Today is the anniversary of the launch of SHECKYmagazine.com! Fifteen years ago today, we uploaded our first “issue.” Back then, the website had a magazine format– an interview or two, a couple of columns, some commentary and maybe a feature– which was uploaded just after midnight on the first of every month. Eventually, we went to every other month. Then quarterly. And then we turned it into a “blog.” Back when you still had to put quotes around the word blog.
We evolved from a magazine “dedicated to the glorification of standup comedy,” to an opinion rag that sought to do many things– inform, enlighten, debate, mock, amuse. We sought to offer provocative content on the art, the craft and the lifestyle that is standup comedy. Content that would be interesting to avid standup fans and standup comics as well as those in the entertainment industry and folks in the media.
Along the way, in response to a changing internet landscape, we made changes in the site. Initially, we saw ourselves as competing with other online publications or websites and news organizations. We took pride in breaking the occasional standup-related story. We frequently presented stories that weren’t covered by the mainstream media and we offered a platform for our standup colleagues and fans to mourn or vent or commiserate– a platform that wasn’t really available elsewhere. And, through documenting our journey as standup comics, we afforded our readers a peek into the lives of real, working comedians.
Often, we were tapped by the mainstream media to contribute a quote or an opinion as part of a feature story or a bit of analysis. We were the first publication– online or offline– to offer immediate daily updates on the Just For Laughs festival. (In 1999, we ventured to Montreal with a Polaroid instant camera and a scanner and we begged, borrowed or stole access to any dial-up connection we could. All with raging hangovers!)
Eventually, when cellphones, smartphones, wi-fi and social media exploded– when anybody and everybody was able to quickly disseminate news or commentary on matters related to standup– we narrowed our focus further. We went deep instead of wide. We went longform. We posted less, but what we posted was quite often lengthy and it invited commentary from our readers and sometimes set off debate.
Initially, a good portion of our content centered on our personal/professional lives– grinning photos from the green room, festival highlights, detailed accounts of our Last Comic Standing appearance. Eventually, in a process that happened so slowly we weren’t all that aware of it, we found that, instead of immediately posting our lives on our website, we were using Facebook and Twitter for such dispatches. And, shortly after hitting Facebook Status “Update” button, we would stop and say, “Hmmm… I guess we should have put that on the magazine… oh, well…”
The longer form that we adopted is a form that suits us well, but it is rather time-consuming. And, three years ago, after moving across the country, our lifestyle changed dramatically. (Now, when we’re home, we are, more often than not, working. That is in stark contrast to how we lived in New Jersey. And, occasionally, we find ourselves on the road separately– again, something that didn’t happen prior to three years ago. And the vast majority of our writing has always been done as a collaboration– at the kitchen table or at a desk in a hotel room or in while waiting at departure area at the airport. And it’s definitely not something that can be done over the phone! We’re currently writing this, together, in our hotel room at the Borgata in Atlantic City.)
In a further evolution, we want to be able to write without looking a the clock or the calendar. So we’re going to devote a good portion of our time (time that would have been devoted to posting on the magazine) to writing books. Maybe self-published Kindle books, or perhaps we’ll spin out something that might pique the interest of a traditional publisher. We intend to harvest the content of the three or four thousand (!) posts and the dozens of interviews and columns we’ve churned out since 1999 and re-package it. With some updating and some re-writing we hope to create some interesting treatises on standup comedy and its relationship to the culture.
We aren’t taking the site down. (But we’re going to find a way to host it so it doesn’t cost us as much money.) It’ll still be there when you hit that URL. We’ll still post here and there on matters that are important to us or that we suspect might be important to our readers. But we’ve been re-focusing lately and we’ve noticed that we’re due for a change… again! It’s always been about change. We’ve never stood still.
When you have a significant anniversary (like #15!), you take the opportunity to reflect.
And we hope that you, our readers, might indulge us a bit as we tick off the 15 most significant or meaningful things that happened to us, either directly or indirectly, because at one minute after midnight, on April 1, 1999, we hit “upload” and started SHECKYmagazine.com:
1. We got a book. A BOOK book– “The Comedy Bible: The Complete Resource for Aspiring Comedians.” A physical book, published by a real publisher that was printed on paper and distributed through Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com as well as through brick-and-mortar bookstores– both here and in the U.K. (Across the pond, they titled it “Comedy Techniques!”)
In our twelfth year of publishing SHECKYmagazine.com, we were contacted by a Quartet Books of London to write a book on standup. It was published in October of 2011. It was a dream come true. It had been our goal from day one to have an actual book in a bookstore. And it actually produced tears of joy when UPS dropped off the first copy!
2. We appeared on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing.” Together. We appeared on primetime network television in season seven of the standup-related reality series. It was possibly the most important lesson we learned in the decade-and-a-half of publishing the magazine. No matter how strong or negative or caustic our comments might have been over the years, they didn’t necessarily result in burnt bridges. And our experience with Last Comic Standing illustrates this nicely.
In the first season of the show , we ignored it. In subsequent seasons, when it was clear to us that the show wasn’t going away, we offered our analysis of it. Sometimes we “live-blogged” it. On one occasion, we trained a video camera on a hotel television, in our room, so that we could watch the grainy recording of the episode and analyze it after we got offstage. And our commentary or analysis wasn’t always flattering.
Through it all, we tried to offer an entertaining and honest opinion, though. And honesty, no matter how painful some folks might find it, is, more often than not, respected. So… even after all the grumbling we did about LCS, the producers of the show thought it would be a good idea to invite us to audition. And that journey eventually took us to Glendale, CA, and one of the craziest experiences of our careers.
We are proud of the writing we did about LCS. Initially, people told us that were crazy for trashing the show and that, if we ever hoped to get on the show, we should either say nice things about it or shut up. Once in a while, we hesitated for a moment or two before hitting the upload button, but we always put the magazine’s mission ahead of whatever career ambitions we may have had. In the end, we were vindicated. And, as a bonus, our first-person accounts of our LCS experience is frequently cited by our readers as some of the finest, most interesting stuff we’ve ever offered.
3. We were tapped to collaborate on an article in USA Today. “Ten Great Places to Sit Down and Watch Standup” appeared on April 1, 2005, in the paper’s Travel section. The byline was Anne Goodfriend. We provided the author with ten standup venues throughout America. We provided venues that were geographically diverse and important for one reason or another. Years after that article ran, some of the clubs that were featured are no longer with us. But it is gratifying when we see the endorsement mentioned on a billboard or on a club’s website. It meant a lot to us and, apparently, it meant a lot to some of the venues. (And our readers thought it was neato that we went out of our way to include a one-nighter!) Along with the hit in the McPaper, we also garnered hits in (or were quoted in/on) the Washington Post, New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, National Public Radio, WCBS News Radio and dozens of other major daily newspapers. (And we were pretty proud of ourselves, considering we did all of our own publicity!)
4. We got to argue with reporters! We reserved some of our most vitriolic posts for journalists. From our very early days, we made it our mission to hammer any journalists– mainstream or otherwise, online or hard copy– who engaged in lazy or cliched writing about standup comedy. We realized that editors and reporters and writers were all too quick to rely on tired stereotypes when it came to writing about our business. Occasionally, one of them would write to us and gamely try to counter what we had written. (On one occasion, the standup writer for the New York Times wrote to us! We were simultaneously thrilled, but ultimately baffled why anyone from the NYT would care about us!) It was always great fun!
5. Getting contacted by Shecky Greene! One night, probably in our fourth or fifth year, we got an email from The Man Himself, inviting us to give him a call! A few minutes later, we were on the horn with show business legend Shecky Greene. We chatted about standup, about the entertainment business in general, about horses– it was a thrill. Eventually, we saw him perform at the Suncoast in Vegas in 2008 and got to meet him afterward! We saw him perform two more times after that. (And the last show we saw– at the Southpoint– might turn out to be his last show, as he announced, at its conclusion, his retirement from performing.) It means a lot to us to have met him and spoken to him (even more so now that we live in Vegas!), and we listed him in the ackowledgements in our book.
6. We covered the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal ten times. In May of 1999, after having uploaded just two issues, we got it in our heads to apply for press credentials to cover the biggest comedy festival in the world. And they approved us! When the fax came in from Montreal, our reaction was not unlike Robert Redford in the final scene of “The Candidate”– “Marvin, what do we do now?” We had no real game plan. Eventually, armed with the above mentioned mix of new and old technology, we provided our growing readership with the first JFL coverage of its kind. Over the years, it became many of our readers’ favorite feature.
We were consumed with fear and uncertainty when we sat down at the Delta bar, in the early evening of our first day there. We had no idea how we were going to approach the giant beast that is JFL. Moments later, we spotted Dom Irerra cruising through the lobby on his way to pick up a rental car. He acknowledged our shouts, he greeted us warmly and he invited us to tag along with him as he eventually wound up at Club Soda, one of the fest’s main venues. The whole experience made us realize that we knew a lot of people (and a lot of people knew us) and that this was possible, it was do-able.
7. Interviewing Dick Cavett. We somehow got his email address. We recall that it was no secret. Cavett was an “early adapter” of the internet. We were emboldened and we asked him if we could send him interview questions. He agreed to answer them. We carefully and nervously crafted a dozen or so questions. We were joyous when he prefaced one of his responses with, “Great question!” WOW! Dick Cavett complimented us! It doesn’t get any better than that. That’s like Joe Namath saying, “Nice throw!” Or Julia Child asking for seconds.
And we interviewed a bunch of other great comics. Shelley Berman, Richard Lewis, Triumph The Insult Comic Dog, Mitch Hedberg, Franklyn Ajaye… the list goes on and on!
8. Catharsis. This business is shitty. Shitty things often happen. Prior to starting a magazine about standup comedy, when a shitty thing happened to us, we would have internalized it, curled up into a ball and/or spoken about it as little as possible. Ignore it. It might go away. But… it doesn’t.
It hit us like a bolt of lightning that it would be much better to talk about such incidents openly. And talk about them openly, we did! On those rare instances where something monumentally craptastic happened to us, we wrote about it. We opened up and spilled our guts. Some folks thought it was crazy. Others thought it was brave. When The Male Half bombed miserably at the Stardome in Birmingham, AL, (and got fired!) he immediately drove back to the hotel room and cranked out a monumental opus– “Bombing in Birmingham”– which set off a major discussion about bombiing… and about whether or not it’s prudent to admit to said bombing. And when The Female Half was booed non-stop for 25 minutes (by a roomful of Opie & Anthony fans) while opening for the late Patrice O’Neal, she wrote about the clusterfuck in great detail. We received some of the warmest expressions of support and solidarity we’ve ever read. And, it is hoped, we maybe taught folks that bad things happen to good comics. We tried to save such grousing for larger issues. We did our best to do it without any bitterness.
9. Inspiring young comics. The Female Half tweeted a couple months ago: “Our book is inspiring people to pursue a career in standup comedy. And for this we will burn in hell.” It’s only half true. We hope. Over the years, we have had countless comics approach us and tell us that they started reading SHECKYmagazine.com before they got up the nerve to attempt standup. And that our musings had a profound effect. Now the book is having the same effect. We’re not drunk with power or anything, but we must admit that it’s gratifying.
10. Releasing our inner prick. We fully admit that– due to lack of sleep or a hangover or a road fatigue or simple boredom– we were capable of writing with extreme douchebaggery. But our vicious screeds were never hissed through clenched teeth… we were nearly always gleeful when we eviscerated someone (or concocted a horrendous nickname for someone). A particularly lethal turn of phrase usually had us giggling like schoolgirls or high-fiving. Being a prick can often be wearying and lead to despair. Sometimes, however, it can be exhilarating. (See #8 above.) We tried our best to reserve such prickery for those who truly deserved it. Only rarely did we ever have any “ouch” moments… and we don’t seem to recall ever apologizing. Ooops… maybe.
11. We were on a billboard! Within months of moving to Las Vegas, we had our face on a billboard for a month! We can all agree that it’s exceedingly rare to move to a new market and then –BOOM!– get your puss on a billboard. But comedy is all about timing. As we moved from New Jersey and settled into our new place in Nevada, we put the finishing touches on the book. And we got the gig that led to the billboard because of the upcoming publication of the book. (Which we got because of the magazine. See #1 above.)
12. Editing the writing of our columnists. In the first five or six years of the magazine, we recruited a gaggle of writers from among our standup colleagues. And the folks who we recruited (or who lobbied us for a chance to write) turned out to be wildly talented. And we were so grateful to them for providing us with content and for entertaining our readers– without pay, we hasten to add. And, initially at least, they all did it on a monthly basis! (It seems like 30 days is a long time to cook something up for a column, but we imagine that it sometimes felt like a treadmill… but they always came through.)
Brian Whalen, Tom Ryan, Joe Dixon, Bonnie McFarlane, Doug Hecox, Paul Ogata, Tommy James, Kid Dave Miller, Adam Gropman, Rich Williams, Dan French, Jeff Shaw and many others were regular contributors. And once in a great while, we would run a one-off piece from a comic who participated in a far-flung fest or had a unique perspective. To all of them, we are exceedingly grateful.
13. We became “experts.” As a result of all that press and getting quoted and authoring a book, we got this crazy reputation of being “experts” on standup comedy. (And, we admit, we helped along the notion here and there.) And, as a result of developing a reputation as experts on standup, we ended up being featured in no fewer than four documentary films over the past four years. We can be seen bloviating onscreen in Don Barnhart & John Bizarre’s “Finding The Funny,” in Gary Licker & Scott Sobel’s “The Business of Comedy” and in Bonnie McFarlane and Rich Vos’s “Women Aren’t Funny.” And we’ll be featured in the upcoming “I Am Road Comic,” the followup to Jordan Brady’s well-received “I Am Comic.” Anyone who has been in the business of standup for more than 25 years is probably going to be somewhat of an expert on comedy. But we suppose that the added trappings of a magazine and a book creates and reinforces the appearance of expertness. Experticity? (Making up words is fun.)
14. Personal growth. Just prior to starting the magazine, we were somewhat depressed and we were on the road to Bitterville. After analyzing, dissecting and eventually writing about all the stuff– bad and good– that has happened to us over the past fifteen years, we have achieved peace, for lack of a better word. Were it not for the magazine, we might have dropped out of the business. Or, had we stayed in it, we might have not been so placid or relatively happy. We have, by no means, achieved wild success, but we have made a living for a quarter of a century and we keep evolving and we are continually scheming to get to the next level, whatever that may be. And the fact that The Male Half was just on Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson a few months ago demonstrates that we take standup very seriously and that we’re still engaged and have goals. And through it all, we have done it together. Standup can be a solitary experience. It can be lonely. It can lead to self-centeredness, as it is such an individual pursuit. But having this giant, living, breathing project that we’ve stoked (together) for fifteen years has made us more of a team.
15. We created an identity. It still makes us laugh when people adress us (or refer to us) as “The SHECKY people.” (Or the “Sheckies” or “The Shecksters” or “Mr. and Mrs. Shecky.”) When you create an online magazine– and stay at it for 15 years– you become it and it becomes you. Occasionally, someone will refer to one of us as “The Female Half” or “The Male Half.” It is the highest compliment. We are proud of the magazine.
It is interesting that a little idea can change your life. And in ways that you couldn’t have imagined. It’s not always about money, either– over the years we’ve never profited directly from the magazine… and, considering what we’ve spent on it, we have actually taken quite a hit. But we kept it free– free for our readers and free from profit! This, perhaps more than any other fact, has always baffled people. But we were never in it for the money. Good thing, too. Had we done it for the money, we wouldn’t have made it past year three. But we sensed that there might be other rewards to be had for all the work. And we listed just fifteen of them above. (Of course, we would like to make money… we shall see.) We’ve slipped into the past tense here and there when talking about the magazine, but we stress that this is not the end. It is another beginning. Check back on occasion. We’re not done yet.
Drudgereport.com linked to it, so it’s been injected directly into the veins of social media. There’s no stopping a meme like this. (It’s just another in a long line of such memes– “Comics are crazy… that’s why we’re comics.”)
We’ve spent the last nearly fifteen years fighting it and we’re about ready to throw in the towel.
Throwing in the towel not just because we seem to be incapable of battling the idea but because comics themselves seem to enjoy (even revel in) the idea of being mentally ill. Apparently, just being a standup comic isn’t enough… they have to be schizophrenic, bipolar, psychotic.
(Mind you, we’re not quitting the blogging racket. We’re just going to give up trying to disabuse anyone– in the press, among our peers, in the business, among our family members– that we’re not nutty.)
Drudge linked to the Reuters article that was carried by Canadian Yahoo. Here’s the second graf:
In a study in the British Journal of Psychiatry, researchers analyzed comedians from Australia, Britain and the United States and found they scored significantly higher on four types of psychotic characteristics compared to a control group of people who had non-creative jobs.
In all honesty, researchers didn’t analyze comedians… they analyzed comedians’ responses from an online survey. (And online surveys of any kind are pretty rickety from a scientific standpoint. But folks seem to love taking online surveys and burble on about them with the enthusiasm of a 12-year-old schoolgirl regarding a Ouija board. Regardless, it’s a good enough tool for Gordon Claridge, PhD, and good enough, apparently, for the British Journal of Psychiatry. We suspect that the respondents, having for so long been told that they are unstable, have internalized the message and their responses to the survey don’t so much reflect reality as much as conditioning. Or, as comics might be prone to do, messing with the Authority Figure, in this case, the British PhD?)
Of course, we disagree with the conclusions and we disagree with the impressions that people are gleaning from the study and subsequently spewing back out to the world. Comedians, if they are nothing, are consistent and predictable. People who are mentally ill, last time we checked, are not models of consistency or predictability. It has been our experience that the best comedians are calculating, deliberate almost to the point of being boring. We may, as the eggheads claim, exhibit signs of “introverted anhedonia and extraverted impulsiveness,” but we’re hardly borderline psychotic or schizophrenic.
But, from what we’ve seen on Facebook and other media, comedians not only don’t seem to mind the characterization, they seem to be embracing it. Now, we understand that some of them are “embracing” it– in a thoroughly ironic way– but a disturbing number of them seem to be resigned to the stereotype, even attracted to the notion. (And when we wrote about this in the past, we got grief from our fellow comedians.)
To which we must ask: Isn’t it enough to be a comedian? Isn’t it enough to be different from your peers by virtue of the fact that you are adept at making a roomful of strangers laugh? Have you become so inured to your otherness that you feel that you have to heap on a dangerous and/or stigmatized characteristic like bipolarity or schizotypy or out-and-out schizophrenia onto your social resume?
We think we have finally figured out why comics do this: In an effort to explain not just their disparateness but their career choice– successful or otherwise– it is far better to be thought of mentally ill than merely irresponsible.
People are critical and/or cruelly dismissive of anybody who walks away from a stable, normal life to embrace something that’s unconventional. Family members whisper that the comic at the table “failed to use his college degree,” or “isn’t living up to his or her potential or responsibilities.” It’s an timeless classic. Instead of trying to convince the naysayers that pursuit of something as interesting and often fulfilling as standup is worthwhile, they can instead point to a study that says, in effect, “I can’t help myself! I’m craaaaazy!”
Plus, being perceived as anhedonic or impulsive has that extra added sexiness and danger. Better to be thought of as impulsive than as stable. Impulsive is exciting; stable is boring. We get it. (We long ago stopped feeling this way ourselves, but we understand the tendency.)
For our part, we will keep in mind our “inability to experience pleasure in normally pleasurable acts” the next time we find ourselves grinning uncontrollably while enjoying cocktails and conversation with our colleagues in a foreign port or setting the alarm for a much-needed afternoon nap or disturbing the patrons around us at a diner because we’re guffawing too loudly at our fellow comics’ hell-gig stories.
Salon’s David Daley interviews David Byrne on the occasion of the release of Byrne’s book, “How Music Works.” Byrne is always interesting. (So interesting, in fact, that The Female Half was moved to wirelessly purchase the electronic version of Byrne’s book for The Male Half!)
The interview is worth reading for the ideas it contains about music, the creative process, the culture of “free” and other matters. And some of it even relates to standup. To wit:
In the book you have one chapter dedicated to how you can create a scene, on the things you need for something like CBGB to happen. One is that clubs ought to let musicians and artists in free when they’re not performing. Why is that important?
Well, to be more specific, artists who have played there on other nights, not just anybody who shows up. I have a guitar, let me in! It makes a community. The musicians take advantage of that, they hang out, and the audience sees the other musicians that they might have seen the other night. And the musicians talk amongst one another, which they don’t always do. They wouldn’t just call one another up and say, “Hey, what are you doing? Let’s go out and have a drink.” But if they both are at the same bar because they’re welcome there, then they’ll fall into conversation. Then a little kind of community starts to happen.
The Halves of the Staff had the pleasure of meeting Joan Dangerfield, widow of Rodney Dangerfield, when she was in town on the occasion of the dedication of The Rodney Booth at the Las Vegas Laugh Factory.
Factory proprietor Harry Basil was joined by Stephen Thomas and The Male Half on Friday November 22 on that club’s late show, which was also a tribute to the late comedian. At the conclusion of the show, Basil– who was for many years Dangerfield’s opening act and a collaborator in the capacity of director or screenwriter on many of the late comedian’s film projects– reminisced about Dangerfield, showed Dangerfield-related clips and thanked those in attendance (including Leslie Greif, who produced Dangerfield’s “Meet Wally Sparks”). He also unveiled two new items which were added to The Rodney Booth– a dedication plaque and the jacket that Dangerfield wore in “Sparks.”
Also announced was the launch of Dangerfield’s new website, www.rodney.com (two years in the making), which contains mountains of information and fascinating items like a typewritten page of the first attempt at standup by “Jack Roy” (Dangerfield’s first stage name).
The Hollywood Reporter is reporting that NBC as acquired the rights to The American Comedy Awards and will broadcast the ceremony in May of next year.
They refer to the show ” honoring those who have achieved new heights in film and television.” And:
The ceremony will also pay tribute to some of comedy’s most enduring personalities and acknowledge the work of stand-up performers.
We only blockquote that because, SHECKYmagazine.com readers will recall that the ACAs did not honor standup comics in their ceremony of 2000. We pointed out that this was curious because the producer of the ACA, George Schlatter was once quoted as saying:
Of all the awards, the Standup Comic Audience Award is our favorite. It is a chance to honor the performers who spend much of their careers developing their craft and working in the comedy clubs all over America.
We posted about the awards in our magazine here. (We can’t recall when that post ran… it’s in our archives, but it’s not dated! We suspect it was late 2000. And we also found an ancient column by The Male Half that takes Schlatter to task for dropping standup comics from the awards.)
From that post about the awards, we excerpt this:
Fun Facts About The American Comedy Awards
For the first two years of the ACA, the award for standup comics was called “Funniest Male Standup Comic” or “Funniest Female Standup Comic”
In 1988 and 1989, an award was given to both a “Comedy Club Standup Comic” and “Funniest Male/Female Standup Comic.”
And in 1990 and 1991, the phrase “Of The Year” was tacked onto “Comedy Club Standup Comic…” and the “Funniest Male/Female” award was dropped after 1989.
From 1992 to 1999, the award was renamed “Standup Comic Audience Award.” Confused? So are we!
No award, of any kind, with any name, was given to a standup comic in 2000.
A cursory examination of the list at left reveals these facts:
Diane Ford lost 10 times, making her the Susan Lucci of the ACA.
Will Durst lost 7 times making him the Ted Danson of the ACA. He lost to Craig Shoemaker, Bill Engvall, Carrot Top, Brian Regan, George Wallace, Richard Jeni and the late, great Dennis Wolfberg.
Robin Williams won the award in one form or another three times, beating, at various times, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy (2X), Jay Leno (3X!), Billy Crystal, David Letterman, Jackie Mason, Garry Shandling and Louie Anderson, none of whom went on to win.
Lilly Tomlin won 2 times, skipped a year, then was defeated by Roseanne (Arnold, at the time).
In 1999, Etta May tied Felicia Michaels and Robert Schimmel tied John Pinette for the top awards, the first ties. Producer George Schlatter cited “irregularities in voting” as the reason for dropping the award the following year. After a meeting with standup comics and other at the Melrose Improv, Schlatter restored the award for the 2001 ACA.
In the 2001 ACA, Price Waterhouse will tabulate the votes, which will be cast by viewers who see a videotape of the nominees, which will be shown on Comedy Central and online.
Those nominees will have been chosen by a “blue ribbon panel” of comics and former comics, who got a list of nominees from club owners, who made their suggestions for “Standup Audience Award” after prompting from Geo. Schlatter Prods.
The Awards will be handed out at Universal on April 22 and broadcast on the April 25, 2001.
If all goes well, SHECKYmagazine.com will be present when the coveted awards are handed out. We will keep you posted in any event on the nominees and on the voting.
Note: We eventually declined the invitation to attend.
We were hanging out at the Laugh Factory until late Sunday night. When we awoke the next morning, we read a headline that alluded to a shooting at a hotel/casino on the Vegas strip, but we thought that it alluded to another Strip shooting earlier in the year (not that there’s been that many– there’s been two this year– but we thought it was old news).
But this was a fresh incident, at Bally’s. Some dude went into a nightclub, asked the doorman to waive the cover so he could check out if there was a crowd. He eventually paid the cover, then went in… and when he emerged, he was angry that there was a less than packed house and he drew a gun.
Two security guards were wounded, but not fatally. When a patron emerged from the club and witnessed the mayhem, he jumped onto the assailant and tried to stop the shooting. He took one to the chest/neck. And he died.
Turns out the hero was a comedian, Kenneth Brown, who went by the name “Kd Brown.” According to the report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, he had recently moved to Vegas from Los Angeles, “and worked as a club promoter and stand-up comedian.” We hear that he was regular at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles. The story quotes from Norma Sattiewhite, Brown’s mother. Brown was her only child.
Needless to say, we’re shaken by this. We didn’t know Brown. But the comics around here who knew Brown are grieving.
We got a letter (actually a comment) on the occasion of our 14th anniversary (which was back in April).
Wow, that went fast. I first heard of Shecky when I was doing political cartoons for the Minnesota Daily in 1997-2001 while back in grad school and one of your editors came to my defense after everybody was piling on me for doing some politically incorrect cartoon. I appreciated that. Thanks and congratulations as you start your 15th year. Glad I’m not starting my 15th year of grad school.
This gentleman’s “piling on” predicament occurred so far back that we can’t locate it, so we can’t relive our heroic defense. But we thrilled that there are readers out there who felt a bit less lonely while fighting their battles!!
Above is a screencap provided by FOS Dan Rosenberg! Click it to see the video at cbs.com! I come on at approximately 33 minutes into the video– just after Craig plays his rusty trombone. (Bootlegged version to follow, for easier viewing, no commercials!)
The Halves are so exhausted right now that we can’t post much more than this. Let’s just say that The Male Half is scheduled to appear on the CBS late night talk show Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on Friday, October 11, 2013. Check your Tivo menu for show times.
It’s a saga that started in June. And it accelerated on September 30. And it culminated in a taping last night… which was October 10… which also happens to be the 71st anniversary of The Male Half’s parent’s marriage… and the 31st anniversary of The Male Half opening for Steven Wright at the Comedy Works in Philadelphia… and Steven Wright was in the dressing room across from The Male Half’s dressing room because he was a guest on the first show taped last night… It’s all so spooky and “harmonic convergence-y” that we’re too tired to sort it all out.
But it’s going to be awesome and splendid. The crowd was raucous and the set went well.
Last month, we posted about how a “comic’s wet dream” has become more like premature comedy ejaculation:
…a comic’s wet dream has evolved, it seems, into something entirely different. Effectively, it now means an incident or news item that doesn’t present a challenge but is instead something that “writes itself.” It’s not an opportunity for greatness, but an opportunity for mediocrity. It’s something that no one should be excited about. Why all the nocturnal emission about something that should elicit yawns? The “wet dream” metaphor has been perverted. When did we all become so excited about something that is easy, boring and pedestrian?
It may be merely a matter of definition, of meaning. Perhaps we’re all just misusing the “wet dream” metaphor. Or perhaps Facebook is distorting the creative process– folks so eager to be the first of the herd are sacrificing quality in exchange for speed.
We don’t blame Facebook, though. Facebook (and other social media… We’re looking at you, Twitter) might just be affording us an otherwise unseeable glimpse into the creative process. (What was that saying about laws and sausage? “…the making of laws is like the making of sausages– the less you know about the process the more you respect the result.”)
And now Facebook is affording us a glimpse into another disturbing trend: The complete death of skepticism. And the demise of skepticism’s companion, contrariness. We’ve been monitoring the demise of skepticism for some time now. We’ve always been of the opinion that one of the things that sets comedians apart from the rest of the population is their skepticism, their reflexive refusal to believe something they see, hear or read. An almost pathological desire to come up with something that is their own, not received. Not contrariness for the sake of being contrary or belligerent, but for the sake of coming up with something that is original and, by its uniqueness, perhaps even startling.
1 : an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity either in general or toward a particular object
2 a : the doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge in a particular area is uncertain
b : the method of suspended judgment, systematic doubt, or criticism characteristic of skeptics
We’re no longer surprised when we see one of our Facebook friends posting (with a heaping helping of indignant hand-wringing and hot tears) about the latest outrage… which turns out to be an internet hoax. Eventually, someone posts the link (most often to Snopes.com) which handily dismisses the outrage as a hoax. And, quite often, the hoax is demonstrated to be ancient.
We have patience when it’s a “civilian” who makes this gaffe. But it’s getting somewhat embarrassing and alarming that comedians are falling for these hoaxes with ever more frequency.
And it might be indicative of a serious decline of the aformentioned skepticism.
Perhaps even more worrisome is the number of times we are seeing our FB friends (comics and non-comics alike) falling for articles that are published on parody news sites! Hardly anyone falls for any Onion.com stories any more (with the exception of the occasional Chinese or Pakistani news agency), but we’re seeing folks posting “articles” from other similar outlets– along with the requisite outrage. Again, it’s even worse when our fellow comics are failing to see them for what they are– satire! Have our skepticism muscles so atrophied that we can’t pick up on satire?
Or is it something that is the mirror opposite? Is it more reflective of an insane eagerness to post something that reinforces, supports or strengthens a particular narrative? We might forgive a non-comic for doing that. But when comics do it, isn’t that the exact opposite of skepticism?
We imagine that some folks might say that it’s a-okay for a comedian to have a worldview, a viewpoint or a scheme. That should go without saying. But we maintain that even folks who have it all figured out should still be skeptical of anything– even if it supports that worldview. In fact, a good rule of thumb (which is as ancient as thumbs themselves) is, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” From the looks of things on FB, that hasn’t been happening for quite some time.
CAUTION: It has occurred to us that some folks might interpret “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” as “If it seams too good to be true, it probably is true.” This would be wrong and 180 degrees from what the quote seeks to convey.
When comics– “truthtellers,” specialists in holding up that mirror to society, brutal administrators of that dose of reality we all so desperately need– take an Onionesque, satirical item and post it (often without a joke of any kind!), as if it were fact… they come dangerously close to demonstrating that they have little or no sense of humor. They didn’t “get” the joke. They missed the “truth” that was intended in the initial satirical piece, instead seizing on the part that echoed their inner thoughts. They are, we fear, rather like the child who begins to address the puppet rather than the puppeteer.
Of course, we’re not blaming Facebook. And we’re not trying to dictate what folks should or should not do– on FB or off. We’re merely recounting what we’re seeing there… and we’re trying to determine whether or not it’s indicative of some sort of thing we might be wary of. It might be a harmless trend that has no effect on comedy at large. Or it might be indicative of some sort of devolution in the art and the craft of comedy.
We expect comics to think differently from other folks. You know how when you go up onstage and you do a bunch of jokes about, for example, your wife? And then you get offstage and some civilian comes up to you and says, “Yeah! I hate women, too!” (And you cringe and roll your eyes and you shudder because the guy just didn’t get the jokes. He got the jokes– in a rather crude way– but he failed to pick up on the subtext. He didn’t “get” the jokes in the way they were intended.) That’s what some comics seem to be doing a lot lately.
When someone approaches us after a show, they often ask, “I wanna be a comic… how do I come up with material?” And we tell them: Watch as much standup as you can and eventually (it is hoped), you’ll train your brain to think like a comic. We say that “a switch will be flipped” and you’ll start thinking like a comic. It seems that, for a lot of comics out there, that switch has been flipped to the “off” position.
Co-written by comedian Henry Phillips and Gregori Viens (and ably directed by Viens), “Punching the Clown” tells the story of “Henry Phillips,” a drifting folk-singer parodist who gets off the road by surfing on his brother’s couch in Los Angeles.
We met Phillips back in July– we were hanging out at Barney’s Beanery and Phillips happened to be dining in the next booth over. (The following weekend, Phillips was on the bill with The Male Half at Comedy & Magic in Hermosa Beach!) His acting is subdued and his songs are perfect. And the story-telling is just the right amount of awkward, wry, outlandish and poignant. And it’s accurate portrayal of the absurdity of Hollywood is, at times, gut-wrenching.
We were reminded of the movie when The Female Half saw a tweet by Nikki Glaser (who plays “Olympia” in a party scene) that said:
Do you know about the film, “Punching the Clown?” It’s on Netflix. Watch it. The funniest movie you probably haven’t seen. I promise.
We watched it tonight on Netflix (we’re on a one-month free trial that ends in about 25 minutes), but it’s also viewable, in its entirety, on Hulu.com! Just click here and enjoy! It’s a must-watch for anyone in the standup business! “Stupid Joe,” played by Marc Cohen is hilarious… but not in a good way!
In our original posting (see below), we allowed that maybe Dave Chappelle was having an off night in Hartford (and, perhaps more importantly, we were skeptical that the “heckling” that bedeviled Chappelle was borne of any kind of racism). We’re still as certain as ever that the heckling wasn’t racist. But we’re not so sure that Chappelle was having an “off” night. We recalled a similar incident in Sacramento a few years back….
Dave Chappelle got so angry with the crowd Tuesday night at Sacramento’s Memorial Auditorium that the stand-up comic walked off the stage for nearly two minutes. Upon his return, he told the audience, “You people are stupid.”
What got the comic so riled up? According to Chappelle, it was audience members who wouldn’t “shut up and listen – like you’re supposed to.”
That was from a Sacramento Bee account of his show in April 2004.
Then we read an interview with the NYT’s Jason Zinoman. Zinoman spent several months researching a book, “Searching for Dave Chappelle,” so he knows a thing or two about the temperamental performer. Asked his reaction to the story of Chappelle’s Hartford performance, Zinoman said:
I thought: People are going to go berserk about this. And so they have (meltdown, etc). I was less surprised, because with Chappelle, what’s past is prologue. In 2011 in Miami, he got upset over filming in the audience, stopped telling jokes, checked his phone. That led to boos. The next show went smoothly. The difference is that his new tour has received a lot of attention, so this is much more high profile. But since he became famous, Chappelle has a very striking, occasionally tense relationship with his audience… Chappelle has a longer history of wariness toward his crowd.
We’re now inclined to think that Chappelle wasn’t having an “off” night in Hartford… or, if he was, he tends to have an awful lot of such nights and has had at least five such nights over the past near-decade.
Now Patton Oswalt, a standup comic we hasten to point out, has tweeted his defense of Chappelle.
Chappelle’s touring now, trying to do his usual, brilliant stuff, and the crowds are screaming, “I’m Rick James, bitch!” Idiots.
Chappelle doesn’t need Oswalt sticking up for him. Chappelle needs no defending. We suppose it could be argued that we defended him. But we didn’t so much defend him as come up with a much more plausible reason for the “meltdown.” Oswalt seems intent on blaming the audience. (At the very least he didn’t invoke the tired “racist” reasons for the audience interference.)
But we’re not so sure that Chappelle deserves to be totally resolved of responsibility in this case.
When we remembered that he displayed similar behavior in other venues dating as far back as 2004, and that he reacted to a crowd in a similar fashion in Miami in 2011 and that he had a hard time in Austin in 2012, we began to conclude that he had not figured out a way to deal with the recurring participation of the audience members who had paid good money to see what folks were touting as a comedy legend.
People threw jelly beans at the Beatles on their first (and second and probably third) American tour… and they witnessed what was, at the time, some of the worst fan crushing, heaving and injuries ever documented. Overenthusiastic fans hurled cheeseburgers at Steve Miller after his “Living In The USA” became a hit. Barenaked Ladies endured their adherents’ tossing Kraft Macaroni & Cheese at them during their tours to support the album that contained their breakthrough hit, “If I Had A Million Dollars.”
The Beatles eventually dealt with it: They quit performing live. Steve Miller eventually outlasted his overzealous followers (and perhaps took some time off from touring). Barenaked Ladies made heartfelt pleas to their people and asked them to donate those boxes of cheesy goodness to food banks. These examples may be all related to rock ‘n’ roll acts, but we are constantly told that Chappelle is one of a rare group of comedians who has achieved “rock star” status.
Why hasn’t Chappelle figured out how to deal with his most demonstrative worshipers? We’re nearly all from the same school: the school of shitty one-nighters and ghastly college gigs and unresponsive urban crowds or uptight corporate parties. We’ve all come up with ways of dealing with these speed bumps and we’ve all had to deal with this kind of thing, if only on a small scale. Why hasn’t one of the great comedy geniuses of our time figured it out as well? Don Ho had to put up with hundreds of old ladies yelling out, “Tiny Bubbles!”
The more we ponder it, the more annoying it is.
If you can’t adequately deal with the adulation and the fanaticism of your supporters– and you simply can’t forego personal appearances– then you might have to huddle with creative types and/or trusted associates and figure out a way that enables you to present your comedy in a way that is satisfactory to you and your fans. Or you should quit.
James Taylor’s breakthrough hit was “Fire And Rain,” which detailed his battle with drug addiction, depression and the death of a close friend. It went on to be named one of Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest songs of all times. Taylor knew that he was “doomed” to perform the song for the rest of his career. He dealt with that by writing “That’s Why I’m Here.”
Oh, fortune and fame’s such a curious game
Perfect strangers can call you by name
Pay good money to hear fire and rain
Again and again and again
Some are like summer coming back every year
Got your baby got your blanket got your bucket of beer
I break into a grin from ear to ear
And suddenly it’s perfectly clear
That’s why I’m here
Singin tonight, tomorrow, everyday
That’s why I’m standing here
That’s why I’m here
Song is different from the spoken word, to be sure. But we all have to deal with varying degrees of this kind of thing– internally or externally.
Dave Chappelle was “heckled” by adoring fans at a sold-out show…
… a year ago last June… in Austin, TX.
Read all about it at CultureMap.com, a website that keeps Austin weird by covering arts and culture in the Texas capital.
Even before the comic caught someone recording his set, which happened about 12 minutes in and is cited as the show’s official breaking point, things felt off. I’d like to think I’m fairly unflappable when it comes to dealing with awkward sets, weird crowds, weak material or any combination of things that can go wrong onstage. Hell, I just spent a weekend at the Bonnaroo Comedy Tent, which was packed with thousands of hard-partying, inebriated kids (who, for the record, were much easier to handle than last night’s house).
But walking out of The Paramount, I was taken aback to the point where I could only repeat “I really don’t know” when my roommate asked how it went.
…last night, he seemed tired, pausing often to light cigarettes, decide whether he wanted to continue a line of thought, or gaze into the crowd. And while there were some solid bits and brilliant riffs on audience-supplied suggestions, Chappelle himself jokingly admitted he only had “about four minutes of material.”
The audience was undeniably rowdy, exceptionally so for a comedy show, and they were from the start– but they got worse when they weren’t reprimanded, when the threats of removal weren’t followed through on, and especially when their behavior was met with grins and encouragement from the comic himself. As Mass Appeal concludes, “Dave didn’t smack them around the way Joe Rogan or Bill Burr would have. He could have; he just chose not to. He was just there to collect a paycheck and ride on out of town.”
Also enlightening is the damage control done by the Paramount Theater via their Facebook page, which is quoted by the article’s author Samantha Pitchel at the end of her piece:
Hi! It’s us again. Some thoughts on last night:
We are not new to comedy and are quite familiar with the removal of that base creature known as The Heckler. We had a veritable slew of them last night and, because of it, the experience was diminished for many. That is a tragic thing.
Here’s why we didn’t run up and down our 1,200+ seat venue throwing people out: the performer was engaging and encouraging the crowd. When security was escorting a patron out that had been recording the show, Dave Chappelle said he should stay. He then chose to respond and include the audience in his show. This created a domino effect of audience “participation.” While we may not be in agreement with the choice, it was the artist’s choice to interact with the audience that we had to ultimately respect.
We apologize if you feel that we failed you, but we must react off of our performers’ cues.
As for The Heckler, we find this particular breed of audience member as disrespectful and disappointing as the next sane person and we do our best to make sure they do not ruin your experience when you attend a Paramount show. We do encourage our patrons to alert an usher or house manager if you encounter a heckler so that the situation can be handled appropriately. No matter the performer’s preference, we will always warn and then remove any patrons who are intoxicated to the point that their behavior goes beyond mindless heckling.
We hope we have shed some light on our actions and choices made last night. Thank you for your understanding.
This article is followed by exactly zero comments.
Fast-forward fifteen months and you have basically the same situation– a laid-back Chappelle fails to handle an enthusiastic crowd, the show tanks, etc.– but this time, because some jewelry designer proclaims so, in an Ebony.com review, the problem is racist white males in the audience. Something doesn’t add up. Lewis’ drivel probably would have sunk without a trace (deservedly so) had not Dave Itzkoff of the NYT linked to it and quoted from it (“Chappelle wasn’t having a meltdown. This was a Black artist shrugging the weight of White consumption, deciding when enough was enough.”). Disturbingly, hundreds of ridiculous people (many of them– Gulp!– standup comics!) are linking to it now. Lots of hand-wringing. The floor is slick with tears.
But while everyone is accepting this outrageous racist narrative, no one (not even Itzkoff of the NYT!) has bothered to see if maybe the fine citizens of Hartford are merely reacting the same way some other folks have.
We managed to “investigate” (if you call Googling for one minute and 15 seconds “investigating”) and we came up with the following enlightening information.
Here’s a review of the August 25 Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival show in Dallas, TX, on the Ticketmaster site:
Chappelle was good, but not great. Some of the material was recycled from what I saw on the internet of his pick-up shows and the unreleased episodes of the Chappelle show and some was new. He found his stride occasionally but seemed tired, distracted and depressed. He said, almost as an apology, that he was doing it for the money. He also wasn’t wearing his wedding ring, made some ominous comments about his marriage and said it was his 40th birthday.
And another from that Dallas show:
Dave Chappelle came out(the headliner on his “return to comedy”) and was vapid at best, totally off the cuff and unfunny most of the time bordering completely awkward. People started running for the parking lot before he had even finished. When he didn’t know what else to do he attempted to construct a skit with no point and certainly no humor. and then he said he was done, not even 40 minutes in. We felt disrespected since we paid good money to see Dave specifically and received a half assed attempt at comedy. I would have been OK if he just sat down and talked about how he’s been for the past 10 years but instead the half assed comedy route was taken. Perhaps he had an off night and it was just bad luck but when you’re a professional performer, you work through it, especially if anyone has paid money to see a show because you were there and the main attraction.
And here’s one from the Hartford show:
…but Chappelle obviously just didn’t want to be there. His pacing was awkward, and he lost the crowd about 15 minutes in. He didn’t even bother to try to recover, but rather blamed the crowd for being to noisy (well duh, it’s a comedy show) and then sat down on the stage puffing his American Spirit while heckling those that were heckling him while the rest of us were caught watching the bizarre spectacle unfolding before us.
He proceeded to run out the clock making irrelevant remarks about how much we sucked until he finally walked off stage. A good stand-up comic would have taken it in stride and gone through the routine, accepting both the highs and lows of the performance. I have been a fan for years, and reading the positive reviews of the other stops of the tour was making me really look forward to this show. Alas, the real Dave Chappelle was nowhere to be found tonight. What a shame. He should stick to TV. Would not recommend, especially if you’re buying the better seats.
We were present for two impromptu sets by Chappelle, back in April of 2006, when we performed at Wiley’s in Dayton. On Thursday evening of that week, Chappelle dropped in and did a set we described at the time as “controlled and rollicking.” Chappelle dropped in again on Saturday and did a set that was 90 minutes in length. (The 30 minutes or so that we watched was rambling, anecdotal, punctuated by many cigarettes and only fitfully funny. Don’t misunderstand: The audience loved that second show and were excited to see such a star performing in such an intimate venue– especially since it was unannounced. We only bring it up because it sounds eerily similar to the accounts and descriptions from June 2012 and from the past week’s Dallas and Hartford shows.)
Deep down, all comics pretty much can piece together what happened. Chappelle was off that night. For whatever reason. It’s happened to all of us. But, instead of lucking out and having the crowd cut him a break, it was a disaster. We all– each and every one of us– has had a situation where we didn’t know how we were going to get through it. We pray that we’ll get a good crowd and maybe we can bluff our way through. And, more often than not, we get lucky. And, occasionally, it’s a horror show– we just don’t have it in us to turn it around, to fend off a belligerent (or even an over-enthusiastic!) crowd. And every comic who is blaming this on racism or trying to paint the good citizens of Hartford as the direct descendants of Bull Connor should be absolutely ashamed that they reflexively went that route without first considering that maybe, just maybe, that horrific (and, we might add, fairly implausible) interpretation of the events was almost certainly dead wrong. For being standup comics, some folks just don’t seem to be able to view these incidents very critically or dispassionately. What good is all this knowledge and experience if you’re not going to use it?
Why would you want to bark out a half-baked opinion? Why would you allow yourself to sound like some incoherent know-nothing on a stool at the end of the bar? Or a jewelry designer? Racism allegations aside, there are other comics stating matter-of-factly that Chappelle is a genius and that he absolutely did nothing wrong. That’s a bit of a stretch, too, and it’s an non-analysis. All geniuses have off nights. It’s not a crime.
When we heard that the tour was to be sponsored by “Funny or Die,” we were apprehensive. Is not the entire idea that undergirds that website one that might give the consumer the idea that he has “input” into whether or not the artist’s output lives or dies? (Perhaps subliminally, the audiences feel entitled to chime in if things aren’t going the way they want it to!)
Of course, we’ve read in more than one account that the “heckling” consisted of positive sentiments (“We love you, Dave!” and “Welcome back, Dave!” stuff like that) and we’ve read NO accounts– NONE!– that any of the heckling was racist in nature. Admittedly, hecklers who “love” the performer– whose only real crime are that they’re over-enthusiastic– might be the toughest kind of heckler to deal with as the performer can’t treat them in the same satisfying way they can a real-live, malevolent heckler. But we’re not convinced at all that they were anything but benevolent and excited. The racism element seems to have one source– the thin and fevered dream-babble of a jewelry designer who happened to be present at Comcast Theatre last night.
It’s The Female Half of the Staff’s birthday today! And, along with all the other well-wishes, she found this:
Happy birthday Traci, Craig Glazer here, to celebrate this week I have four free passes to see Tim Gaither this weekend. Inbox me to reserve your seats!!
Glazer is the proprietor of Stanford’s Comedy Club in Kansas City.
The Female Half replied:
While I do appreciate the sentiment I must say, at the risk of sounding ungrateful, it seems a bit odd that you would use my birthday to promote your show. Apparently, you are unaware that I am a standup comic who has been trying to get booked at your club for 20 years. As much as I like Tim Gaither (I had the pleasure of meeting him a few weeks ago at the Laugh Factory in Las Vegas… a club, I might add, that does book me on a regular basis) I have to say, four free passes to a comedy show may be the worst possible gift a standup comic could receive. Especially, four free tickets to a club that has refused to answer my correspondence for two decades. Am I bitter? No. I find this whole thing rather amusing. Oh, and since I live in Las Vegas, I would hope that your offer of four free tickets would also include air, rental car and hotel… not a condo.
From Ask The Past, a website that provides wisdom on contemporary problems from “old books,” comes this advice on “How to Tell Jokes”:
“Where your pleasantries are not rewarded with the laughter of listeners, cease and desist from telling jokes in the future. The defect is in you, not in your listeners… For these are movements of the mind, and if they are pleasant and lively, they are an indication and a testimonial of the nimble mind and the good habits of the speaker– this is particularly liked by other men and endears us to them. But if they are without grace and charm, they have the contrary effect, so it appears a jackass is joking, or that someone very fat with an enormous butt is dancing and hopping about in a tight-fitting vest.”
Giovanni della Casa, Il Galateo overo de’ costumi (1558)
Initially, we thought this was a fabrication. (Our suspicions were raised by the inclusion of the word “butt” in a 16th-century text. We allowed that it might have been a matter of loose translation.) A reader of Ask The Past also suspected something was up and brought up his suspicions in the comments. The curator of the blog replies, “Butt: even more amusing in the Italian original — “forte grasso e naticuto” (literally, “very fat and buttocked”)”
We suppose that Senor della Casa, were he to attempt to do standup, would go by the name of “Johnny House,” which has a nice, snappy ring to it and also sounds like a euphemism for an outhouse.
Comedy fans of a certain age in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area know Cozy Morley, who died last week at age 87. Morley was, “an iconic part of the South Jersey entertainment scene, a jokester who could pack his 1,200-seat Club Avalon in North Wildwood every night and became a hit in the Atlantic City casinos,” according to the obit in the Philadelphia Daily News.
Cozy Morley didn’t bother about being politically correct. He learned jokes on the streets of South Philadelphia, where neighbors were Jewish, Polish, Italian and African-American.
“I suppose none of my jokes are politically correct now,” he once told the New York Times. “But when I learned them, that was what was politically correct, to make fun of yourself and everyone else.”
In America, we give our “politically incorrect” comedians a loving send-off. (In England, they take the death of an older comic to say classy things like “Good riddance,” and then the readers take to the comments to try to prove who is the most compassionate, most politically correct and most intelligent. Which is better? Allowing that a comic– and his audience– were from a different era then moving on? Or kicking the dead corpse in order to make you and your contemporaries feel superior? We’ll take the former.)
For our posting on Morley’s statue in Wildwood, click here.
H/T to SHECKYmagazine.com reader Terrance Reilly!
That’s the sound of thousands of standup comics being unfriended on Facebook.
From an article (linked off of Drudge) entitled, “Facebook friends could change your credit score”:
But some financial lending companies have found that social connections can be a good indicator of a person’s creditworthiness.
By now, you must have heard about the rodeo clown who made the mistake of mocking the most powerful man on the planet and was fired and banned from performing at the Missouri State fair for life!
It’s all over the WWW! And many of our fellow citizen have been OUTRAGED! AGHAST! HORRIFIED! Some of the folks expressing these sentiments have been… wait for it… comedians.
It’s racist! It’s dangerous! they cry.
Uh… no, it’s not. Put away the lace hankies, ladies… it’s rhetoric and nothing more.
It’s a rodeo clown crudely exploiting some nascent dissatisfaction with an elected leader. And the more we confuse simple crudeness and rowdiness with racism and danger, the less we’ll be able to recognize authentic racism and real danger.
It’s crude! It’s distasteful! they cry.
It certainly is! But so what?
Why is a magazine about standup comedy bothering to comment on a story about a rodeo clown being banned for life from a state fair?
(We’d like to think that our readers are smart enough to figure this one out. We’d like to think that they know exactly why we’re bringing this up. We’d like to think that they know exactly why this is of grave concern to fans and practitioners of standup comedy.)
When the NAACP of Missouri issues a press release saying that the actions of a rodeo clown at a state fair “are serious and warrant a full review by both the Secret Service and the Justice Department,” the hair stands up on the back of our necks.
When a gang of goofballs in Missouri thinks that they are in any way, shape or form justified in calling in the Department of Fucking Justice (!)– the most powerful cops in the land, the people with the power to destroy any citizen’s life, the folks most capable of depriving any citizen of his or her liberty– then we shiver and we shake and we instantaneously imagine that practically any mirthmaker– be he a clown or a standup or a satirist or a stiltwalker or a blogger or a visual artist– might be subject to similar sanctions if enough of the “right” people, in the “right” position– with sufficient pull at their local newspaper or television news outlet– can harness the outrage machine and point it toward the offending artist and mow him down.
“Calm down!” we can hear you say. “He’s a rodeo clown! We’re comics. There’s no way anyone can equate what we do with what a rodeo clown does.”
We’re of the opinion that, as standup comics, there is far more that connects us with a rodeo clown who engages in political satire than separates us.
If you think that this sorry gang of busybodies and scolds is ready to make some sort of fine distinction between what we do in a funky comedy club in St. Louis or Dallas or Sioux City and what is done in a rodeo ring in Sedalia, MO, you are living in a very comfortable dream world. Perhaps we’re wrong… perhaps they’re willing to make that distinction… for now. But, from what we’ve been seeing, hearing and reading over the last two days (and the past few years), we’re understandably concerned.
We are particularly disturbed by the spectacle of some of our colleagues who are rushing to the defense of the president. At this point, we should note that the president really doesn’t need us to defend him. In fact, it is we– the comics and the satirists– who should be “defending” the rest of us from the powerful, maybe. With tears and searing-hot indignation, they condemn the (as yet nameless, faceless) clown as a racist and a vulgarian. They paint the folks in benighted “flyover country” as neanderthals.
The person who set this whole debacle into motion was Perry Beam who proclaimed, as the television cameras and flash bulbs closed in, that “I felt like I was at a Klan rally!” (Which brings up the question: Just how many Klan rallies has Mr. Beam been to? We personally wouldn’t know what goes on at a Klan rally. Perhaps the DOJ’s energies might be better spent looking into Beam’s activities rather than that of the poor rodeo clown’s. Note: For the more dense among you, the “facetious light” is flashing.)
An awful lot of attention seems to be focused on the mask that the clown wore. The logic seems to go that it was an Obama mask… Obama is black… therefore the mask is racist. This is preposterous. The political figure mask has always been with us. It has a lengthy history:
Mask appeal is partly a combination of being physically distinct and fun to caricature. It also comes from staying in the spotlight. An outgoing personality—- or even a scandal—- is a great way to keep your likeness on sale at a costume store. “I’ll be selling Bill Clinton masks for the next 30 or 40 years!” Morris says.
And rodeo clowns we’re told, often dress up as politicians. Now, however, we’re supposed to believe that such a mask is inherently racist. Such a double standard goes against all that we’ve been taught to believe. Why is a mask of one leader suddenly forbidden, when all along similar masks have been permitted, even embraced? (But the crowd was told to cheer for the president to be stomped by a bull! Well, folks in Missouri know that people get stomped by bulls all the time and live to tell about it. The only injuries they suffer is a few bumps and bruises and maybe a dent in their pride.)
And even if you suspect that some folks down south went overboard in their zeal to vent their frustration over a leader that currently has a 41 per cent favorable rating, is that really cause to sic the Attorney General of the United States of America on them? Has that ever been reason to do so? Isn’t there a real question of proportionality here?
We don’t argue for a second that the rodeo clown’s performance wasn’t crude. An awful lot of comedy and satire and parody is. But we are of the opinion that the president can handle it. And perhaps, as a very practical, very instructive matter, he should handle it. We hold out hope that the president might show a little class and a little resilience and come out and say that the folks who are outraged are maybe overreacting a little bit and that the others who are calling on the DOJ to intervene are maybe unclear on just what the purpose of the Department of Justice is.
And, to be sure, the citizens of America and the world are perfectly justified in wringing their hands and vowing to never set foot in the Show Me State. But… when the comedians of the world join in on such ridiculous witch hunts, it’s truly hard to watch. We’re the ones who are supposed to making fun of such overreaction. We’re the ones who are supposed to be the counterbalance to the possible overreach of the folks who seek to bring the hammer down on one of us.
Or we’re the ones who are supposed to make fun of the rodeo clown! (Instead, some comics are intent on circulating memes which seek to ruin the clown’s life by cutting off his livelihood and seek to make the lives of Missourians miserable. When did comics abandon their mission to create laughter and become such miserable, insufferable prigs?)
And now the rodeo clowns are going to be forced to engage in sensitivity training.
The entire situation is ripe for parody and satire. But no one is up to the task. Instead, they’re taking the side of those who would recommend sensitivity training for rodeo clowns. Stop and ponder that for thirty seconds. Somewhere above us, Paddy Chayefsky smiles.
Defending free speech is not easy. We’ve said it a million times. Defending comedy isn’t easy. Sometimes you gotta look at the big picture. It isn’t easy. Sometimes it goes against our initial instincts. But it’s gotta be done.
In an effort to protect the president (who, let’s face it, is a man who does not need our protection), some comics have, in effect, left the rest of us vulnerable.
In most setups, we comics are the people who stand between the powerful and the powerless. Why in heaven’s name would you seek to ally yourselves with the powerful? It makes no sense.
Hey! Didja hear the one about the comedian who was sentenced to six months hard labor in a coal mine for making jokes about powerful people? No? We did… no punchline or nothing… just wondering if you’d heard about it. It was in all the papers.
We can’t help but see the parallels.
And we don’t for a minute think that any comics (or any rodeo clowns) are going to be sentenced to six months hard labor in a coal mine.
But that’s the kind of thing that out-of-control bureaucrats and political appointees and government politicos do when given just the slightest amount of encouragement.
Why would comedians want to be on the side of the government when it comes to these matters? It’s only a matter of time before this type of scrutiny is directed toward a standup comic or a satirist. Already there are some folks who have come dangerously close to blaming comedians for bullying, rape, hate crimes and violence of all manner. Give them time and they’ll find an angle that allows them to bring law enforcement and the courts into the mix. And sensitivity training.
We’ll leave you with a quote from an article in Times Higher Education, which is worth reading in its entirety:
If satire afflicts the comfortable, it comforts the afflicted, as H. L. Mencken said. Laughter, mockery and contempt are among the few powers left to otherwise submissive citizens and subjects.
One thing about shooting fish in a barrel– sure, it’s easy, but it’s exceedingly boring to watch.
How many times have we opened Facebook to be treated to the spectacle of our standup colleagues posting one lame joke after another about the latest news item that supposedly represents “a comic’s wet dream?”
What exactly is a comic’s wet dream? We like to think that it’s an item in the news or an incident in a comic’s life that affords that comic an opportunity to write a clever, interesting and original (perhaps even inciteful) joke or series of jokes.
However, a comic’s wet dream has evolved, it seems, into something entirely different. Effectively, it now means an incident or news item that doesn’t present a challenge but is instead something that “writes itself.” It’s not an opportunity for greatness, but an opportunity for mediocrity. It’s something that no one should be excited about. Why all the nocturnal emission about something that should elicit yawns? The “wet dream” metaphor has been perverted. When did we all become so excited about something that is easy, boring and pedestrian?
Instead of posting (like two dozen of your FB pals) the first five or so Weiner jokes that instantly spring to mind, why not pause, take a deep breath, think about baseball for a minute or two and then seek to write that joke that no one else has come up with?
These incidents aren’t so much a wet dream as much as they’re premature comedy ejaculation.
There is something… deadening… about these barrages of limp punchlines that clog Facebook shortly after (perhaps too shortly after) Drudge posts the link to the hot comedy wet dream topic of that morning. Shouldn’t comics exercise some restraint? Shouldn’t we, as professionals, wait until all the amateurs have come up with the obvious crap before we weigh in with the gold? And if you’re saving all the good stuff for stage (as we often do), please do us all a favor and spare us the daily topical humor garbage dump. We’d actually rather see an Instagram of what you had for lunch that day. Even a picture of what you had for lunch after you’ve eaten it would be far less nauseating than some of the mind-numbing gags we’re subject to.
Worse yet is the wildly indignant jokesmith who, at about the six-hour mark, accuses another comic of stealing his rather obvious “gem.” “Hey, dude: I posted that four hours ago.” Really? You posted that four hours ago? Really? Our cat coughed that up at 6 AM. And we don’t even own a cat.
Perhaps worst of all is the supreme mirthmaker who posts that “(Fill in latest comedy punching bag here) is a comic’s wet dream!” And he lets it hang there… with no followup joke… nothing… just a giant hole… that he fills with his beaming, totally unjustified pride in his non-accomplishment. Apparently, it is enough merely to be able to spot the eye-popping opportunity! Such a sharp eye is worthy of a PhD in standup! We can only pray that perhaps we’re missing something… maybe it’s an ironic statement and we’re not picking up on it.
At first, it might be a little inspiring or uplifting when we’re presented with evidence that we’re perhaps far better writers than the vast sea of folks out there. That great, churning horde of standup comics who we thought were nipping at our heels, ready to blow us off the stage at our next appearance at Uncle Fucker’s Chuckle Hut* is, it turns out, wholly incapable of penning a sharp (or, at least surprising) joke about even the most obvious target. But then… after a while… it’s depressing.
Conversely, it’s gratifying to see someone spin out that one, great joke that makes you say, “Damn!” Or just one that merely hits the bullseye in a satisfying and unexpected way. (Contrary to popular belief, the majority of comics love being topped. However, it is most embarrassing to be “bottomed” so frequently.)
The occasional transgression is understandable and acceptable. We’ll forgive those. (God help us, we may have even been guilty in the past!) But it seems to be an epidemic!
If you’re trying to show off, step up your game. If you’ve lowered your standards so much that you figure that “It’s only Facebook, it doesn’t matter,” then try to keep in mind that you are a professional comedy writer. Your noodling is being read by comedy fans and by your colleagues. Use a bit of discretion and we’ll all be better off. Have mercy on us all!
* Credit: Dana Gould
We were driving home from the Las Vegas 51s baseball game on Thursday night when, at about 11 PM, we were stopped at the light at Koval and Harmon, about to make a right turn to cross The Strip, which was about 2,500 feet to our west.
A man in his 50s, also headed west, crossed in front us and bumped into a couple crossing in the other direction. It looked like he did it on purpose. Our first thought was “pickpocket.” He jawed at the male half of the couple as he made his way to the corner. He then turned around and started fishing something out of his pocket. Our next thought was “gun.”
Wrong again. It was a 9-inch chef’s knife with a black handle.
Another pedestrian, a man in his 20s, engaged the man who was now brandishing the knife at the couple as they hustled on their way. Our light turned green, we made the turn and The Male Half (at the urging of The Female Half, who was our designated drive– it was Dollar Beer Night at Cashman Field!) dialed 9-1-1 and gave a detailed description of the perp.
Uh… Yeah… there’s an African-American male on the northwest corner of Koval and Harmon brandishing a knife at pedestrians, a 9-inch chefs knife…he’s about 5-foot-six, blue plaid shirt, khaki pants…
As we made our way through the traffic and eventually crossed the strip, we imagined that a couple black-and-whites would roll up and disarm the knife-wielding man and scoop him into a backseat and he’d be treated to an evening in the slammer.
A couple hours later, we learned, through searches on Twitter and then Google, that he stabbed four people in the minutes just after our 9-1-1 call and was eventually apprehended without incident at a fastfood joint on the strip.
Of course, we posted about it on Facebook. And The Female Half tweeted about it. And the feedback we got was positive and mostly along the lines of “you guys are heroes!” and “You guys saved lives!” Of course, all of that is nice, but it’s probably an exaggeration. The Female Half was distraught. It’s an unsettling thing to witness the preface to a violent crime. Especially such an ugly crime as a stabbing. It never occurred to us to not call it in.
The next morning, The Female Half found an interview request in her inbox from the news operation at the local ABC affiliate. We never responded. Our work was done. No good could come of any such interview.
In a way, it’s a metaphor for what do here at SHECKYmagazine.com. We see attacks on standup comedy– by the media, by fellow comics, by critics, by the usual gang of busybodies and “interest groups”– and we report them. When we do, we have no idea how the whole scenario might unfold, but we think it’s important to let folks know that danger might be approaching.
Of course, we’re being somewhat facetious here. But only somewhat. We can’t compare any potential harm from the rantings of anti-standup goofballs to the horrific damage done to Thursday night’s stabbing victims, whose wounds were, thankfully, “non-life-threatening.”
But we see parallels!
We’re often accused of being paranoid. We like to think that we’re just being cautious. And, we’re certainly not heroes– we’re just trying to be good comedy citizens. Of course, the big fat difference between Thursday night’s incident and SHECKYmagazine.com is we will NEVER turn down a media request for an interview when it comes to talking about standup!
“Danny Glover” stars in “Not-So-Lethal Weapon!”
Virgin will be offering standup comedy on some of their domestic (UK) flights.
This is not the first time someone has thought that offering standup in a passenger jet cabin was a good idea. We recall that an American carrier offered standup way back. It was maybe 20 years ago or so, when standup comedy was hot and, perhaps, to a significant enough chunk of the population, novel. Do any of our readers recall that?
We think Drudgereport.com put it nicely when they prefaced the link to the Virgin story with the words, “LAUGH PRISON.”
The reaction to it– on all the ultra-hip (in their minds) websites– is uniformly, across-the-board, categorically negative. Like this comment from Gawker.com:
As if flying wasn’t miserable enough. Now people have to suffer through some amateur comic’s attempt at a big break? Just give us cryogenic sleep pods and you will have created the perfect method of air travel.
Of course, the comics aren’t amateur– allegedly, they’ll be comics who are “workshopping” their upcoming shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, of which Virgin is a major sponsor. But (for mysterious reasons), folks don’t need any prompting to reveal a distaste for standup comedy. Schemes like Virgin’s just put that hostility on display and, for some at least, reinforce those negative feelings.
Virgin will offer live music as well… but we’re not seeing a fraction of a fraction of any of this negativity being directed toward musicians.
People love it when the flight attendants are funny. The Southwest attendants seem particularly adept at delivering flippant and outrageous announcements. One reason the flight crew gets such a good response is because no one expects them to be funny. It’s the surprise that catches the passengers off guard. (Conversely, a comedian, by his/her very nature expects laughs… so the bar is raised high… sometimes too high… sometime so high as to engender hostility. This is the life we have chosen.)
But on a plane? It’s bad enough when the patrons of a pub or a restaurant have standup forced on them… but on a plane? At 35,000 feet?
Comics read the Virgin story with mixed emotions and a knot in the stomach. We all know that it’s potentially one of the worst gigs that anyone could ever dream up. But then we wonder… how much does it pay?
To paraphrase FOS Jason Pollock, “…a bringer show would be out of the question and really expensive for your friends.”
Anyone who’s worked with either or both of us in the past few weeks has been driven nutty with our proselytizing re The Casio Vibrating Poptone Watch. And anyone who has worked with either one of us over the past 20+ years has been fascinated by/utterly bored with our obsession with “nailing our time.”
Behold the awesomeness that is the Casio Vibrating Poptone Watch! Get this: It’s an inexpensive, lightweight (and passably good-looking) electronic watch with a countdown timer that vibrates when it hits zero! And you can set it to repeat when it gets to zero!
Think about that. Say you’re doing a 20-minute set. And you want to know when it’s over… but you also wanna know when it’s… halfway over. Set the countdown timer for 10:00 and, just as you’re being introduced, you hit the lower left button and… exactly ten minutes later it gently pulses your wrist for ten seconds. And the, ten minutes later, it does it again!
Of course, you can do variations. During a five-minute set, you could set it to go off every minute! (Of course, that might get confusing.) The possibilities are many and varied.
Of course, some folks don’t care so much about time. (Some don’t even wear a watch.) You might depend on the sound guy to hit you with a light. But that doesn’t always work out. Like the time the sound guy– who was supposed to be giving you the two-minute light– was instead “out back,” talking up the chick with the Korn tattoo. Or the time you asked for a two-minute light and the guy running the room dutifully flicked the light off and on… when you were two minutes into your set! (Both of these actually happened to The Female Half.)
We work casinos a lot. In casinos, a comic is obligated (more so than in nearly all other venues) to do the time and no more. Going over is, just as the various stories attest to, a grave sin in the world where gambling and entertainment collide. Just the other day, The Male Half used his during a 20-minute clean set in a casino theater. He set it for 7:30. After it buzzed twice, he knew he had five to go. Peace of mind.
It comes in white and black. And, says The Male Half, the black one doesn’t look much like a woman’s watch. Be advised, it isn’t a very good everyday watch. It’s hard to read in sunlight. And in regular light. But it’s an awesome “work watch.” It’s a bit tricky to master the process of setting the timer, but with a little practice, it’s easy. It’s just a matter of memorizing the sequence of button-pushing. It’s just $26.95, via Amazon.com, with free shipping.
Somewhere in the stack of receipts and hastily scrawled joke ideas and bills and miscellaneous bits of paper on the double desk here at SHECKYmagazine.com HQ (which also happens to be our kitchen table) is a Post-It note that says:
If television killed standup, what will people say that the internet is doing to standup?
The answer appears on Salon.com, in an article entitled “Is YouTube Killing Comedy?” by Daniel Berkowitz, which tells the sad story of 34-year-old New York comedian J-L Cauvin, whose “visibility within the comedy world blossomed” after he uploaded a video wherein he trashed Louis CK. Of course, the blossom quickly withered (as do all these internet blossoms) and “Cauvin was back to his previous station as a 10-year veteran with a crushingly low profile.”
Cauvin’s career, like all others, has had its ups and downs. After getting a law degree at Georgetown, Cauvin moved back to his native New York to pursue law by day and comedy by night. On October 3, 2007, he made his television debut on “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” turning in a more-than-respectable set at four and a half years in. Since that time, however, a career that seemed to have great potential has witnessed a steady decline, to the point that, as of August 2013, Cauvin is set to retire from comedy at the year’s end.
And, following the revelation of Cauvin’s heartbreaking announcement, Berkowitz spells out the thesis for his article. To wit:
His trajectory is in some ways a sign of the times. Now that every aspiring comic has to be a social media presence, essentially giving away comedy for free online, it can be harder than ever to break through the crowd– or to make ends meet.
Where do we begin? None of the above quote makes any sense. Cauvin’s “trajectory” is unique to Cauvin. His career path can be analyzed, certainly. But precious few great truths of any great value can be derived from it or applied to anyone else’s experience. It’s a story that’s repeated over and over again from the beginning of comedy time. A guy goes to college, works part time and gets a TV shot or two. His profile– among his peers and the public– spikes briefly due to this or that… and then the profile drops and he quits the business.
Or he keeps going.
Very little new here.
The attempt to somehow conflate Cauvin’s career arc with the use or popularity of social media is a stretch.
First of all, not every aspiring comic has to be a social media presence. (Whatever that means!) But social media is not making it hard for a comic to “break through the crowd.” Let’s face it, breaking through the crowd is hard. An accepted definition of success is to break through the crowd, separate one’s self from the pack, standing out. The internet is a boon to comedians. It’s made it possible for comedians to do nearly everything in less time and do it more professionally and efficiently– contacting bookers, connecting with a fan base (if there is one), networking. The ancient practices of “sending out a tape” or “faxing in availabilities” or “mailing a press kit” have been streamlined, simplified or obviated. And the ability to do all these things electronically is available to every single comedian. (Whether or not they do it well is an entirely different matter. We’ve seen some online press kits that are execrable and the vast majority of performance videos are unwatchable due to poor sound or video quality.)
Certainly most comedians recognize Facebook, Twitter and Youtube as valuable tools. But when every comic has access to those tools, they don’t represent that significant of an advantage to any one comic. And they certainly don’t represent or cause there to be any disadvantages– either for those who use them, use them poorly or refuse to use them at all or refuse to use them for their generally recognized “proper” purposes.
And this idea that “giving away comedy for free online,” or that Youtube is killing comedy, or that it’s somehow the beginning of the end of comedy, is ludicrous.
We’re not sure why anyone is treating the internet (and, by extension) social media as anything but a wildly useful tool for standup comics. Such talk betrays a woeful ignorance of history. Vaudeville comics understood the usefulness of radio. Vaudeville and radio comics understood the utility of television and the exposure it afforded. And they all understood the wild exposure and fame that could be gotten through the medium of film. Now, the WWW comes along and… it’s killing comedy?
Berkowitz sees the tale of Cauvin’s impending “retirement” as a tragedy and a conundrum. And an indication that something is broken– in the business of standup in particular and in the entertainment business generally. Young, marginally talented upstarts are gaining widespread exposure via song parodies made in their bedrooms while honest, hard-working toilers like Cauvin are forced to throw in the towel goes the story. The capricious nature of the entertainment business is made all the more cruel by the introduction of this newfangled technology, enabling the undeserving to leapfrog into stardom while those in the trenches have their career arcs twisted into pretzels or worse, heartlessly and quietly ended.
The natural question, then, is how does a comedian with more than enough skill to rival the never-ending slew gracing television screens get passed over by virtually an entire industry?
How? How? HOW!?!?! (Tears garments and falls to the floor)
Pardon us for laughing. But this is the question that we’re all saddled with when we make that decision to be a real, live standup comic. Every one of us.
Get a load of this guy: He’s been in it for ten years. (Which, it is universally agreed, is the minimum time required to get anywhere near good at this thing we call standup!) For a good number of those ten years, he’s a part-timer (by his own admission, Cauvin pursued “law by day, comedy by night”), he gets a network television credit by the 4-/12 year mark and now, after the ebbing of the minor buzz from his Youtube video that bitterly savages one of the most successful comedians of the modern era, he’s says he might trade it all in for a wife, some kids and a golden retriever. Not exactly a tragedy of epic proportions. It’s a real “dog bites man” story if you ask us.
Perhaps the more interesting story would have been that of a lawyer who quits the law racket, quickly gets some minor success (perhaps too quickly!), has his expectations cruelly raised only to be smacked in the back of the head by reality.
Instead, we’re fed the dubious plotline that the internet might be a suspect in Cauvin’s career death and the WWW is distorting the usual order of things in the business of show.
We suppose this storyline has been repeated over and over again over the years with the introduction of each new medium. As each appears, it’s greeted with curiosity and suspicion, then it’s championed by visionaries, then a bunch of people lose money, then a bunch more make money, then a bunch of others demonize or sentimentalize the new technology (depending on how much skin they have in the game or how much they want to invest in the newer technology that’s just over the horizon).
We’re long past the point of talking people out of leaving standup. Or caring whether someone stays in or gets out. Buh-bye! Don’t let the screen door hit you on the way out!
We certainly hope Cauvin didn’t give this interview hoping that the business would beg him to stay or would confess that it was mistaken. One might get that impression from the way the article was written. Note the use of the passive voice– “The natural question… is how does a comedian… get passed over by virtually an entire industry?” The industry doesn’t “pass over” comedians. The industry is inert. It is inanimate. It has no feelings for you either way. It is a giant, shapeless mass and it up to us to scale it, beat on it, dig holes in it, carve our names into it, kick it hard, scream in its ear and make it our bitch. It doesn’t do anything. We do things to it, through it and, sometimes, around it. It’s not some god-like entity that favors us if we “do all the right things.” It can seem cruel or random or unfeeling, but it’s not personal… it’s business. Cauvin seems not to get that. His video– the one that might turn out to be his swan song and his lasting legacy– is, to be sure, wickedly funny (though a bit too long). But it is also rather obviously and blatantly bitter. He’s in the “bitter freefall” stage of his career. It’s safe to say that we nearly all go through the same stage, sometimes at the ten-year mark, sometimes at the ten-month mark. Some succumb to it and never emerge from it. Some gain perspective. Some quit the business. This isn’t something that’s particularly difficult to figure out. In fact, it’s spelled out rather clearly in paragraph twelve of the Salon article:
Throughout the decade that he’s done standup comedy, Cauvin has sacrificed his happiness for a chance at fulfillment. He abandoned a budding law career to focus on comedy full-time, he strained relationships by letting his comedy career take precedence, and he descended into bouts of despair as he watched younger, less-polished comedians advance past him. Even the proliferation of social media has done little to advance his career, save the five minutes of fame his C.K. video got him.
Yipe! Does anybody detect a glaring lack of self-awareness and perspective? Does Cauvin– who got a late-night credit at the tender comedy age of 4-1/2 years– not see the irony of his despairing at “younger, less-polished comedians advanc(ing) past him?”
There’s a whole lot more in the article that is alternately mind-bendingly illogical, jaw-droppingly stupid or howlingly clueless, but we had to focus on the above just to keep the task manageable.
(We would have embedded the infamous Louis CK video parody that Cauvin produced, but embedding the video has been “disabled by request.” Now THAT’s using the internet to advance the ol’ career!)
“This week Shane and April are joined by Shecky Magazine’s Traci Skene and Brian McKim. Listen in as they discuss: long term relationships and getting kicked off cruise ships.” That’s how Episode #2593 of “Double Date with Shane & April” is described. Hop on now to listen to 1:09:12 of hilarity, insider comedy talk and general foolishness! As part of our busy five-day foray into Southern California, we bulled our way up Sepulveda Blvd., from Redondo to the HQ of Levity Entertainment Group, a week ago Monday. It was a delightful way to spend an hour!
The popular podcast is described thusly: “Listen weekly as these two talk with another couple in an attempt to push social boundaries and slowly dismantle their own relationship in a desperate bid for attention.”
We were thrilled to be a part of it!
All you Kindle owners out there looking for something… comedy… to read– we have a short list for you.
Our comedy colleagues have been busy writing for the written word., not the spoken word. And, while they’re at it, they’re utilizing the wondrous (relatively) new tool that is self-publishing. If you have a kindle or similar device, you can download the following electronic book or “e-book” for anywhere from free (!) to $14.49.
First up, Al Romas has penned, “Let’s Hear It For The Last Guy,” an account of his 25 years in the standup business. Romas, who’s worked with everyone from Jerry Seinfeld to Jimmy Fallon, Dennis Miller to Jim Carrey. In the Amazon.com description, Romas says, “If you are interested in becoming a comic or just enjoy stories about comedians, this is the book for you. It’s like having a good friend who is a comedian, telling you stories from the road.” And there’s 19 five-star reviews! (And one four-star… there’s always that one guy in the front row who just can’t let himself have a great time!) Available for only $3.99, or for free if you’re an Amazon Prime customer!
Dwayne Perkins has assembled “Hot Chocolate For The Mind,” a collection of short stories and observations from his travels throughout the world doing standup. “This is the book David Sedaris would’ve written if he was a straight Black man from Brooklyn doing stand-up in Dubai.” He initially set all his thoughts down via a blog. “In the end, I realized that, while writing my blogs, I was writing my first book and a manifesto of sorts.” (We always tell people that the best way to kickstart a book is to start blogging first– even if you don’t make the blog public!) Available for $2.99, or for free if you’re an Amazon Prime customer!
In “Sometimes Ask A Man,” SHECKYmagazine’s Female Half of the Staff hilariously skewers traditional social and sexual mores as well as modern feminism, using the bestselling woman’s self-help book, “Always Ask A Man” by Arlene Dahl as a jumping-off point. As one five-star review puts it: “Traci Skene puts several gazillion electrons to good use by “fisking” an old book by Arlene Dahl on beauty and deportment advice for women who want to please their men.” Available for download for $1.99, or for free if you’re an Amazon Prime customer.
In addition to being a veteran standup, Tom Wilson is also an eye-popping painter. And and actor– he played “Biff Tanner” in the classic “Back To The Future” series. And a writer. In one five-star review for “The Masked Man,” Wilson “takes a genius idea for a book and weaves through satisfying behind-the-scene stories of his long Hollywood career– from his early standup days on the Sunset Strip to creating one of the most recognizable bullies ever caught on film.” Available for $5.94 at Amazon.com
“Dyn-O-Mite: Good Times, Bad Times, Our Times– A Memoir” is the truly amazing tale of Jimmy Walker whose standup comedy brought him from the poverty of the Melrose Projects to the early years of the Greenwich Village comedy scene to Hollywood and a top-rated television show that was also a cultural phenomenon. Along the way, we meet Richard Pryor, Freddie Prinze, David Letterman and the Black Panthers! It’s not just an autobiography, it’s a mini-history lesson of both America and American standup comedy. Available for $14.49 at Amazon.com.
Comedian and actor Fred Stoller found himself on the writing staff of the historic Seinfeld television series. Fortunately for all of us, he remembered a lot of what happened… and what didn’t happen! It’s an often hilarious and sometimes frustrating tale of the “annoying schnook” whose “chance encounter with Larry David (whom he kind of knew from New York stand-up)… led to a giant office and a staff writer position on Seinfeld.” Must-reading for anyone who is a Seinfeld fan or who aspires to be a staff sitcom writer. Available for $1.99, or free for Amazon Prime members.
Also check out Stoller’s follow-up, “We’ll Have You Back,” available for $6.49 in the Kindle edition.. With a foreword by Ray Romano!
Comedian Ward Anderson‘s ebook doesn’t sugarcoat matters. “The average working comic will never get any major television exposure, never make six figures, and never even have a taste of true fame. Each comedian has a dream to become rich and famous, but most are happy just to be working. That’s the life of a road comic.” “Four Wheels And A Microphone,” says the Toronto Star, “describes with a humourous, self-effacing aplomb the unglamorous grunt work of the typical full-time standup” You can read the gorey details for just $2.99, or for free if you’re an Amazon Prime customer.
The Halves of the Staff are featured in the new documentary by Scott Sobel and Gary Licker called “The Business of Comedy,” available now on Hulu.com.
Ever wondered how the business (the standup comedy business) became what it is today? What’s that? You didn’t know it was a business? It’s an art form? You don’t have to be bothered with all that crass business stuff because you’re the funniest cat in East Bumfuck and you’re stuffing all your earthly belongings into the Honda Civic and headed to Hollywood and, well, it’s only a matter of time before you’re buying a Lamborghini with cash because it’s obvious to any/all that you’re the biggest sensation comedy-wise since Yahoo Serious? Okay. That’s one approach, we suppose.
Another approach is to learn how the business got this way and strategize accordingly. And get your mind right. And watching this documentary helps. A lot. We suppose that quite a few documentaries on standup have briefly touched on the nuts and bolts, the dollar signs, the various paths to success that comics have taken over the years. But they dispose of the “boring” biz stuff quickly in order to get back to the glamour and the glitz or the suicide or the heartache or the giggling hijinx in the hotel room. None takes an unblinking, ceaseless look at the business like this one does. It’s a standup comedy hi$tory le$$on. (It makes a great companion to Jimmy Walker’s “Dynomite!: Good Times, Bad Times, Our Times–A Memoir,” in which Walker affords readers a better than average peek into the early days of the comedy boom, television, Los Angeles and the road.)
Clocking in at 48:16, it moves quickly and seems shorter. We wish it had been turned into a mini-series!
The lede of the story in Canada’s National Post nutshells it pretty well:
In a ruling that could carry implications for comedy clubs across Canada, the Supreme Court of British Columbia has upheld the right of a bar patron to receive five-figures in damages from a comedian whose performance she alleges gave her post-traumatic stress disorder.
Those “five figures” are a “1,” followed by a “5,” followed by three zeroes. Fifteen large. And the venue was fined $7,000 and the venue’s owner spent $13,000 defending himself. Survey the wreckage, imagine the implications for the future and ask yourself if it’s all for the good.
We first posted on the Guy Earle case back on June 26, 2008. The incident in question took place on May 22, 2007.
Then, we posted this.
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 TMHOTS. “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 see such a proscription leading to further proscriptions… and a further diminution 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!