a wonder the comics aren’t outnumbered by industry types!)
We’ll be there next year.
Check out our our 2010 WSOC coverage.
How about a quote from Voltaire:
“To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”
There’s the happy couple– Kristeen von Hagen and Luciano Casimiri– minutes after they were joined in holy matrimony. They’re Friends of Shecky and they’re also comedy writers and performers from Canada. (And that’s the Female Half of the Staff in the lower left snapping virtually the same photo that she appears in. We’re too tired to frump up some sort of gratuitous Rashomon reference.) The couple currently reside in Toronto.
We attended the happy ceremony at the Flamingo just two days after attending a different kind of celebration. On Monday afternoon, we traveled to Big Al’s Comedy Club at the Orleans here in Las Vegas to attend a celebration of the life of comic Ron Shock, who passed away on May 17, after a shockingly short battle with cancer. The affair was alternately poignant and riotous, which, we are assured, is just the way Shock would have wanted it. (Neither of us had spoken to Shock more than a handful of times here and there over the past 20 years, but we are friends of many of his friends.)
Shock was eulogized by Chris Bliss and host Nancy Ryan brought up Shock’s son Hudson Shock, followed by Todd Paul, John Padon, Michael Paskevich, Steve Epstein, John Biddle and Winston O’Rourke, all of whom shared their personal memories of “The Storyteller.” The tribute was capped off with a lovely montage, created by John Bizarre.
It’s reassuring to see comics coming together– to memorialize a lost comrade or to celebrate the joining of two fellow comics. We often hear comedians characterized as isolated, cynical, uncaring, unfeeling. Of course, we often are all those things, but that’s not all we are and we can be counted on to support our comedy buddies when tragedy strikes. And when we’re invited to be part of a joyous occasion, we are thrilled and we respond with genuine gratitude and happiness.
The backdrop of Vegas gives both events a surreal quality. Vegas is a happy, raucous, chaotic place most of the time, so it’s ideal for a wedding! But it is an oddly appropriate place to grieve. Coincidentally, this is the second time that we’ve attended a wedding in Las Vegas shortly after a funeral– the first time being in 1997, when, shortly after the death of The Male Half of the Staff’s sister, we traveled to LVNV to attend the wedding of an old friend. Death, followed by a celebration of life. It’s classic.
The circle of life and all that.
How’s this for a harmonic convergence– Nancy Ryan, who hosted Monday afternoon’s memorial (and is the featured comedian at the Flamingo’s “X-Burlesque” show) tweeted the following on Wednesday night (the night of the wedding):
Pulled my Honda into Flamingo valet… right next to Russell Peters‘ Bentley.
Unbeknownst to Ryan, Peters was upstairs at the Flamingo, deejaying at the von Hagen-Casimir post-wedding reception/bash! (That’s right– Peters, in addition to being a superb comedian, is also a deejay… and quite a smashing one at that!)
To quote Steven Wright: “It’s a small world. But I wouldn’t want to have to paint it.”
The Female Half has penned a book, now available at Amazon.com!
It’s called “Sometimes Ask A Man” and it’s getting rave reviews!
We here at SHECKYmagazine.com have been fascinated by newfangled technology since waaay back in 1996, when we built and uploaded our first electronic press kit. Fast-forward 16 years and the idea of a Kindle Single– an electronic book that’s longer than a magazine article but shorter than a book– caught our attention.
The Female Half set to work cranking out a hilarious 23,201-word e-book that lightheartedly analyzes the ancient and mysterious relationship between men and women. Using the 1965 book “Always Ask A Man” as a jumping-off point, TFMHOTS touches on feminism, drinking, marriage and sex. What could possibly go wrong?
With stupendous cover art by Ambrose Quintanilla, it’s available via amazon.com for only $1.99! It’s readable on your Kindle (all versions!) and you can also read it on your laptop, desktop, netbook, iPad or other tablet computer– even on your smartphone! Just hop on over to Amazon.com, download the appropriate (FREE!) Kindle App onto your device, then download “Sometimes Ask A Man” and you’ll be laughing in no time!
“If you don’t give a man a chance to look after you, he’ll soon give up and let you look after yourself! Men have a natural protective attitude about women, so don’t keep trying to prove how self-sufficient you are.”
I think this chapter should have been called: The (Lost) Art Of Manipulation. It seems to be all about pretending. Don’t let him think you’re smart. Don’t let him think you’re funny. Don’t let him think you can balance a checkbook. Don’t let him think you think.
Couples need to look out for each other. Over time, we discover the strengths and weaknesses in our partners and adjust accordingly. At least, that’s what people in a healthy relationship do. My husband knows that there are times when he should be protective and times when he should just back the hell off. He likes to say, “She’s punched more people than me.” True. But that was in the 70’s and 80’s before litigation and assault charges became all the rage.
Clint Eastwood, the “surprise guest” at the Republican National Convention, delivered an 11-minute speech that was part serious but mostly comedy. Comedy? What evidence do we have that it was comedy? Well… Jokes.
We understand that not everyone might agree with the substance of Eastwood’s talk. We’re guessing, in the current climate here in America that about 48 per cent agreed with it, about 48 per cent disagreed with it and about 4 per cent were undecided. We don’t need George Gallup to tell us that.
But we would expect that professional comedians, upon observing the speech live or via Youtube, would be more interested in discussing the merits of the speech as a comedy routine or sketch. Or at the very least, they would acknowledge that it was mostly comedy. So few have done so.
Perhaps we expect too much.
The opinions that we’ve seen from our colleagues– in blogs, tweets and on Facebook– are pretty pathetic. Eastwood’s “insane,” he’s “senile,” he’s “an embarrassment.” But too many of the comedians we’ve seen holding forth on the performance aren’t inclined to use their experience as comics to lend some insight into the presentation. There’s precious little thoughtful analysis of what is, for the moment (and for a few news cycles at least), the most talked about comedic performance in the pop culture.
From the opening line– “Save a little for Mitt.”– to the recollection of the evening of Obama’s election (“Oprah was crying… I was crying.”) to the empty chair bit, it was a comedic monologue wrapped around a serious message at a gathering of delegates for one of the two major parties in America. Levity is so scarce at such events. Perhaps it shouldn’t be.
We’re puzzled as to why professional comedians would ignore the comedic element of Eastwood’s portion of the “show” and instead resort to base, contemptible, brutish character assassination.
To be sure, a handful of thoughtful comments can be seen here or there. It has been speculated that the empty chair device has been around since vaudeville, maybe even earlier. And some folks even drew a parallel between the empty chair conceit and Bob Newhart‘s or Shelley Berman‘s (or, we would add, in the interests of gender equality, Betty Walker’s) phone bits. Some even dared to defend the performance as pretty good for a non-comic and very good for an 82-year-old. But the defense has been meek in the face of such withering (and vicious) condemnation of Eastwood and anyone so gauche as to defend him.
We’re not interested in starting a debate on the quality of the performance, but we’re disappointed that so many comedians failed to put aside their opinion of the substance of Eastwood’s words (which, after all, were not all that controversial or mean-spirited) and offer some kind of thoughtful breakdown of the structure of the material, the reaction of the audience and any possible ramifications it might have for standup in general. Something fun, something light, something interesting to comedians and comedy fans. Instead, they’re rushing to put up links to articles that “fact-check” Eastwood’s speech or going on about the fact that Eastwood has seven children and how that might clash with the GOP’s ostensible stance on family values.
Is that what comedians have become?
How would comedians like it if the tables were turned? Suppose one of us mounted the stage and did a joke about a subject dear to the hearts of some audience members. And, the next day, our joke is ignored and we’re branded as batshit crazy, and our values, morals and dignity are questioned and we were condemned as a “worthless douchebag.” Oh… waitaminute… that’s already happening.
One of the “founding fathers of Minneapolis comedy,” Wild Bill Bauer passed away at his home in Inner Grove Heights, MN, according to the story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
The Female Half had the pleasure of working with Bauer in Mesquite, NV, back in 2005.
We stumbled across this article on USAToday.com, which in turn led us to the original account (in the UK Guardian) of an Irish man who sued the P&O Cruises because the comedians on two cruises made Irish jokes.
Here’s the troubling part:
Wolfe brought a civil claim against Carnival Plc – the owners of P&O – under race relations legislation as well as the European Union’s race directive – a ruling which sets out the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin.
The European Union’s race directive? What the blazing hell is that?! And, if somebody who is “offended” by a joke can file a civil suit against the employer of a comedian (and win a five-figure settlement) because of it, what effect does it have on the artistic expression of comedians in Europe?
And in another incident– again involving a P&O cruise ship– an Australian woman is seeking $1 million.
Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald reports the 50-year-old woman, Kate Strahan, alleges a crew member serving as a judge during a singing competition on the ship told her he could see her underwear through her dress while she sang on stage, commented on her breasts and suggested she could “cougar” him any time. He also allegedly made inappropriate gestures toward an image of her projected on a screen.
The comments and gestures allegedly were made in front of an audience of about 1,200 fellow passengers, and Strahan’s husband has said the incident caused her so much stress she had to stop working, the Morning Herald says.
Of course, she might not get a penny. But it’s still troubling that she feels justified in bringing the suit in the first place.
Too many attorneys in this world? Too much political correctness? Too much greed? Are some folks just against fun? Or an out-and-out hostility toward fun?
Back in 2006, we stumbled upon a series of interviews with comics. We excerpted the following from Diller’s interview:
It’s wonderful to be able to do something that not everyone can do. Not everyone can play the piano. I’ll tell you what: You know how dear old Rodney Dangerfield says “I don’t get no respect?”
When you play the piano, you get a lot of respect. Because here you are with an audience of 3,000, and maybe 15 people can play fair in that audience. Your art show. People are coming and looking at your art and going “ooh!” and “ahh!” and buying it. Not everyone can paint.
Everyone can talk. Some of them can even sing. In fact they get in the shower and they think they’re pretty hot stuff. Now… This is why comics don’t get the respect they truly should: People think they even know how to tell a joke. Most of them don’t even if they have an audience. If they have an audience they will elongate. They’ll pad it. They think, “Oh my golly, they’re loving this!” They aren’t loving this. They already know the answer, maybe. They’re maybe being polite.
But you see, they look at you and if youre really good, they think your ad libbing they think you just walked out and talked. They don’t realize that 45 years went into getting the experience to looking that peaceful and looking like you know what you’re doing, and holding their attention and making them laugh. You are an impresario. You’re in charge. It’s power.
Just because you’re talking, they think they can do it. They think they can do it.
They know they can’t play the piano, they know they can’t paint. But they think they can do that. It looks possible.
Access all the interviews from the Archive of American Television here.
…that this is where they put up the comics!
As you swing around the corner in the lobby of the Edgewater Hotel Casino (The Male Half was headlining at the comedy club there last night) in Laughlin, NV, you see this, just to the left of the registration desk:
(It’s part of the Edgewater’s program to promote newly upgraded rooms!)
It’s TheStandupComedians.com. At least it is/was until the ad comes/came down. Anyway, it’s interesting…
Paul Breau explains:
The idea for the comedy site came after watching Louis CK’s Live at the Beacon Theatre stand-up show. His DIY-style digital download site was a game changer. Fans could buy his comedy for $5 and do whatever they wanted with it. He wasn’t the first to do it, but he was the first comedian. And the idea that artists, even comedians, could deal directly with fans was very cool. Once Louis CK did it, other big name comedians quickly followed: Aziz Ansari and Jim Gaffigan both came out with their own downloadable website specials shortly after. I wondered if the same model could work for lesser-known comics.
We wondered, too. And we figured there’s no better place to advertise than here… after all, we reach a bunch of comedians and comedy fans.
We’re pleased to be part of such an effort.
It’s grassroots-y and it’s plucky! (And if there’s one thing we admire around here, it’s grassrootsiness and pluckiness!) And we’ve been wondering (quietly, to ourselves) if this Louis CK hoo-ha would result in the industry being turned upside down… well, it hasn’t… at least not immediately. But that’s not how industries get turned upside down. They get tilted slightly… then they get turned on their sides… then they get upended. And, like a piñata, the rewards spill out and everyone gains! (Sorry for mixing metaphors. But if there’s anything we admire around here, it’s grassrootsiness, pluckiness and mixed metaphors!)
And the folks at TheStandupComedians.com are helping to tilt the industry just a few degrees. And they’re whacking at the industry pi˜ata with fury… and we hope the candy is spilling out! They are: Erica Sigurdson, Graham Clark, Patrick Maliha, Ivan Decker, Dylan Rhymer, Charlie Demers and Ben McGinnis.