Can you feel the love tonight?

by Brian McKim & Traci Skene on June 9th, 2012

We don’t normally post about things that pop up on Facebook, but we saw something Thursday which was shared by a FB friend that disturbed us. It was a photo– like so many others on Facebook– which contained a graphic which was accompanied by words. In this case, the graphic was a microphone in a stand, bathed in a circle of light. The words:

I may not have a million dollars…
I may not have a pretty face…
But when I step inside this circle what I may not have does not matter.
Because I have the sound of laughter and laughter is the sound of love.

Normally this kind of sentiment elicits from us nothing more than a roll of the eyes and/or a groan. And we might have left it at that. But we traced it back to its origin– the FB page of comedian Steven Kent McFarlin (aka “Spanky”) and we noticed that it was shared by 157 people and “liked” by a bunch more– 213 at last count– and that there were dozens of comments, all but one of which were positive.

The Male Half of the Staff offered the lone dissenting opinion, commenting:

“Mistaking laughter for love? (It’s sentiments like this that encourage people to pity comedians and imagine that we’re all pathetic and needy.) Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

That comment has mysteriously disappeared from McFarlin’s FB page.

McFarlin can post anything he wants. (And he can take down any negative comments, too. We suppose he’s seeking to maintain some sort of mellow, positive vibe, so we’re not surprised or perturbed.) We frequently see stuff posted by others that we don’t necessarily agree with. And we’ll occasionally take down a comment on our status updates, if we feel so moved.

But we’re a bit disheartened that there’s so little disagreement with the sentiment– and doubly disheartened that there’s so much fawning, slobbering, teary-eyed agreement with it. In fact, the only disagreement we observed (secondhand) was from a FB Friend who labeled the sentiment “retarded.”

We’re sure that McFarlin meant no harm. In fact, he most likely believed he was helping folks out. (And, God help us, he may have actually provided some people some momentary solace to some.) But encouraging people to equate laughter with love is ultimately harmful.

And if you are equating (or confusing or conflating) laughter with love, you might need to rearrange your priorities– both onstage and off.

We’re all for loving what we do. When you love what you do, it shows. (And, conversely, it is often true that when you don’t love what you do, that shows as well.)

And we don’t have any problem with using the word “love” and its various forms to describe what transpires during a set, i.e.: “The crowd really loved me.” or “I loved that audience. They were with me right from the start.” These are merely figures of speech. But when “the sound of laughter” is said to be an indication of some sort of genuine emotion, we’re entering dangerous territory.

We have a saying around HQ (which we incorporated into our book) that goes:

Don’t take the bombs personally and don’t take the kills personally.

In other words, when it goes poorly, it not an indication that the audience bears you any personal animosity… and, conversely, when it goes swimmingly it is not necessarily an indication that the folks in the house have any actual, worthwhile feeling toward you. To do otherwise is to set one’s self up for disappointment and, eventually, bitterness.

Are we coldly robotic and/or hopelessly businesslike or calculating in our approach to standup? Certainly not. We enjoy what we do. We love doing it. And that’s good and healthy. But we get our love– real love– from our spouses, our pets, our moms, our peers, to name a few examples, not from a bunch of strangers with a two-drink minimum.

The quote, as we understand it, basically says, “I’m poor and I’m ugly, but at least those folks on the other side of the curtain love me.” If that’s how you’re approaching this, if that’s the dynamic that exists when you set foot inside that circle of light, then we feel sorry for you.

We mount the stage in order to elicit laughs. There’s already a dynamic that is tricky enough to navigate. To give the audience some sort of hand in determining your self-esteem or your long-term emotional well-being is just wrong and unhealthy. It gives the audience too much power. And surrenders too much of your own power.

It seems like little more than an extremely thin justification for a lack of success. There are many definitions of success or failure– that topic would take a much longer post to delve into. But if you define success as obtaining “love” in the form of laughter, then you have definitely failed. As tough as comedy is (and as tough as comedy is to endure in the down times), we consider ourselves very fortunate to be doing what we’re doing. The advantages to making a living as a standup comic are many and varied. And, on a very practical level, these advantages often outweigh the disadvantages when things aren’t going exactly as planned or hoped. But when we see comics buying into a bizarre, vague and gauzy, somewhat self-pitying, “Eeyore meets Deepak Chopra,” self-affirmation, kitty cat “Hang In There” poster, we worry.

Butch up!

If the only thing keeping you in the business is the “love,” as signified by the laughter, then get out now, while you still have a chance.