Child molestation is never funny.
No one should ever joke about domestic violence.
A comic should never joke about the holocaust.
If you make a joke about the loss of a child, it says a lot about you.
Drunk driving is not a subject that anyone should take lightly. Any joke about drunk driving just promotes the practice.
Doing material about abortion is never, ever funny.
Jokes about president Obama should be off-limits.
Jesus should never be the topic of a comedian’s presentation.
Gay jokes are not funny. Period.
Who could possibly make jokes about AIDS?
Do you really think that joking about stalking is appropriate?
Racist jokes are not funny. And if you don’t know which jokes are racist, then you are plainly racist.
Jokes that hurt someone’s feelings are not funny at all.
Jokes containing the word (fill in the blank) are never funny.
“Family Guy is not humorous and I’m sick and tired of ‘it’s just a joke’ type responses to people who are seriously harmed by society’s approval of jokes that target an oppressed minority.”
Humor that “punches down” is not funny. You’re just a bully, not a comic.
It isn’t humor if it hurts. That’s just insults.
Jokes about Muhammed are not funny.
Rape jokes are NEVER funny.
On the one side of this world, we have comedians and the people who “get it,” people with a sense of humor. Comedians say outrageous things, they say goofy things, they say profound things and, it is hoped, all these things they say are funny. And the people with a sense of humor understand the deal.
On the other side of this world (not literally, but figuratively), we have people utterly lacking in a sense of humor. They quite often profess to be intelligent, caring, empathetic, etc.
And recently, a person in the second group (for reasons that are unknown, and, we suspect, unknowable) wandered into the Laugh Factory and watched a performance by Daniel Tosh.
And this person went home and told her friend about her experience and her friend then blogged about it.
And now we have another huge blowup where a comedian is being branded as “mysogynist.” And worse.
It all starts with a blog posting with a secondhand recounting of how some idiot girl/woman goes to the Laugh Factory…
So Tosh then starts making some very generalizing, declarative statements about rape jokes always being funny, how can a rape joke not be funny, rape is hilarious, etc. I don’t know why he was so repetitive about it but I felt provoked because I, for one, DON’T find them funny and never have. So I didnt appreciate Daniel Tosh (or anyone!) telling me I should find them funny. So I yelled out, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!”
(The whole posting is hysterical, actually. Go read the whole thing if you haven’t already. It’s absurd. And Tosh comes off sounding pretty humorous.)
At this point, though, it gets really funny!
After I called out to him, Tosh paused for a moment. Then, he says, “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…”
We can see Tosh delivering this with that grin. And we understand, 110 per cent, why he said it. And we think it’s rather humorous. It falls under the category of exaggeration. With a touch of outrageous.
Of course, idiot girl doesn’t quite understand. She’s “stunned!” She finds it “hard to process!” She knows she needs to “get out of there!”
The horror! Quick! Hurry before you get gang-raped!!! IN A COMEDY CLUB! Yes!! It happens all the time! The horror! And, just like the higher incidence of domestic violence on Super Bowl Sunday, we suppose that there are thousands of women raped at about 1 AM every Friday and Saturday night throughout America, because of all those rape jokes told in comedy clubs throughout Standup America!!
Holy mother of God, this woman is stupid.
She leaves. She complains.
Now in the lobby, I spoke with the girl at the will-call desk, and demanded to see the manager. The manager on duty quickly came out to speak with me, and she was profusely apologetic, and seemed genuinely sorry about what had happened, but of course we received no refund for our tickets, but instead a comped pair of tickets, although she admitted she understood if we never wanted to come back. I can imagine the Laugh Factory doesn’t really have a policy in place for what happens when a woman has to leave in a hurry because the person onstage is hurling violent words about sexual violence at her. Although maybe I’m not the first girl to have that happen to her.
No… we imagine they don’t have such a policy. Mainly because… IT’S A FUCKING COMEDY CLUB! And only people utterly lacking in a sense of humor would interpret Tosh’s comments as “hurling violent words about sexual violence.”
Anyway, like we said, the account gets blogged about, with the preface, “This is something that happened to a friend of mine in her own words.”
And it gets reposted again. And again. And again.
And the subsequent reposts are prefaced with statements like…
Sexual assault is a violent and demoralizing crime that happens to far too many people on a daily basis. The struggle to reclaim one’s life after such an attack is nothing short of Herculean.
Sexual assault is not something that one ‘gets over’ or ‘gets past,’ but is simply always there. More often than not, it is incorporated into the fabric of one’s being, which is forever altered. Reading the story below, outlining two women’s experiences at the Laugh Factory, made me sick to my stomach with outrage, fearful for the women involved, and disgusted that no decisive action was taken against Daniel Tosh.
Sexual assault is never a joke. It is serious crime that still rages through society worldwide. Unless we continue to raise our voices, change cannot happen. Today, I chose to raise my voice.
And then tweets go out that say things like…
And, sadly, Tosh is eventually forced to apologize.
We’re disturbed by the whole incident, but not surprised. (Among the many disturbing elements of the story is that the Factory offered comps for a future show! For God’s sake, DO NOT let this moron back into your comedy club again! This is exactly the kind of person that is BAD FOR BUSINESS! An utterly humorous cretin who yells out in the middle of a set!)
We’ve been warning our readers about political correctness for 13 years or so. It seems that few grasp the seriousness of the situation. We see incident after incident where “concerned” and “enlightened” and “empathetic” people mount rather impressive campaigns to squeeze an apology out of a comic. And we’re appalled at the damage that is done to artistic freedom. And equally appalled at those who don’t see that damage. Or if they do, they almost immediately forget about the incident and carry on as if nothing happened. (We realize that Tosh’s apology was probably forced by Comedy Central. But the public spectacle of a comic apologizing– again!– is not a good one. It’s disheartening.)
We’re reminded of something we wrote back in April of 2008 when Tracy Morgan ruffled the feathers of some very concerned students during a performance at Cornell. According to the account in the student paper, “Morgan kept repeating that the audience was just not feeling him enough and that they were judging him joke for joke,” then shouted to the students, “I know you’re all intellectuals, but I don’t give a fuck!”
To which we added:
Comics should be aware that the bulk of the pressure on us (and on comedy audiences) to constantly “give a fuck” comes not from those groups which are traditionally seen as buzzkills (the Right, Conservatives, Christians, school marms, think the adults in “Footloose”), but from those groups traditionally seen as upholding the finest principals and practices of “progressivism” (the Left, Liberals, free spirits, think the kids in “Footloose”). We caution all comics to look both ways before crossing the line. Just so when you get smacked on the back of the head, you won’t be surprised which direction it came from.
Of course, we’ll be back on Facebook in three or four days and comics will be bitching and moaning about just how oppressive the right is and how bleak, brutal and depressing this country will be when the Christians take over (and how heavy-handed and dictatorial they are currently!). All this moaning misses the fact that the more tyrannical and troublesome rhetoric and action is coming not from the churches or pulpits throughout the land, but from the universities and other strongholds of supposedly enlightened thought. They tried to destroy comedy in the 90s and they damn near succeeded.
We’ve been begging comics to clearly and sharply identify the enemy on both sides. Ideally, we’d like comics to abandon any sort of personal ideology and join together and oppose any and all attempts to silence comedians or curtail artistic freedom, no matter which direction they come from. We suppose we’ll have to continue to do so.
Is there a larger danger here? Possibly.
Here’s the last two paragraphs from Buzzfeed’s take on the incident, which contains quotes from Factory owner Jamie Masada:
Having been in business 32 years, Masada says audience members have been getting offended by the shows at a surprisingly high rate lately. He’s recently deflected complaints from customers offended by comics’ jokes about Barack Obama and another customer offended that a comic told him he was “retaining pizza” after he said he was “retaining water.”
“If this is hurtful– this is a comedy club. They don’t mean any harm,” Masada says. “If you don’t want to get insulted don’t go to comedy clubs.”
So… to recap, we have, off the top of Jamie Masada’s head, in interview with Buzzfeed, fat people, women and Obama supporters getting pissy and claiming victim status AT A COMEDY CLUB!
In Los Angeles, Cali-FUCKING-fornia!
If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere. It will happen anywhere. The number of topics that we can talk about will, by (business) necessity, become narrower and narrower. The way we can talk about them will be proscribed. It’s not a pretty picture.
Wake, the fuck, up.
Postscript: The person who originally posted the account had this to add:
My friend and I wanted to thank everyone for there support and for getting this story out there. We just wanted everyone to know what Daniel Tosh had done and if you didn’t agree then to stop following him. My friend (who wishes to remain anonymous) is very surprised to have gotten any form of an apology and doesn’t wish to press any further charges against Daniel Tosh. We also wanted to thank those that started petitions and the like, it’s more than she ever wanted and those that helped make this story so popular it went to the media.
She does plan on returning to comedy shows in the future, but to see comedians that she’s seen before or to at least look up artists before going to their shows.
Petitions? Yipe! Further charges? Wha? Huh? We’re dealing with stone cold morons here. But dangerous stone cold morons, nonetheless. And self-righteous, stone cold morons as well.
An Facebook poster, who shall remain nameless, posted the following, after reading about the inciden:
I call bullshit. If you want to yell crap out at a comic, or any performer for that matter, in the middle of their act… You deserve whatever insulting thing they have to shout back at you. And if you don’t have a sense of humor, how about you just stay home with your six cats and watching reruns of Wings and Murder She Wrote instead of going to a comedy club to see a comic who is knows for edgy material. Do we have to nerf the entire frickin planet for these a-holes???
We are in harmony with the first three or four sentiments expressed. But we seem to have a prime example of one of those creatures (cited earlier in this post) who has read about the whole incident and concluded that the complainant is somewhat lonely and/or unfufilled sexually (six cats) and perhaps older and maybe on the conservative side, thus the reference to Wings and Murder She Wrote. And, although the complainant wishes to remain anonymous (and we may never know her demographic profile), we suspect that the above characterization is waaay off.
BONUS: For some sweet, sweet hate, go to your twitter page and type “Daniel Tosh” into the search window. The above tweet we sampled is civil compared to what’s rolling on the WWW now.
We finally found the time to find the funny last night. We had the DVD of “Finding The Funny,” the new standup documentary, on our entertainment center for a week before we cracked it open and gave it a spin.
It is a measure of just how exhausted/busy we are that we delayed so long in exploring a movie in which we are featured! The tasteful, austere website lists us among the dozens of interviewees, cast members and class members– Louie Anderson, Marty Allen, Jimmy Shubert, Andy Kindler, Joey Yanetty– just to name a handful.
We suppose the official title is “Finding The Funny, A John Bizarre Film,” as it was directed and edited by standup comic and film maker John Bizarre. Or maybe the offical official title is “Don Barnhart in Finding The Funny, A John Bizarre Film,” as it is standup comic/hypnotist Don Barnhart‘s standup comedy class that is the heart of the story.
Bizarre poses the question: Can standup be learned from a class? Then he proceeds to interview comedians– famous, veteran, beginner and otherwise– and asks them how they stumbled in to standup, whether or not they took a class, and whether or not there is any merit to such an undertaking. In between snippets of interviews, we’re given a rare look at just what goes on in such a classroom and we’re also afforded a look into the daytime activities of a few of the students. Along with this glimpse into the private lives of the aspiring comics, we get their justification for taking on the standup monster.
You can order the movie via the website. It’s only $19.95 + shipping and handling. And they take Visa and Mastercard!
Saw the following tweet from a club owner, who shall remain nameless:
Really great show at the club this weekend. Comedian you may not be familiar with but should be.
And he doesn’t even tweet the comic’s name! And he had characters left! Not so much as a link! Stunning in its stupidity. (Was it meant to be coy? Coyness in social media is, as the kids say, an EPIC FAIL.)
Might there be a reason we’re not familiar with this comedian (whom, we are told, we should be familiar with)? Might it be because goofy club owners issue far too clever tweets like the one above?
It’s social media malpractice. And it isn’t just club owners.
It’s all around us. Like the comics who use Facebook to promote their (local) gigs and don’t include the city. Shotgunning an invitation about your upcoming gig (including date, showtime, ticket price, etc… but not the city) merely annoys your FB friends.
Often, if the offenders include the city, it’s nowhere near where we are at the moment. It’s an open mike in Des Moines or a charity event in Salt Lake. Do the math: The chances that your breathless announcement might get anyone through the door are slim to none. If you have a social media circle that is geographically compact, then you have a slightly better chance of driving someone to the gig. But it’s still weak. Even so, can you please figure out a way of doing so without driving the rest of us batty? (Oh, sure, we suppose we can tweak this or that, or “opt out” or “decline” or “unjoin” but why would you want to make us waste our time doing so?)
And can we stop tweeting (and status updating) that we “crushed,” “killed” or “destroyed” on every show? You are lying. And you are wasting your energy and diluting the impact of your message stream. It’s probably beneficial to occasionally trumpet a pleasant onstage experience. But wading through a constant stream of triumphant blather is getting to be tiresome, annoying and rather embarrassing. You’re not fooling anyone. (We’ve been to some shows across standup America, seen a mediocre response, then gone home and been treated to a fantastical, chest-thumping and clearly fictional account of the evening’s events. It’s macho posturing at its worst.)
The internet is powerful, but its power is diffuse. Social media like Facebook and Twitter can be refined and targeted and somewhat localized, but it’s still rather imprecise.
Are we too sensitive? Are we cranky? Perhaps. But we regard social media as a gift to comedians. We remember a time when there was no such thing as Twitter or Facebook… or even the internet. We remember when we had to print out our schedule, fold it three times, stuff it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and mail it to various points across the country in order to promote our upcoming dates and solicit even more. (And, yes, we had to walk ten miles in a snowstorm to get to the comedy club!)
But we always look toward the future and we’re fearful that the abuse of social media will dilute its impact and usefulness. (It’s already happening!) Of course, we don’t claim to be using these media perfectly. We know it’s difficult to entertain or interact with a diverse group that might include fans, bookers, childhood friends, nieces and nephews. But we are judicious in our use. We try not to annoy folks.
When we actually had something legitimate to promote (our book!), we were careful to strike a balance. We were practically apologetic in some cases, because we knew that, in order to promote the book properly, we ran the risk of becoming pests. We attempted to do so in an entertaining or interesting way.
If social media morphs into something that is worthless to us as comedians, the loss of social media as a promotional tool will be lamentable, but not as much as the loss of social media as a communication tool. We recall all too clearly a time when comics felt (and actually were) isolated from one another. We utterly failed when it came to communicating– the good and the bad. We site this isolation, this atomization, as one of the contributing factors in the collapse of standup in the mid-90s. (And we site this isolation as one of the main things we sought to demolish with the launch of our magazine in 1999. And, indirectly, we hoped that such communication would perhaps prevent a repeat of the collapse.)
To be sure, there are some success stories out there. And there are some folks who use social media wisely. But it seems that most people take a rather ham-handed approach. We’re not going to tell you how. There are plenty of articles out there about how to/how not to use these wondrous tools. Some of them are insightful and useful, some of them are merely cantankerous and/or fascistic (or pedantic or pedagogic or preachy– take your pick!). But none of this is a secret.
Let’s get out there and try to use these media wisely. Whaddya say?
From the Financial Times comes this fascinating observation about athletes… and comedians:
Watch Novak Djokovic. His advantage over the other professionals at Wimbledon won’t be his agility or stamina or even his sense of humour. Instead, as scientists who study superfast athletes have found, the key to Djokovic’s success will be his ability to wait just a few milliseconds longer than his opponents before hitting the ball. That tiny delay is why most players won’t have a chance against him. Djokovic wins because he can procrastinate– at the speed of light.
During superfast reactions, the best-performing experts in sport, and in life, instinctively know when to pause, if only for a split-second. The same is true over longer periods: some of us are better at understanding when to take a few extra seconds to deliver the punchline of a joke, or when we should wait a full hour before making a judgment about another person. Part of this skill is gut instinct, and part of it is analytical. We get some of it from trial and error or by watching experts, but we also can learn from observing toddlers and even animals. There is both an art and a science to managing delay.
We love the phrase “managing delay.” We have observed that the vast majority of neophytes are particularly bad at managing delay. It is entirely understandable. We suspect that it is because silence is terrifying. Unless you’re saying something, making some sort of noise, there is silence… and silence, it is believed, is an invitation to the random audience member to chime in with his own contribution. That random audience member would be known as a “heckler.”
Of course, we need not fear the silence. There are ways– some subtle, some not so– to claim the silence for our own, to make it clear that we own the “conversation.” We can make it clear– verbally and non-verbally– that we’re engaging in a monologue, not a dialogue. And, on those rare occasions when some folks don’t get the hint, we need not respond immediately. In fact, waiting (hesitating, pausing, delaying, etc.) may be (to some, it seems, paradoxically) the best way of establishing our control over the situation.
E! Online.com solicited a quote from the editors of this magazine for an article entitled, “What Killed The Adam Sandler Comedy?”
E! Online’s Joal Ryan speculates on why, after a ten-flick string of $100-million-grossing pictures, Adam Sandler has had two bombs in a row. We responded, via text message:
“I think Sandler will bounce back,” Brian McKim, cofounder of the comedy blog SHECKYmagazine.com, said in a text: “He’s got an awful lot of good will to draw upon, and a lot of success, too. A coupla bombs probably won’t put a dent in his trajectory.”
Besides, he can always embark on a tour of live shows/personal appearances to remind his public of his standup roots.”
We’re disappointed that the second part was omitted. It’s the part that’s most interesting. Sandler has an advantage over so many box office stars in that he can always get in peoples’ faces– and entertain them… and makes boatloads of money– by utilizing that skill that gained him notoriety in the first place, i.e., standup comedy. We suppose that Al Pacino (who co-starred in “Jack & Jill,” Sandler’s movie first in a long time that failed to crack the $100-million-domestic-gross ceiling), is doing something similar, starring in “An Evening With Al Pacino” at theaters throughout the U.S. (We only were aware of this because he was coming up at the Durham Performing Arts Center last time we were here in Raleigh.)
We rarely enjoy an Adam Sandler movie. We’ll watch one on occasion and conclude, “Well… it’s not intended for us.” We are not sure who the target audience is, but they certainly flock to his movies and even the “bombs” are wildly successful– although “J & J” broke his string of successes, it still grossed $150 million worldwide on a budget of $79 million.
This is but a bump in the road for Sandler. He’s currently working on the sequel to “Grown Ups,” which was Sandler’s most successful movie to date!
We’re cramming our socializing into every nook and cranny of our East Coast Swing. (What is a cranny, anyway? Has anyone under the age of 110 actually seen a cranny? Nooks, we get, but crannies?)
We were invited to Vos-McFarlane HQ on Tuesday night for dinner, followed by a screening of their “cockumentary,” “Women Aren’t Funny.” (That’s “cockumentary, as in “a combination of a comedy and documentary.” Spell it with a “k” in there and you have yet another layer of meaning. It’s produced by Rich Vos and directed by Bonnie McFarlane. It’s genesis was this column, which appeared in SHECKYmagazine.com way back in 2004!)
We’ve been fortunate enough, over the past two years, to be interviewed for it, seen snippets and rough cuts of it and been kept up to speed on the progress of it.
And now it looks like it’s ready for the world.
We can’t announce any specific where-when information. Not yet. Stay tuned.
It’s hard to talk about it (or rave about it) without giving too much away. So, we’ll just say that we think that folks both inside and outside the industry will dig it. Really dig it. And that it provides insight into the comedy business while providing lots of laughs. And it’s packed with standup comedy stars. And, while it may not settle the issue that is provoked by the title, it will certainly spark debate.
Oh… and dinner was a delightful salmon dish, with asparagus, roasted potatoes and tomato/cucumber salad. Not everyone who views the film should expect McFarlane to prepare a similar meal for them. You are on your own as far as the dinner part is concerned.
Joey Kola, Rodney Laney and The Male Half of the Staff at the Borgata
The SHECKYmagazine.com editors are in the middle of a monthlong swing back east. The above pic was snapped at the Borgata in Atlantic City, after successful completion of the week. The week prior featured The Female Half of the Staff, Eddie Clark and Joe Starr and a special guest appearance by Rich Minervini. See below for backstage pic depicting (l to r) the Male Half, the Female Half (seated) and Mr. Starr, who seems to have a halo.
The Borgata’s 900-seat Music Box venue is quite startling. That’s where the comedy happens seven nights a week. And they sell out with alarming frequency. When other venues huff and puff to fill a room a fraction of that size, the Borgata’s Music Box entertains thousands in the course of a typical week.
It was the custom of The Halves of the Staff to migrate out to the front of the house in order to greet the audience after the shows. One night, after a show during the Male Half’s week, we were conversing with three audience members (a couple and their adult daughter) who, we eventually learned, had a young, college-age male relative who was dabbling in standup. We eventually suggested that they might consider giving our book (“The Comedy Bible: The Complete Resource for Aspiring Comedians”) to the lad. In a crazy coincidence, it turns out that the aspiring comic’s mother had already purchased it as a Christmas present! And, we’re told, he loved it! (We signed a Borgata cocktail napkin and told them to tape give it to the young man so that he could tape it inside the cover. Not an autographed copy, but close enough!)
Back up… Who is Chris D’Elia? He’s the guy who co-stars in the (just renewed for a second season) sitcom Whitney.
Okay. Now… Did you know he was a standup comic?
Hold on… Let’s rephrase that. He does standup.
AVC: You were acting before you did stand-up, right?
CD: I was acting here and there as a guest star and stuff on different TV shows and I was a writer writing stuff, and having stuff optioned but never turned into anything. I got onstage just because I always wanted to do it, and I just kind of at a loss got onstage, because my career wasn’t going the way I wanted it to. Once I started doing stand-up, everything fell into place. That was when I started acting more; I felt like I’d found my place in the business.
(First of all, didn’t the A. V. Club usta ask decent questions? A V. Club Chicago editor Marah Eakin seems to be phoning this one in.)
But back to Mr. D’Elia: We are disturbed. We get the 1992 Willies when we read the above paragraph. Anyone remember when desperate agents and managers were shoehorning their actor/actress clients into the standup world in a frantic and desperate effort to up their clients’ profiles? We remember. Standup was the hottest thing at the time… and it was all the rage for actors to wake up one day and proclaim that they were suddenly standup comics! And, as the standup industry started to sputter and shake and shrink (and as the competition for smaller and smaller pieces of the post-apocalyptic standup pie became fiercer), there was much resentment among the comics in New York and Los Angeles at these standup interlopers.
I got onstage just because I always wanted to do it, and I just kind of at a loss got onstage, because my career wasn’t going the way I wanted it to.
Oof dah! It’s happening again! The poor schnook comics who toil in the clubs for years, hone their craft, then forsake all the creature comforts to move to an efficiency apartment on one of the coasts and give The Dream a shot… get muscled aside for Actor Dude whose agent has decided that standup is the ideal way to get back the career mojo!
Of course, Mr. D’Elia may be a swell guy who is a deadly serious standup comic (you can watch a pair of clips embedded in the article and decide for yourself), but, like we said, it’s a bit unnerving. We suppose that it’s a sign that standup is so huge that folks think they can leech off its momentum. We suppose that’s further indication of the cache that standup comedy can confer on even the dilletantes. And we need not worry that it’s not necessarily true that some sort of Second Comedy Apocalypse will follow. But, we’re getting the 1992 Willies again.
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 SHECKYmagazine.com 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.
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.
That’s the incomprehensible headline of the news story that’s rocketing around the WWW. How can this be? How could Don Rickles shock anyone with a racial joke? He’s Don Rickles!
We’re leaving out key words. The entire headline is:
Don Rickles Shocks Hollywood Crowd With Racial Obama Joke
It’s atop a Hollywood Reporter account of the American Film Institute’s tribute to Shirley MacLaine on Thursday night at Sony Pictures Studios. It’s rather humorous that anyone would be offended by anything that Don Rickles would say. And, as it turned out, those present “alternately gasped at the 86-year-old comic’s put-downs and then found themselves laughing and applauding.”
Well, yah! That’s how it works at a Rickles show.
We’re not quite sure why the editors at THR found it necessary to slap that headline on this story. Linkbait, perhaps? It’s probably working. (But, we aren’t linking to it.)
Anyone who is shocked by anything Rickles says reveals himself to be a humorless crank. Or someone who is willing to generate fake outrage to make some sort of ideological point.
Rickles is Rickles. You need not find him funny. But if you’re shocked by Rickles, we’re not buying it. We have talked a lot about context and how it must be considered when we encounter humor. In Rickles’ case, he is context. He brings it with him. He has a long history of saying the least appropriate things. He has been consistent– consistently “offensive”– throughout his lengthy career. He has remained the same, unwavering.
The following is a quote from an interview with the fortunately named Isaac Witty that appeared in The Isthmus (Madison, WI):
You’ve been doing standup for 16 years. What are some changes you’ve seen in the comedy world?
When I first started, I would work with all these grizzled veterans who’d worked through the ’80s comedy boom. There’s all this folklore about those guys in the ’80s and early ’90s where emcees were making $1,000 a week and headliners were being flown in and making lots of money. And then when I was all excited about comedy and starting out, I would talk to these veterans, and I’d ask things like, “Can you give me some advice?” And they’d say, “Don’t do this! Comedy is over! It’s over!” Then they’d tell me how they were making a fraction of what they made 10 years ago, and that it was only going to get worse.
Then NBC’s Last Comic Standing came around, and people started coming out and watching comedy more. And all through that, there was also this alternative movement in comedy coming through, which was weird for me. I was living in New York at the time, and in New York I wasn’t weird enough for the alternative rooms, but I was too weird for the regular rooms. I was there when Demetri Martin started getting really big and Todd Barry was getting national attention. And I’d go to all these alternative rooms, and I’d get the feeling from the crowds like, “Who is this jerk with these set-ups and punchlines?” So I was caught in the middle.
It’s a story repeated over and over throughout the past few decades– Witty (and others) find themselves on some sort of “faultline” between this category or that (in this case, between alternative and non-alternative)– and it makes them uncategorizable. One can either jump to one side of the line or the other, or try to make the “uncategorizability” a selling point.
Oh… and emcees were not making a grand a week in the ’80s. This is folklore. Comics wondered why they were audited so much in that decade. Could it have been that comedians, every time they had the ear of a newspaper reporter, grossly inflated their earnings in order to make themselves appear more successful than they actually were?
More and more hotels are offering free WiFi. It is often spotty or, on rare occasions, unworkable. And occasionally, we’ll stay at a hotel that charges! (Or, they’ll charge for it in your room, and offer it for free in a common area, usually far away from your room!)
We blogged once in the past about PDANet– an inexpensive bit of software from JuneFabrics that enables you to access the internet by tethering your notebook, netbook or laptop to your Android phone and connecting to the WWW via the 3G network. It’s stable, it delivers as promised (in our experience) and, like we said, it makes life easier.
We discovered another bit of (Free!) software that makes life even easier– FoxFi. We downloaded it onto our Droid 3 phone and fired it up and it immediately allowed us to access the internet (again, via Verizon’s 3G network)… but wirelessly!
It turns your phone into an internet hotspot! Some of you might be saying, “I am a Verizon subscriber and I can turn my Droid phone in to a hotspot already!” Ah, but you must pay a monthly fee to Verizon! We think that’s pretty crappy that Verizon doesn’t just let you use your fancy smart phone as a hotspot without extracting even more cash out of you, but we dealt with it. Then, while sniffing around online for a way to use PDANet on our Viewsonic G-Tab, we saw mention of FoxFi on a Droid forum. At first, we didn’t believe that it was real… or perhaps the user describing it was mistaken… it seemed too good to be true! A free app that turns your Droid into a hotspot and gets around Verizon’s charges? No way!
With a phone in one hand and the G_Tab in the other (while standing in the back of the house at a recent gig), we downloaded the app, fired up both devices and– Bingo!– we were surfing the internet on the tablet, with the smartphone in our pocket!
We’re using it right now. Two netbooks are online via one hard-working Droid. Awesome.
Short answer, No. Long answer?
The question is the headline of a National Post (Canada) article that is part of a “week-long series (that) showcases some of the most interesting research” presented at the annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, a gathering of “7,000 academics.”
Uh oh… whenever 7,000 academics gather, you had better wear your hip waders, because the horseshit is going to be deep and wide. And when they turn their attention to standup comedy, the tsunami of tshit will swamp everything in its path!
Successful Canadian comedian Deb DiGiovanni, it is posited, “has no choice but to cast herself… as unattractive, sexually unappealing and self-deprecating… in order to achieve that success.”
Actually, that is wrong. She has plenty of choices. Casting herself as unattractive is but one. We know of a few female comedians (and a few male comedians) who might be considered “unattractive” (whatever that means) but who have chosen to cast themselves as sexual beings, in some cases hypersexual beings. And it works.
Conversely, not every attractive female comic casts herself as sexually appealing.
We suppose if you’re an academic, you can find all kinds of wacky “research” to bolster their theories. In this case, the article hinges on Danielle Deveau’s PhD dissertation on stand up comedians in Canada. We don’t disagree for one minute that Deb DiGiovanni has apporoached standup in a certain way and that it has resulted in a degree of success for her. But we disagree with the conclusions made by Deveau who says, “this performative strategy of unattractiveness is especially prominent in stand-up comedy because the stand-up comedy club is a very challenging venue and is very male-dominated.” It matters not if the club is a very challenging venue. It also matters not if the standup milieu is very male-dominated. We counter that the audience is usually 50 per cent female. Are the comedians performing for the folks in the seats or the boys standing in the back of the room?
Deveau attempts to bolster her proposition by citing a (possibly flawed) study that suggests that men don’t dig funny chicks.
“There’s a lot of social and cultural resistance to women being funny and that speaks to why performers like Joan Rivers had to use self-deprecation and cast themselves as undesirable to pull themselves out of that [idea],” Ms. Deveau, of Simon Fraser University’s Communication school, said Wednesday. Again, we take issue with the phrase “had to.” Self-deprecation is but one choice, one tool at a comedian’s disposal, used by both men and women, both attractive and unattractive.
We’re disappointed that the egghead (in this case a woman egghead) contends that a comedian has so few choices when it comes to “framing.” And so few skills when it comes to performing. And it’s disappointing that the female reporter goes along with the gag.
The Male Half was recently in a situation where he had access to the internet but he was unable to use his phone. This happens from time to time. Most phone plans here in America charge a lot of money to make and receive phone calls outside the U.S. And being on a cruise ship in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico usually means exorbitant prices for “roaming.” But internet access is almost always available.
Fortunately, a “visual voicemail” app called Youmail is available for free and it’s easy to set up.
Hit the link above, follow the directions and, minutes later, you’ll be hooked up to Youmail. Near as we can tell, it works this way: In setting up the service, you hook up your phone provider with Youmail and give Youmail permission to receive your voicemails. Then, every time someone leaves a voicemail, you receive an email (and a notice on your phone, if you’re not in “airplane mode”) that contains the name and number of the caller, the time of the call and the length of the message left. There will also be a link that you can click to listen to a recording of the call.
It’s also easy to decommission. And they have pretty good customer service in case you need to get some kinks ironed out. (The Male Half received a voice message some time between hooking up the service and the service going “live.” So there was a message “trapped” in a sort of electronic limbo for a few hours, which necessitated the disabling of Youmail for a brief period in order to rescue the trapped vm. Shortly after retrieval, though, the service was easily restored by simply dialing an activation code on the Droid smart phone.)
It’s a good way to keep in touch with friends and associates when in Canada, Mexico or elsewhere. And also a good way to screen voicemails.
The Female Half was on a shuttle at the Tampa Airport when she struck up a conversation with the shuttle’s driver, during which it was discovered that the Female Half was a comedian, which led to a discussion of standup. The shuttle driver was a fan of comedy who listed his favorite comedians as Kevin Meaney and Jon Reep.
This is notable because we’re always told that a fan of one comedian can’t possibly be a fan of a totally different comedian. The comedy business, we’re told, is a zero-sum game. And a dollar spent on, say, Dane Cook means one less dollar spent on, say, Doug Benson or Margaret Cho. This theory is usually trotted out in order to pump up a favored comedian and/or disparage another comedian. We’ve always held this to be clearly wrong and counter to our experience.
Can we name two comedians who are more dissimilar than Meaney and Reep? Perhaps. But we’re not surprised that one comedy fan can like both.
Further, our abovementioned comedy fan said that he discovered Reep by watching the fifth season of Last Comic Standing, during which Reep was declared the last comic standing. Many of the same folks who like to say that two disparate comics can’t possibly have an overlap of fans are also fond of saying that LCS (and shows like it) are detrimental to standup. We’re of the opinion that the exposure of standup through television does nothing but good for the business of live standup. The more opportunities that standup fans have to sample comedians– through any medium– the more opportunties that standup has to snag those fans.
Just like the fans of fashion, food, music and booze, standup fans can like a wide and varied array of that which they are passionate about.
We’re noticing a disturbing trend. Comedy competitions have been sprouting up like mushrooms all over the comedy landscape. (We’re not talking curated, structured competitions like The World Series of Comedy or the San Francisco International Comedy Competition. Those have been with us for quite a while and they serve a purpose and largely cater to a more experienced, seasoned performer.)
We’re talking about a profusion of macho posturing, in the form of competitions or contest, most often down at the open-mike level. They’re frequently loosely structured and offer no prizes– monetary or otherwise– other than bragging rights. Is this something to be concerned about? Is it indicative of some sort of shift in priorities among aspiring or “up-and-coming” comedians?
As we recall, when we were at that level, the “competition” was almost always exclusively between the comic and the audience. Or, if we stretch the meaning of the word, the competition was between yourself and your old self– there was a striving to be better, but comparing ourselves to others was pointless. Or, if such comparisons were made, they were covert.
But when the average open mike is turned into a weekly steel cage death match or when roving bands of market-identifying comics travel to nearby cities to challenge the indigenous comedy population, things have taken a strange turn.
Of course, we’ve spent some time wondering why. Why does this generation of novice, fledgling, apprentice comics feel the need to flex their still-developing comedy muscles on such a regular basis?
There was a similar (and not unrelated) trend back a few years ago– that of playing to the comics in the back of the house. Open mikes became a rat’s nest of inside jokes, internecine heckling and one-upsmanship that benefited few. The inevitable result of such preening and self-congratulation was the formation of cliques, stunted comic development and, more often than not, confusion on the part of audiences.
Now comics that are in the trenches (comics still aspiring to gather that ten or fifteen minutes that will allow them to break through to paying gigs), are in the often unforgiving position of competing– overtly and coarsely– not only with audiences, but with their fellow comedians. Can it have any effect other than to stunt the creative process? Can anyone imagine any positive effects? If you’re hitting the stage once or twice a week and the object is not so much to hone material or sharpen and focus a particular bit, but to “win,” what does that do to a comic’s mission to craft a memorable, tightly-constructed act that conveys a point of view and an individual sensibility?
We’ve been wondering why this is happening.
The Male Half thinks that it is perhaps an indication that this cohort currently working its way through the comedy system is feeling impotent. That they feel powerless. The maturation of the business– with its tsunami of Comedy Central Presents and Half-Hour Comedy Hours and digital DVD downloads and theatrical-released concert films– perhaps presents a seemingly insurmountable obstacle for one just starting out. He posits the theory that the competition is just one way of coping with the impotence, a way of collecting small victories along the way.
The Female Half theorizes that just the opposite is occurring– that the trend is driven by a sense of entitlement. That young comics’ inflated egos demand a trophy for everything they do. That laboring quietly and diligently on a joke or an act or 15 minutes of solid material isn’t viewed as exciting or virtuous. As evidence of such a mindset, she cites the number of newbies who will do a set at a club on a weekend (or during a regular show), then won’t stick around to watch the headliner (or the other acts on the show). Or, worse yet, the newbie who will stick around, but only to sell his CD or other merchandise! The number of newbies who steadfastly refuse to emcee also bolsters her theory.
This may sound like a “these kids today…” rant. We would hope our readers know us better than that. We like to think that any of our rants are a bit more subtle that those of past generations of oldsters who criticized any who came after. We love the new comics. We even wrote a book that endeavors to subtly guide them through the process that we went through so long ago.
But we worry about the future of the business. Today’s newbies are tomorrow’s headliners. (Trouble is, many of them think that they will actually be headliners tomorrow!) We suppose that we’re counselling a little humility. We all have a bit of an ego in order to have attempted this crazy thing called comedy in the first place. We suppose that it would be helpful to temper that ego just a bit with some modesty and respect for the craft.
From a Yakima Herald-Republic interview, standup comic Auggie Smith, on his place in the world of standup:
As for his own place in that world, he’s satisfied. Comedy nerds know his name, and he’s well-regarded by his peers. He is exactly as famous as he should be, he says.
“I’ve made a living at this for 20 years,” Smith says. “That would put me in the top 1 percent of everyone who’s done this.”
… and a comedian.
The wires are crackling with the report of the lavish “over-the-top” training session thrown recently in Vegas by a division of the General Services Administration. Heads rolled after news of the $822,751 party. The head of the GSA was canned along with a handful of underlings.
What caught our attention was the coverage of the story.
They list many “abuses”– $130,000 for six “scouting trips,” $7,000 for sushi, $6,300 for “commemorative coin sets displayed in velvet boxes” and $31,000 on a networking reception– but the items that make it into the headlines, ledes and sub-heads are:
The gems listed above don’t even include the clown and the comedian.(solomonscandals.com)
A mind-reader, a clown and a comedian attended a General Services Administration taxpayer funded convention. (whitehousedossier.com)
Agency billed $835,000 for comedians and clowns in Vegas. (freebeacon.com)
The chief of the General Services Administration is resigning and two of her top deputies have been fired amid reports of excessive spending at a training conference at a luxury hotel that featured a mind reader, a clown and a comedian. (Concordmonitor.com)
And the last line of paragraph three of an article on BusinessInsider.com says, “The (Washington) Post does not specify how much money was spent on the clown and the comedian.”
And a website which purports to keep tabs on political developments affecting residents of New Hampshire, granitegrok.com, listed close to a quarter of a million dollars in expenditures, then asks:
And if it were deemed inadequate for these government hacks and their invitees to nosh on the splendor provided, several semi-private “parties,” hosted by GSA officials in their own hotel suites, were also catered at the expense of the American taxpayer. I want to know what was paid for the Clown and the comedian that were hired for this junket?
Why is everyone so fixated on the clown and the comedian? The mind reader was paid, according to all reports, a grand total of $3,200. Okay. Nothing extraordinary there. (In fact, we’d say that might be a bit on the low side for a professional mind reader hired by a conference with an $822,751 budget.) But, since it’s now part of the narrative, such a figure has become a clear indication of extravagance!
And, for some reason, the salaries for the clown and the comic have been left out of the accounts of the conference. And it is doubly puzzling that the mind reader the clown and the comic are not mentioned in the 23-page report issued by the inspector general.
So where did the press get the figure for the mind reader? And why didn’t they also get the figures for the clown and the comic? A Wall Street Journal report on the story says, “An administration official said the expenses also included about $3,000 for a mind-reader to entertain attendees, though the inspector general’s report made no mention of it.” An administration official? Why is an unattributed “administration official” giving out details like this? And, since the figure wasn’t included in the IG report, can we even trust it? And, since neither the clown nor the comedian were mentioned in the report, can we trust that there was in fact a clown or a comedian hired?
We ask this because speculation (see above) is running rampant. And the clown and the comedian are taking the brunt of the criticism and have become symbolic of government waste and fraud (and of extravagance in general). And, since no one seems to be doing any investigation or numbers-crunching when reporting on the conference or when analyzing the fallout, the exact figure for the clown and the comic will probably never be known.
We can only hope that the clown and the comic were paid as much as the mind reader. Otherwise, they are two pissed-off entertainers right now.
Nor would that be very helpful at this point in time. The damage is done. It was bad enough when the president trashed Vegas in two separate incidents one year apart, but now Vegas is, courtesy of the knuckleheads at the GSA, once again associated with “over the top” spending. And the mind-reader, the clown and the comedian are all symbolic of that extravagance.
We suppose it was too much of a temptation for such outlets as Gawker.com (who ran, side-by-side, a pic of GSA Head Martha Johnson and a stock photo of a clown) to make the association for their readers of spendthrift bureaucrats and clowns. It’s classic. But we’re surprised that the $7,000 sushi and the $1,900 petit beef Wellingtons didn’t make an equally attractive hook for the “out-of-touch, elitist bureaucrat” angle. Instead, the three folks who were probably paid a reasonable sum for their services have become emblematic of waste and fraud.
Now, we would not be surprised if event planners are acutely aware of appearances and will gladly arrange for $2,850 worth of “Artisanal Cheese Displays” without batting an eye, but will steer clients clear of hiring a comedian because, well, it might look bad.
As comics living in Vegas– who would love to pick up the occasional corporate gig (and be happy to be paid about as much as it costs to rustle up 150 Artisinal Cheese Displays)– we find this to be disturbing. (P.S.: We won’t leave the house for less than it costs to provide 400 Mini Monte Christo Sandwiches.)
Here’s the press release. The space at the Tropicana (the one that was vacated in December when Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club closed) soon be a Laugh Factory.
The room, as it is now (and as it has been for most of its 20+ years), is a great one for comedy. Wide, with a low ceiling. The stage is just the right height. Great sight lines.
And now it will be the Vegas branch of Hollywood’s Laugh Factory. The release promises “a multi-venue comedy experience.” The Factory’s Jamie Masada has partnered with Joseph Merhi, CEO of Fun World Media, a producer and distributor of “cutting edge family oriented television,” to build a “new comedy empire,” the details of which will be announced later this month.
What constitutes a “multi-venue comedy experience?” Well, for starters, they’ll offer monthly Laugh Factory “Superstar Comedy Concerts” in the 1,000-seat Tropicana Theater. (Which was, if we’re not mistaken, most recently dubbed “The Gladys Knight Theater.” We saw a Beatles tribute show there last year… it might prove to be an excellent venue for standup– not too big, not too small.)
So far, nothing earth-shattering… but we see that the new partners will “develop and co-produce a variety of comedy specials, television series, reality shows and films” at the Trop venues, and, we suspect, in and around Vegas, with the town as a backdrop. We’ve been saying for a few years now that somebody– anybody!– should produce television shows outta Vegas. It’s a natural! Who doesn’t love Vegas? And there are always tons of stars here! Musical acts, magicians, comics, dogs who juggle cats while riding on top of warthogs! It’s exactly what television is (or was, at least) ideally suited to present. Now, Masada and Merhi may not exactly be planning any variety shows (the genre is “dead,” say the critics), but surely there’s a lot of “raw material” here for virtually any kind of show imaginable.
And there’s mention of plans to “design a new Comedy Walk of Fame, Comedy Wall of Fame and Stand-Up Comedy Interactive Museum, inducting comedy legends and modern stand-up celebrities.”
Bring it on.
Las Vegas is already a standup comedy interactive museum. And we say that in a 120 per cent good way– in the past few years of hanging out/living here, we’ve seen Don Rickles, Shecky Greene (3X!), and we’ve accidentally run into Marty Allen, Steve Rossi, George Wallace, Shelley Berman and many others. Heck, we even saw David Brenner at the supermarket!
Many comedians love performing here… or at least they should. It’s dripping with comedy history. And, though it’s disappearing slowly, the “Old Vegas” memorabilia that’s still hanging on the walls of various restaurants and casinos always heavily features comedians. (The Male Half’s cellphone wallpaper is a snapshot of a gorgeous black and white photo of George Burns and Jack Benny that hangs upstairs outside the Riviera Comedy Club! We wonder what happened to those tremendous candids that hung behind the registration desk at the now-closed Sahara?! Standup’s contribution to the history and popularity of this town is right up there with the mob and Frank Sinatra. (We like to point out that one of The Rat Pack was Joey Bishop, a comedian.!) This crazy desert town is like The Holy Land of standup.
Awesome pic which hung behind the Sahara registration desk.
It’s nearly always a good thing for any market when a new club opens up. Things get shook up a bit, complacency is (temporarily, at least) banished. (There’s a downside that’s probably unavoidable– territoriality muscles might be flexed, loyalty might be questioned or demanded, etc. So far, we haven’t heard about any of that.)
There seems to be a lot of, for lack of a better word, fluidity in this market. The Trop venue didn’t remain closed for very long before this announcement. And the opening of the Factory follows, by just a few short weeks, the opening of the new MGM Grand comedy venue. (The best line from that evening belongs to Ray Romano, who said, “I’d like to congratulate Brad on his new club. I was going to buy him a gift, but what do you get a guy who has everything… because of you?”)
We’re coming up on our THIRTEENTH ANNIVERSARY here at SHECKYmagazine.com! Thirteen years! Wow! At about 12:01 AM, on April 1, 1999, we uploaded a “monthly issue” of SHECKYmagazine.com!
Anyway… we decided to pull the plug on our club list. It has had a good, long run. We didn’t put it up until year two (maybe late in year one). In our first year of publication, we had an anti-link policy. We didn’t put hyperlinks in any stories. (Why send anyone elsewhere? We reasoned. Not a popular stance among the cyber-fascists who were under the illusion that they made and enforced the “rules” of the WWW at the time, you can bet on that!)
Anyway, we changed. We created a page that contained dozens (hundreds?) of links to comedians’ websites. That became obsolete relatively fast… we ditched it after three or four years. Then we created the club list.
What a giant hassle to update! (And, to be honest, we got tired of helping clubs that never seemed inclined to help us… you know, by actually BOOKING us! Not that there was a quid pro quo, but we got awfully tired of providing the quid and getting precious little quo in return. We’re giving people… to a point.)
We decided about three years ago to ditch the club list. And we honestly thought we had! But we got an email from a club owner telling us that his club’s phone number had changed.
Oh… the club list.
We just rummaged around under the website’s hood and obliterated it. The Club List is dead! Long live the club list!
In an interview in the Manchester Evening News, John Cleese says some interesting things. We were made aware of the article by one of our commenters, “Paul,” who slipped in a link at the end of his last comment.
Says Cleese, in describing his new one-man show:
“One of the things I do, I tell a number of jokes, a joke against Australians, one against Americans, one against English, one against the Swiss, one against the Germans, and then I start telling a joke: ‘There were these two Mexicans..’. And in America, the whole audience freezes. I point out that it’s kind of patronising. If you make jokes about Germans and Australians and English, why can’t you make jokes about Mexicans? Because they can’t take care of themselves? Because they are a feeble species that has to be specially protected?”
This is something we’ve been grousing about for a long time. The selective nature of political correctness has driven us batty and we contend that it played a large part in “killing comedy” (or, to put it another way, it destroyed some of live standup’s momentum and much of the politically correct criticism of the genre was illegitimate and undeserving).
Political correctness is, says Cleese, “like a maiden aunt– you’re all having fun at Christmas, and she walks into the room and it all goes quiet”
It “all goes quiet,” indeed.
We’ll leave you with a quote from H.L. Mencken:
I think the Negro people should feel secure enough by now to face a reasonable ridicule without terror. I am unalterably opposed to all efforts to put down free speech, whatever the excuse. ––from a letter to George S. Schuyler, June 15, 1931.
“The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws”. – Cornelius Tacitus – “Annals” (c. 116 A.D.)
When the dustup over Rush Limbaugh heated up earlier this month, we held fire. Then we were appalled by what we witnessed on Facebook and Twitter, particularly the spectacle of our fellow citizens (some of whom were comics!) signing and circulating petitions seeking to have Limbaugh removed from the airwaves. We saw a clear line between Limbaugh’s schtick and that of Bill Maher and Jon Stewart and Adam Corolla and Chelsea Handler and Dennis Miller and on and on and on and all of us who call ourselves comedians. (And even if you didn’t believe us, the connection was being made by others, for good or for ill, in the ensuing days. Eventually, the pushback resulted in Louis CK backing out of the Correspondents’ Association Dinner.)
Our reaction was to defend Limbaugh’s speech. We saw his outrageous comment as speech that needed protection. And speech is speech is speech. We figured: If we don’t beat back the folks who seek to silence Limbaugh, we’d have a tougher time beating back the folks who came after us down the line for a similar offense. It’s textbook 1st Amendment stuff.
We do mind, however, when people (people who should know better, i.e. comedians) are the ones who are leading the charge and behaving like some sort of dime store Terry Rakolta and circulating petitions via Facebook to have Rush Limbaugh taken off the air! Well, excuse us while we wretch our guts out.
If anything, comedians should be locking arms and leading the charge in defense of speech, not spearheading efforts to curtail it.
On Saturday, CNN.com ran an essay from comedian Dean Obeidallah called “Stop the war on comedy.” It’s a garbled mess.
His inability to check his distaste for Limbaugh obviously clouds his ability to think or write clearly on this subject. It’s tough to do, but it’s necessary.
He eventually gets to what he believes to be the heart of the matter:
So, here is the big question: What exactly is the line that comedians are prohibited from breaching? What type of joke crosses from killing the crowd to killing your career?
To me, the answer depends on two factors. Are you a famous comedian? And what type of joke is it?
Our response to the whole matter was to fight against those who would limit speech. Obeidallah seems to think that the way to deal with it is to concoct rules, parameters and qualifications.
This is questionable at best, frightening at worst.
Now, here’s the really scary part:
But to me, the more important factor in determining if a comedian — famous or not — has crossed the line of decency is to look at the subject matter of the joke.
While I absolutely support freedom of speech, comedians deserve to suffer consequences if they make hateful jokes about race, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation.
We would like everyone to read the bold portion of that sentence aloud. Take your time. Say it twice if you have to.
And savor the many implications.
A fellow comedian is say that we deserve to suffer consequences if we make hateful jokes about race, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation.
We don’t have to waste our time explaining just how reprehensible that statement is, do we? It speaks for itself, right?
Just in case you don’t grasp the extreme density of that nonsense, we’ll add this:
Obeidallah follows it up with some sort of twisted, tortured nonsense about how a comedian “must be afforded great leeway when the joke is about a political issue.” But such a rule is pointless after the above statement about “hateful” jokes.
Who, exactly, will determine which jokes are “hateful” and which aren’t? Nothing else said after that line makes any sense. Because if you start from the premise that this joke or that joke is off-limits because of it’s potential for being “hateful,” then none of our jokes are safe. “Hateful” is too indistinct of a concept.
Folks, this isn’t very tricky or thorny. The way to protect speech is not to set up some sort of arbitrary (and ultimately unenforceable) boundaries or by declaring certain topics to be forbidden. This is a formula for disaster and it does nothing to protect speech and it does a whole lot to restrict it.
Oh, sure, certain topics will be okay– if they’re treated in a “sensitive” manner by– let’s face it– people who agree with Dean Obeidallah. After all, Dean is on the side of the “good guys.” Right?
From CBS in Los Angeles:
(Los Angeles) City Council members took a step closer on Wednesday to becoming the first in the nation to adopt a resolution condemning certain types of speech on public airwaves.
The legislation would seek to bug media companies to “ensure ‘on-air hosts do not use and promote racist and sexist slurs’ on radio and other broadcasts.”
If they think they can restrict the speech of radio hosts…
Is there a window open? We feel a chill.
When Bill Maher‘s fans (both regular fans and fans who are members of the MSM) talk about him, they like to cite just how influential he is, how wickedly insightful, how capable he is when it comes to “speaking truth to power.” When he gets into a bit of hot water, his fans/defenders dismiss the controversy and say that he’s merely a comedian. He deserves every protection afforded by freedom of speech. Move along, there’s nothing to see here. Just a comedian flapping his gums. Pay him no mind.
When Rush Limbaugh says something that is influential, he’s dismissed as “an entertainer” or “a clown.” He’s no more consequential than Jerry Springer or Maury Povich. Move along, there’s nothing to see here. When he gets into a bit of hot water, his critics say that he’s the de facto leader of the Republican National Committee and that he should resign. And if he doesn’t resign, we’ll circulate a petition to have him removed from the airwaves.
This is a textbook example of a double standard.
We’ve always held that a double standard is bad. It never works out the way you want it to. (A standard, on the other hand, is a good thing. It is what it is.)
In the pages of this magazine, we have always stated that it is important to defend the free speech of all– even those you may not agree with. Especially when it comes to humor. And make no mistake, the slut comment was a joke. It was a rhetorical flourish to make a larger point about a current issue.
In a sane world, comedians (who are inclined and capable of making jokes of a somewhat socio-political nature) would have viewed the testimony of Sandra Fluke as a “comedy wet dream.” How else to characterize a 30-year-old woman who testifies in front of our elected officials in Washington, in a highly-publicized event, that she spends a thousand dollars a year in birth control?!
Again, your propensities may vary– making jokes about sex or politics or contraception may not be your bag– but Limbaugh had no such reservation. He went for it and wrote the “slut” joke that got him into hot water. We can debate all day long as to whether it was well-constructed or bulletproof or even all that uproarious. But the premise– the basic underlying thrust, if you’ll excuse the poor choie of words– made sense. It may not have been riotous, and the execution might have lacked, but it was sound. A woman who is spending a grand a year on contraception is having a lot of sex.
To be sure, there were some brave souls– fellow comics– who attempted to make similar jokes online (particularly on Facebook or on Twitter), but they were few. And their efforts were quickly swamped by a tsunami of petitions and scolding and name-calling and shaming by those who felt it far more important to get Rush Limbaugh off the air. The spectacle of standup comics seeking to silence an entertainer and force him off the air was truly disheartening.
And it was only a matter of time before the “other side” could stand the double standard no more. There are reports out there that thousands of HBO subscribers are fleeing. Up until now, folks were perfectly willing to put up with Maher calling Sarah Palin a “cunt.” Even though the insults were somewhat asymmetrical. (As The Female Half points out, on the insult scale, “cunt” far outweighs “slut.” “You may see hundreds of women walking behind a sign that proudly advertises a “slut walk,” says she. “But you’ll never seen anyone walking behind a banner that trumpets a “cunt walk.”)
We would have been distressed if any of our colleagues were to circulate petitions to have Maher removed from his chair at HBO. And, let’s face it, the transition, “And speaking of dumb cunts…” is perhaps less of a joke than Limbaugh’s… but it’s a joke nonetheless.
But where’s the harm? Why not try and silence that big bag of wind Limbaugh? He’s nothing but a racist, drug-addled hate-monger. Here’s the harm: Louis CK is now officially collateral damage. He has canceled his appearance as the guest speaker at the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Dinner.
The pushback continues. It has been known for quite some time now that CK tweeted some rather “vulgar and inappropriate” “jokes” about (again) Sarah Palin during a flight to Los Angeles. (“@SarahPalinUSA kudos to your hole, you fucking jackoff cunt-face jazzy wondergirl.” among others.) Those tweets were sent out well over a year ago and, though he got some grief for his drunken tweeting, it’s been smooth sailing by and large with critical acclaim for his FX television show and wildly positive buzz for the tech-savvy marketing of his digital DVD.
Greta van Susteren cited the drunken tweets and suggested that her colleagues refuse to attend the bash in D.C. CK has canceled. (And in a backflip double-double standard, some of those who were, 24 hours ago aghast at the vile treatment a 30-year-old political activist/law student are now calling van Susteren a “cunt” and a “hag” and making cracks about her plastic surgery.)
We’re reminded of a saying, “What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” It is a saying that’s so old that it was coined when people actually knew what to do with a goose and how to make sauce! Try finding a recipe for goose sauce in any modern cookbook! Why is such a golden rule (which addresses the “ethic of reciprocity”) either forgotten by some or deemed outmoded by others? Consistency has never been more of a virtue in this day and age of the WWW and instant lookup-ability.
Mind you, we don’t mind if someone gets grief for public statements. Rush is getting it, Maher moved from one network to another because of it, Louis CK is no doubt exercising caution when using Twitter (if he uses it at all)… or alcohol… or both in concert and now has had to back out of a sweet gig.
We do mind, however, when people (people who should know better, i.e. comedians) are the ones who are leading the charge and behaving like some sort of dime store Terry Rakolta and circulating petitions via Facebook to have Rush Limbaugh taken off the air! Well, excuse us while we wretch our guts out.
If anything, comedians should be locking arms and leading the charge in defense of speech, not spearheading efforts to curtail it.
It’s easy to defend speech when it’s something you agree with. It’s difficult– but necessary– to defend speech when you disagree with it. Doing so isn’t heroic. Doing the opposite is cowardly.
Like it or not, there is a connection between us comedians and Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher and Opie & Anthony and Dennis Miller and Adam Corolla and Chelsea Handler. When it comes to comedy and free speech, we can’t play ideological Kerplunk.
And if you doubt that there is a connection, you haven’t been paying attention for the past 72 hours.
According to a FB friend, Peter Bergman of Firesign Theatre has died. There’s nothing on the WWW’s news pages about it and Bergman’s page on the Firesign Theatre site hasn’t been altered to reflect the sad news. His brief entry on Wikipedia has his date of death as today, March 9, 2012.
Of course, if it’s true, it’s sad.
The Male Half was a fan of the Firesign Theatre, spending some hard-earned paper route money on “I Think We’re All Bozos On This Bus,” the troupe’s 1971 release. And, four years later, as a student at Bowling Green State University, he and a roommate trekked 30 miles north to the campus of Toledo University to see a performance of Proctor & Bergman.
A decade later, The Male Half got to meet the comedy duo in person when they co-hosted and episode of the syndicated standup comedy show Comedy Tonight. (The Male Half appeared twice on the show, hosted by Bill Boggs, which taped at WNEW’s studios in NYC.)
“It was a thrill to meet them and they couldn’t have been nicer,” recalls The Male Half. “And they were extremely charming live performers. We sat on the floor of a small performance space on the TU campus.
“I remember at the time that BGSU’s radio station had a pair of students who somehow convinced the station’s GM to give them a late-night slot on the school’s FM station. They thought that they would do what Firesign Theatre and P & B did. I suspect it was a trend, and that every college campus radio station was plagued by similar aspiring satirists. They underestimated just how creative and, I suspect, how prepared that Firesign Theatre were when they went into the studio or hit the stage. As such it was unlistenable.
“It is a crazy thing about standup comedy. One day, you’ll be watching a comedy idol in a coffehouse on a campus in Ohio, then ten years later, you’ll be taping a television show or sharing a bill with that same act.”
The Female Half, since reading of Bergman’s death reports that she has had “Rat In A Box” stuck in her head all morning. (The Male Half taped the ad parody off of USA Network back in 1983 or so.) She adds that she has had the entire soundtrack from “Mary Poppins” stuck in her head since reading of the passing of comedian Wendy Liebman‘s father-in-law Robert Sherman, who, with his brother, composed such musical gems as “It’s A Small World” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” (Our last two posts have been about death. It happens.)
We’re a little behind the curve on this, we know (internet service problems), but we couldn’t let Vince Dantona’s passing go without a mention in the pages of SHECKYmagazine.com. Here, we present a rare pic of Vince sans “his wooden buddy George.”
If we recall correctly, we took this at Mike and Karen Saccone’s apartment on Walnut St. in Philly, in the summer of 1984. We like it for many reasons, not the least of which is that it makes it appear that Vince carries a fan with him wherever he goes to cool off his genitals.
He is smiling. This is no coincidence. Vince was always happy to see us (and, we imagine, happy to see everyone else). He was a Long Island comic, but he worked so frequently in the Philadelphia area– at the Comedy Works (in both the old and the new locations), at the Comedy Factory Outlet– that many people probably thought he was a Delaware Valley native. In our early days doing standup, we shared many a bill with Vince. He will be missed.
The Male Half of the Staff is quoted in a Las Vegas Review-Journal column by Mike Weatherford entitled “No Joke: Comedians May Lack Health Coverage.” It also appears in the hard copy of the Sunday edition.
We’re talking about this because Saturday night, (John) Padon was to throw a benefit for Ron Shock, a veteran stand-up and longtime Las Vegan fighting an aggressive urethra cancer.
Shock is almost 70 and covered by basic Medicare. But co-pays on four hospital stays in six weeks already overwhelm Shock and his wife, Rhonda. In a stroke of bad timing, she quit her job a month before he got sick, and now is too busy helping him to go back.
Weatherford talks about Shock and about the American Comedy Fund, recently launched by Comedy Central and the Entertainment Industry Foundation to help comedians in just such a position as Shock. According to their stats, 31 per cent of comedians lack health insurance. As of two weeks ago, SHECKYmagazine.com HQ is 100 per cent insured.
So until two weeks ago, “our health plan was ‘Eat right, exercise and don’t skateboard.’ ” However, “we finally nailed down health insurance with a company that does business in Nevada,” with a low premium for a high deductible.
“Comedians I don’t think are any more or any less responsible than regular folks,” McKim says. But they are self-employed, so “we really do get burned by the system. We pay both sides of the payroll tax.”
Read the whole column.
The repeal of section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) seems inevitable now that MP Brian Storseth (Westlock–St. Paul) has successfully steered his private member’s Bill C-304 through its second reading.
Section 13, our readers may recall, is the odious chunk of the Canadian Constitution that enabled a band of bureaucrats to harass and take the property from Canadian citizens, particularly comedian Guy Earle.
Let’s hope Bill C-304 will finally pass into law, spelling the end of Section 13’s use by un-democratic, free-speech deniers who have overreached in their campaign to enforce political correctness and who abuse our individual rights to freedom of expression.>We’ll keep you posted.
Remember that video (that went viral) in which the distraught, weeping man/boy pleaded with viewers to “Leave Britney alone?” We’re seeing similar sentiments on our Facebook. Only this time, it’s “Leave Whitney alone.” From comedians, too.
We’re seeing it expressed, in so many ways, that making jokes about the recent death of a pop star is outside the boundaries of good taste. Well, yeah. Duh! Of course it is. That’s why we do it. We’re seeing some status updates that admonish members of the Facebook community for making cruel jokes about the fallen pop diva and threatening any offenders with “defriendization.” It is rather puzzling.
We don’t advocate anyone do such jokes onstage, in front of an audience. The “too soon?” factor kicks in. Some folks can handle that (some comedians, some audiences), but we don’t advocate it. We would never go so far as to say that a comedian can not do so. We merely advise caution.
But Facebook isn’t onstage. It’s a loose, rough-and-tumble, semi-public forum where people (comedians and civilians) race to the punchline and hope their jibes are “liked” or commented on or linked to. If we’re to further tweak the performing analogy: Facebook is not “onstage”– but more like the green room. It’s where comedians gather and brainstorm and throw things out. Where they top and get topped. Anything goes. The gallows humor is not only allowed, it’s expected.
To take the analogy further, imagine if, as you and other comedians are engaged in such dark, irreverent chatter backstage at a comedy club, someone in the group were to say, “Hey… enough of the jokes about (fill in the blank)… it demonstrates a callousness that I will not tolerate!” It’s the wettest of blankets.
Some folks on Facebook (some comedians!) have gone so far as to say that such jokes are “not funny.” And they go further and proclaim that not only are such gags “not funny,” but that they should be (or actually are!) prohibited.
But making jokes about the newly dead is something comedians do. You can analyze it all day long. Is it how we deal with death? Is it our way of separating ourselves from the non-comedians? Perhaps it’s our way of exercising our joke-writing muscles– after all, making light of the dark is perhaps the most difficult exercise a humorist can undertake. None of that matters.
We do it because we can. And we take offense at those folks who take offense. Especially the comedians who take offense. They have no excuse.
They demonstrate a shocking lack of how the mind of their fellow comedian works. No comedian should tell another comedian that a subject is out of bounds– especially in an environment like Facebook. Defriending is always an option. We defriend people all the time. And we’re fairly certain that we are defriended on a regular basis. (We watched “The Social Network” last night… the opting-in and opting-out of friendship is one of the devices that makes Facebook what it is.)
To go one step further and chastise the comedy community goes way over the line.
Are all the jokes good ones? Certainly not. Some are illogical. Some are painfully obvious. Some were most likely assembled in a hurry and rushed onto a status update without a bit of polishing. None of that matters. What matters is that comedians react this way instinctively.
Last week, we were listening to Lars Callieou‘s Kamikaze Komedy radio show (Wednesdays at midnight PST) when talk drifted into the subject of gallows humor. Callieou mentioned an incident in which comic Ron Vaudry was lustily booed for a joke that veered into “bad taste” for being too soon. Vaudry chastised the audience (and we’re paraphrasing), “Hey, I wrote a joke about the Challenger before the shuttle hit the water.”
On a recent post (“The Total Prick and his Insignificant Wife”), we went all crazy on someone who sent us a link to a clip by a comedian, claiming that the set depicted was “one of the best sets I’ve ever seen,” and that the clip was going viral and garnering all sorts of praise.
We disagreed. We were pilloried by the sender for daring to disagree. The comments on the posting were illuminating.
It also led to some interesting conversations with some professional comics “off-blog.”
And we came to the conclusion that today’s aspiring comedians have no shame. And that shame is often a good thing to have.
Allow us to explain. When we first started out, the clubs we worked out at had video cameras in the back of the house. We were invited to watch the recording of our most recent open-mike performance. Some feedback was offered. Occasionally, we were able to bring in a tape and actually take home a copy of our most recent performance and watch it on the Reggie-Vision.
In those early days, it was instructive (if not also cringe-inducing) to watch those sets. We would be on the lookout for annoying physical quirks. Watching the video (and not just listening to an audio recording) was a tremendous way to edit jokes, break bad habits and accelerate the learning process.
Later on, when we got good enough to travel, we rented video equipment on one or two occasions and tried to capture a set– on the road, with a hot crowd. Once in a great while, we defied the odds and got lucky, actually capturing a set that was executed nearly flawlessly and that got the desired raucous response from the audience. It was a painstaking process, often frustrating. But the one, decent tape that resulted was often enough to get subsequent bookings from other bookers… or maybe even a television spot.
When the cost of the equipment came down to reasonable levels, it was commonplace for comedians to own their own video equipment. But getting a great set on tape was still difficult, and maybe even costly, for a number of reasons. Chattering near the camera’s microphone? Waitresses walking past the camera? A heckler that disrupts what would have been a perfect set?
Now comedians have easy access to relatively inexpensive and tiny video cameras, some of which are high-definition, which can be easily mounted anywhere in a showroom. For even the laziest comedian it is possible to make a decent, clear video and audio recording of practically any set, any night, anywhere. Of course, these recordings are not all going to be great or usable, but the odds are now more in the comedian’s favor than a decade ago.
And we have the means to upload them to the internet. So, you would think that every tape would on the WWW would be far and away better than recordings from the old days. But they’re not.
We’ve always been annoyed at the poor quality of some of the tapes that make it onto the web. If every show can be taped, there’s no real reason to put up a tape where the comedian’s voice can’t be heard… or the comedian’s voice is obscured by chatter from the audience or servers… or the camera is regularly jolted by nearby foot traffic. Those recordings are useful for private critiquing or for note-taking, but they certainly aren’t suitable for consumption by the public.
Further, we’ve noticed a disturbing trend in which new comics (aspiring comics? newbie comics? open mikers?) are uploading recordings of crappy sets. Sets that are not just coincidentally bad, but sets that quite clearly demonstrate that the person doing the set doesn’t know how to do standup yet.
Where is the shame? Don’t these folks know that they suck? Mind you, sucking, in itself, is not a crime– we all sucked in the early going. But we sucked in obscurity… in a vacuum… like we were supposed to. Like today’s comics are supposed to. Not plastered all over the WWW for the W to see!
Is it ego? Exhibitionism? Is it an eagerness to demonstrate– to themselves or to co-workers or to doubting relatives– that “Yes! I AM a standup comic!” (Is there some sort of sentiment out there that– as many times as a comic has done an open mike, as many times as a comic as told his friends that he does standup– it isn’t real or legitimate if it isn’t on Youtube?)
If the ego is involved, why doesn’t embarrassment keep the ego in check? Why not wait until you have something excellent to upload? Of course, we all convinced ourselves that we were “good” before we were actually good. But it seems odd to convince yourself that your set is worthy of torturing the entire world when, in some cases, there isn’t even any laughter on the tape!
This isn’t some sort of “these kids today think they’re so damn funny” rant. We’re honestly baffled.
We often wonder: Would we have uploaded– to the WWW– some of our absolutely gut-wrenchingly bad sets from our early days were we able to do so? We have to answer: No. We had trouble convincing ourselves that we were actually comedians, that we actually had the right to call ourselves comics. And that was a good thing. It made us work hard. It still makes us work hard.
Are we imagining this humility? Are we viewing our early days and our bygone colleagues through some sort of nostalgic prism? We don’t think so. And we think we have proof of that.
We have been trying to put together a show here locally where we invite veteran comedians (at least 15-years+) to bring a videotape of the earliest performance of theirs that they can get their hands on. The idea is that we would all gather and watch the tapes, then watch each comedian do a live set. Hilarity would ensue. As would mocking of the old set. A multi-media self-roast.
We say “trying” because NOT ONE comedian has said that they would do it. Not only that, but they say that it is a horrible idea! And they say that there is no way that anybody they know would ever consent to doing it. The prospect of unspooling an early, amateurish set fills them with dread.
They are shamed decades later.
“We’re in the Golden Age of comedy, but it’s definitely not the Golden Age of audiences.”
Jules Riley passed away Friday, Jan. 29. She was known to Philadelphia comics. The Halves of the Staff were privileged to have worked with Riley a few times, mainly at the Comedy Works in Bristol, PA. Read her obit and leave memories here. Services are tomorrow.
If comedians are expected to say something meaningful, eventually they’ll be required to say something meaningful.
That’s the impression we get from this article on cnn.com which profiles a comedy duo from South Africa, Nik Rabinowitz and Tats Nkonzo.
We were struck by many things. Here’s a quote from Rabinowitz:
“I spent time in Kenya as well — they do an interesting thing there where they mix up their ‘L’s’ and their ‘R’s’ in Kenya, so they would say things like, ‘we know all about Mr Zuma, your plesident’ and we’d say, ‘What do you know about him?’ ‘And they’d say, ‘We know he’s got a big erection coming up this year’…
We don’t highlight the joke to ridicule Rabinowitz or to point out just how dated it is. We do so because we find it fascinating that such a bit is still considered current or maybe even cutting edge in South Africa. Not only that, but CNN.com repeats the gag and says things like, “From race and religion jokes to polygamy gags and political spoofs, Rabinowitz and Nkonzo are using satire to help South Africans accept uncomfortable truths– and the jokes go a long way.”
Are audiences that far behind in South Africa? Perhaps Jessica Ellis, the author of the piece is out of touch when it comes to standup.
Ellis is up to her ears in “international journalism,” having been at CNN as a producer and writer for nearly a decade, so it’s not likely that she has no idea just how far standup has progressed over the past 30 years. She more likely knows her audience and perhaps understands more than anyone just how unsophisticated South African comedy fans are.
Or perhaps her choice of Rabinowitz and Nkonzo was a poor one– maybe they don’t represent the best and the brightest of the South African comedy scene. But they’re presented as an important part of a process in “a nation striving to come to terms with its racist past.”
How long before South Africa acquires its own set of busybody bureaucrats, stuffy journalists and academics who see such material as “racist” or “xenophobic” and brings the hammer down on Rabinowitz and Nkonzo and as many other comics as they can.
Let’s see… judging from the material, they’re stuck in about 1982 or therabouts. So… we calculate that they have another decade before the P.C. shit hits the fan. Message to South African comedians: Enjoy the innocence and the freedom to address the issues of race and polygamy and religion the way you see fit. It’s only a matter of time before certain topics (and certain methods for dealing with them) are declared off-limits!
That’s what we’ve taken to calling ourselves around here. It’s a pride thing.
We get some odd emails here at SHECKYmagazine.com HQ. When we launched 12 years and 307 days ago, we called our Letters To The Editor page “Like We Care.” We thought it captured our attitude rather well. (Of course, we cared… but we thought it sent a subtle, ironic warning to folks that, hey, we just might not care! In the nearly thirteen years we’ve published, the vast majority of folks have “gotten the joke.”)
Mind you, we are passionate about certain things. (In fact, we’ve been mocked for being a little too passionate about certain topics.) But, we pick and choose carefully. And woe to the goofball who tries to light a fire under us for this or that cause or crusade. We will drink a gallon or two of water just to piss on that fire. That’s when the “Like We Care” motto– and the irony– really comes into play. And most folks fundamentally, instantly understand that.
Once in a while, though, we hear from someone who doesn’t.
A recent missive sought to get us all stirred up and excited. It was an email about a bit… being done by a comedian… somewhere. There was a link attached, which led to a video clip of said comic doing said bit.
Hi there, I thought you might have an interest in this video clip of [NAME OF CITY REDACTED] stand-up comedian [NAME REDACTED] doing a fresh bit called [NAME OF BIT, YOUTUBE URL REDACTED].
To be sure, it is hilarious, but also raw and truthful. It’s a riff on a real thing that happened [DESCRIPTION OF BIT REDACTED].
Full disclosure, the show is mine, and I also filmed and edited the clip. Irrespective of that, [NAME OF COMIC REDACTED] is a brilliant young comic. And this clip is making the rounds among our friends online and getting a fantastically positive response.
Don’t know if this is something you would want to write about but thought I’d reach out.
We’re reminded of a quote from Firesign Theatre’s “I Think We’re All Bozos On This Bus”:
A: Why did the shorthair cross the road?
B: I don’t know.
A: Because somebody told him to. Why did the longhair cross the road?
B: Because somebody told him not to?
A: Aw– you’ve heard it already!
Well… we suppose we’re longhairs at heart. And the above email was urging us in so many words to “cross the road.”
More often than not, when we get an email that is obviously trying to prod us into doing something, we are amused. We send back a polite email (if we bother to respond at all) and curtly thank the sender and inform them that he/she is barking up the wrong blog tree.
In this case, though, we sent back an email dripping with sarcasm and condescension:
Dear [NAME REDACTED]:
We were just talking about this last week.
You do yourself and your client a disservice by referring to a rape joke as “fresh.” It’s “the new hack,” about four or five “new hacks” ago. Just how isolated is [CITY REDACTED]? We figured with the internet and all, even folks in the [REGION OF COUNTRY REDACTED] would know that folks in New York and Los Angeles (and London and Sydney and probably even Vancouver and Toronto) have done rape jokes to the point where the audiences are inured to the shock value… along with abortion… and molestation… and a handful of other jokes that our colleagues have trotted out (sometimes out of obligation) in an effort to appear “raw and truthful.” (Mind you, we’re not for a minute labeling [COMIC'S NAME REDACTED] a hack. But we grow weary of the premise police who tell us that we’re not trying hard enough to explore new territory while they turn a blind eye toward the most egregious examples of tired and hackneyed repetition. Thus, our coining of the term, “The New Hack.”)
Of course, [COMIC'S NAME REDACTED] shouldn’t drop the joke. Nor should she avoid the topic in the future. But she should be under no illusion that she’s breaking new ground or setting herself that far apart from the rest.
Good luck to both of you.
We suppose the reaction was predictable.
Dear Mr. McKim,
Thanks for your response. With all due respect, did you watch the clip and actually listen to her tell her story and hear the audience’s supportive reaction? Or did you just see the title of the clip and decide it was hack?
It’s not a “rape joke,” and it’s not for shock value. It’s the transforming of a crappy (universal) personal incident and a reversal of a power dynamic through creativity. She’s describing a real-life incident and her own internal reaction to it. By “fresh” I meant this incident happened to her a few days ago and here she is onstage working it out for the first time, not “wow, here’s a subject no one’s ever broached onstage before.”
The truth is, this sort of crap happens to women all the time, and it’s terrifying. So listening to someone like Ever grab ahold of something like this and transform it into something wonderful is an example of comedy transcending mere jokes and laughs.
Incidentally, every single response we’ve gotten to this set, from feminist blogs, gay blogs, comedy blogs – not to mention real live people – have all been overwhelmingly positive. As in “wow, I never thought someone could make a subject like this funny, and her bravery and honesty are amazing, thanks for sharing, I’m going to post this, too.”
She’s truthfully discussing a universally painful and terrible subject, and a room full of people are laughing. She wins. Comedy wins. We all win. If you can’t see that (and/or didn’t actually watch the clip), then no sweat. But don’t judge before seeing for yourself.
And, to be clear, she’s not my “client.” [NAME OF COMIC REDACTED] is a fellow castmember at a $5 stand-up showcase. This is the first time in five years I’ve ever promoted a clip like this online, because I thought it was worth the effort. We were all very proud of this show and this particular set, and wanted to share it with a broader audience. That’s all.
Also, thanks for the extra unnecessary dose of condescension in your “isolated [NAME OF CITY REDACTED]” comments.
[REST OF EMAIL REDACTED]
To which we replied:
You missed our point entirely.
The reaction to our reaction was, we suppose, entirely predictable. Seconds later, The Female Half of the Staff hops onto Facebook– not even knowing that she was a friend of the email author– to find this:
Wow! According to one – and only one – comedy blog, a joke that uses the word rape is hack, and I’d know that if I didn’t live in the backward, isolated Midwest! Also, I’m pretty sure he didn’t actually watch the clip, and is a total prick.
That’s us! We are soooo proud!
What follows is the Facebook equivalent of showing up outside our blog with glowing torches, pitchforks and bloodhounds.
I am SO PISSED right now, sorry guys. This asshole didn’t even watch the clip.
But one more thing: this guy is SUCH A GREAT COMEDIAN HIMSELF, he’s performed in all 50 states – and yet you’ve never fucking heard of him. Dickwad.
Thank you, James. It’s really fine, I just need to cool off. I guess you risk being misunderstood when you’re pushing the envelope like this.
Of course, the asshole(s) watched the clip. What kind of asshole(s) would we be if we passed judgement without even watching the clip? Jesus H. Christ! What kind of asshole(s) are these people accustomed to dealing with if they assume that we didn’t even watch the clip?! What kind of delusions are these folks operating under? (See DSM-IV-TR)
The Female Half of the Staff was understandably hurt. After all, the email we sent back, snark and all, was co-authored. As is all the output of SHECKYmagazine.com. For someone to reply to just The Male Half was a blow to her delicate sensibilities. She was momentarily unable to function. The inability of [NAME REDACTED] to appreciate The Female Half of the Staff’s personhood, to appreciate her co-authorship of SHECKYmagazine.com (and any/all correspondence originating therefrom), was a blow. Her identity– both as a person and as a woman– was rocked. She eventually gathered herself and responded.
My husband isn’t a prick. For your information, we wrote the response together after watching the clip. You missed our point. We were trying to save you from embarrassing yourself. There have been plenty of funny rape jokes in the past. Sarah Silverman is known for her “being raped by a doctor” bit, for example. If you can’t handle criticism then don’t send out the clip.
We would add that, before she hit “Send,” she deleted the line where she called the email sender a “cunt.”
We expect this kind of sexism from men. (Well, not the kind of men we hang out with, anyway.) But when it comes from a woman… it is HILARIOUS!
We wonder how all the feminist blogs who favorited her clip would feel about such a gaffe.
And then there’s the hack tactic of attacking the editors of SHECKYmagazine.com by calling into question their relative notoriety– “….you’ve never fucking heard of him!” Yeesh! That’s the new, new, new hack! Some publication fails to give you the proper love and you diss that publication by dissing the editor(s)?
Hello, sweetheart (and that comes from The Female Half, not The Male Half): There are a lot of people in this business who know who we are– from open mikers who have bought our book, to veterans who have worked with us over the past 30 years or so, to comedy superstars, to a scared little rabbit who beseeches a behemoth comedy website to say glowing things about her comedy crush.
Grow the fuck up. Is this the first adversity you’ve ever encountered in your life? Did you get shiny, towering trophies for just participating in every activity in your young existence? You are unwittingly enrolled in a Special Olympics life. We’re sorry we didn’t give you a hug at your imagined finish line. We hope you can recover.
You may be wondering why we redacted all names, place, links, identity. It’s because we wanted to spare any embarrassment to the comedian that [NAME REDACTED] so clumsily represented.
We’re told that [COMEDIAN'S NAME REDACTED] was trying out that material for the first time (or one of the first times). And it shows. Perhaps, in six months or so, with some editing and some tweaking here or there, the bit will cook down to a decent 2-1/2 minutes. But worthy of some sort of viral buzz campaign that seeks to establish a beachhead in the war against humdrum comedy? We’re not convinced.
For now, however, the spectacle of a shaky bit, being guffawed at by her friends/sycophants/shills/fellow open-mikers isn’t worthy of internet viralism. As it is, in its current form, the clip is just eight minutes of beating a (not-so-daring) premise (with just a touch of daring racism? What say you, alts?) into the ground. To be sure, the clip, according to its champion, has garnered some buzz– the clip is getting a “fantastically positive response”– but we’re not convinced that the WWW response is anything more than some sort of Pavlovian response to certain prescribed topics and methods. We don’t even buy the genuineness of the laughter picked up by the camera’s microphone. (Believe us– between the two of us, we’ve done/attended hundreds of open mikes in dozens of cities… so we know forced laughter when we hear it.)
[NAME REDACTED] says that the clip depicts “One of the best sets I’ve ever seen. Words cannot describe it, so I’ll let this clip speak for itself.” There is more there to repulse us than just simple bombast. There is a certain sort of stupidity and cluelessness and arrogance that doesn’t just seek to elevate the performer in the clip, but seeks to unfairly downgrade those who don’t live up to the performance standards supposedly set by the clip.
Perhaps we suffer from some sort of paranoia/persecution complex (the same sort that our emailer suffers from!), perhaps we don’t. But this whole exercise seems sort of embarrassing (and redundant) since there are countless comedians out there– Laurie Kilmartin? Sarah Silverman? Nikki Glaser? Bonnie McFarlane? Patrice Oneal? Doug Stanhope?– who, in the space of 15 seconds, have said something more meaningful and pithy than [NAME REDACTED] can do in 8:05.
So… in summary… don’t give us shit when we disagree with you.
For now, the author the original email is our mortal enemy. In six month’s time, however, we will not remember her name. We will only be able to vaguely recall the details of this dustup. And that is perhaps the biggest diss of all! Booyah! (Yeah… upon further reflection… maybe we are total prick(s).)
THIS JUST IN– The emailer’s latest Facebook status as of four minutes ago:
I’m sorry, I don’t have time to care about your negative opinion, I’m too busy being awesome at what I do.
Somebody give this chick (the Female Half’s characterization) a trophy!!
From an entertainment website, comes this line, from a synopsis/review of Mike Birbiglia‘s movie, that is featured at this year’s Sundance Film Festival:
He’s one of the few alternative comedians that can tell a good story without delivering a lot of laughs. But when those laughs hit, they are full of impact. You can just tell that the stories he’s telling on stage are personal, which makes laughing with him twice as enjoyable.
Turn that over in your mind… let the idiocy sink in… savor the utter backwardness of it. (Hmmm… if he’s getting, let’s say, half as many laughs as “conventional” comics… and it’s twice as enjoyable, then… isn’t it a tie?)
We have nothing against Birbiglia. It is the crippled thought process, employed by the author, that pains us so. (And the depressing notion that so many people swallow such nonsense unquestioningly.)
We’re not so sure that standup can be saved.
We don’t normally comment on stuff that appears in other blogs (probably because we don’t read other blogs all that often), but there’s a posting by A.V. Club’s Sean O’Neal that seems to be making waves on the WWW.
In it, O’Neal engages in what we called (in a December 8 posting) “The New Hack!” (That is, he trashed a wildly popular comic, and, by extension, his fans.)
The incident that spurred the snark-alanche was this: Dane Cook stopped into the Laugh Factory last night and worked out material for 45 minutes. And some comics were bumped. And the material was less than focused or polished and touched upon subjects that offended the delicate sensibilities of some of the comics that witnessed the whole debacle.
Dane Cook doesn’t need us defending him. He’s a big boy, he’s successful, and controversy follows him wherever he goes yet he still ends up prevailing.
But the antics of two of the comics quoted in O’Neal’s piece are particularly interesting. Daniel Kinno (who knows a thing or two about being held in contempt by fellow comics) makes a catty comment about Cook and seems awfully peeved that he was bumped… at a major showcase club… in Los Angeles. To which we reply: “Boo–Fucking-Hoo.” If you’re living in Los Angeles (or regularly performing there, or performing in NYC), getting bumped is part of the game. Any comic who does anything more than express mild disappointment is being thoroughly dishonest. Any comic who then takes a shot at the comic doing the bumping is being a sore loser. And any comic who offers the cheap shots to a publication (or broadcasts them via social media) is being a dick. Take it and deal with it. You will be able to do it yourself if/when you get to the point where a comedy club manager in one of the two major comedy markets in the world decides that his audience would rather see you than the comics he has scheduled. 99 per cent of comedians understand that they will be be bumped by 1 per cent of the comedians on this planet. It’s nothing personal; it’s business.
The other mopey comic is T.J. Miller, who took his frustrations out via Twitter. He expresses outrage that Cook would bump comedians (and is outraged on behalf of bump-ee Bobby Lee), and labels Cook as a “damaged man” who “didn’t earn” the right to steamroll the other acts on the bill that night.
Again: Deal with it. And we’re sure Bobby Lee is getting along all right without any assistance from Miller.
We met Miller when we were headlining in Pittsburgh a few years back (he was in town shooting “She’s Out Of My League”) and we found him to be pleasant and humble. We also thought that his performance in SOOML to be perhaps the highlight of the movie. So we’re puzzled by this whole outburst.
We’re doubly puzzled by the expression of disgust at Cook’s choice of material. We’re told that it was “vicious, misogynistic, cruel, and arrogant.” Hmmm… with the possible exception of mysogynistic, are we not told that these qualities are the hallmark of some of the best “edgy” and “truthful” comics working today? (And, in some respectable circles, misogyny– and material that depends on it– isn’t merely excused but celebrated.)
When did we suddenly do a 180-degree turn and start valuing comedians who are kind, gentle, understanding and humble? Miller is particularly fixated on a Cook bit about… abortion? (Last time we checked, comics aren’t allowed to cross the George Washington Bridge or get through the Cajon Pass unless they show proof of an abortion joke in their showcase sets. Indeed, The Female Half of the Staff (half)jokingly says that she’s starting to feel bad for being the only female comic on the planet who doesn’t do an abortion joke.)
Miller further takes Cook to task for trying to “work through his own shit on stage” and for believing that “it’s okay to bomb and talk about your issues.” Exactly what the hell is going on here? Have we not, for the last decade or more, been bombarded with the meme that what matters most is the bold, edgy attempt at getting to the heart of one’s “personal truth?” And that it matters not what kind of response we get? And that audiences rightly thrill to the spectacle of a daring truthteller working things out onstage, not caring one whit about whether or not it results in belly laughs?
Cook defended himself by saying, “This was only the fourth time I’ve ever performed it, as well as the fourth time I’ve ever admitted this incident in public. So it still feels like a very nervy high wire walk for me. There’s times when I lose the audience and have to get them back, freeze up, and wonder if I shouldn’t have just kept this whole incident to myself.” Oh… waitaminute… that’s not Cook, that’s a quote from Patton Oswalt defending his savaging of a heckler at a room in Los Feliz about 12 days ago. When Oswalt tries out material during a “drop-in” appearance, he’s everybody’s hero. When Dane Cook does it (and bumps Jenna Marbles, Daniel Kinno and T.J. Miller in the process), he “took a shit on everyone.” A curious double standard to say the least.
And, writes Dave Itzkoff, he’ll be replaced by a “system” whereby “a ‘Late Show’ staffer will scout comedians at clubs and other performance spaces and invite them to perform in showcases for a group of senior producers. These producers will then decide which comedians to book on future broadcasts.”
Sounds… cumbersome. Should we all dub our sets onto VHS tapes, just to be prepared for the next “evolution” at the show? We give this system about a month before the “senior producers” start grousing about having to spend their precious time at Standup NY or the Cellar on a weeknight when they could be eating sushi or playing Angry Birds. Then, when the entire controversy has blown over, they’ll hire another talent coordinator. It seems like a giant step backward– especially in this day and age when such innovations as DVDs and Youtube.com make the process so much easier. And let’s face it: If you limit yourself to those few comedians who can be seen by a “staffer” at (NYC) “clubs and other performances spaces,” are you really doing your best to scout for standup talent?
Itzkoff also writes this:
Mr. Brill’s position was already an awkward one at “Late Show”: In addition to booking comedians, he teaches comedy workshops and programs the Great American Comedy Festival, endeavors that were perceived as conflicts of interest. Other comedians had expressed concern that he could favor performers who paid to take his classes.
Hmmm… could this be the real reason?
We’ll know if it’s the “sexist comments” or the conflict of interest that prompted Brill’s exit when they eventually hire a talent coordinator. If it’s a woman, it was the sexist comment. If they hire a dude, it was the COI.