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.
Someone identifying himself as “Jason Zinoman” commented on our “Brill makes a ‘Kinsley gaffe’” posting (scroll down). “Jason Zinoman” is the name of the New York Times columnist that wrote the article on Eddie Brill which set off a chain of events that resulted in Brill’s dismissal as talent coordinator for Late Show. (We have no way of knowing if it’s really Jason Zinoman.)
Our commenter says:
So Shecky, let me get this straight. Previously, you argued that comedy shouldn’t have an independent columnist at the Times. Now you say that the conflict of interest issue that was reported on by the comedy columnist at the Times was real and important and while you knew about it, you didn’t write about it because of fear of criticism. That sounds to me like a counter to your original point, no?
Let’s take this point-by-point.
We never argued “comedy shouldn’t have an independent columnist at the Times.” We said that a column such as Zinoman’s…
…will have an effect on comedians, on consumers of comedy and on the business of comedy. And not all of it will be positive. Much of it may be negative.
And later on in our posting, we said:
Our biggest fear is that comedians will start changing to conform to what they perceive as the features necessary to receive the blessing of Zinoman (or other reviewers). The logical outcome of such a scenario is that comedians will slowly begin to sound, act and look the same. Already, we’ve heard from one comedian who cautioned that we should go easy on Mr. Zinoman, not anger him. The theory is that standup needs columnists. We’re not convinced. And such subservience gives the reviewer added, unearned power which might warp the creative process.
So… we never said that “comedy shouldn’t have an independent columnist at the Times.” We stated that we weren’t convinced that comedy needs such a columnist, as some of our colleagues have suggested. And we urged folks to temper their joy with caution and we theorized that comics might take it upon themselves to change– not that the columnist might actively undertake to change the comics. Big difference.
“Jason Zinoman” also says that we were silent on Eddie Brill’s seeming conflict of interest regarding his workshops “because of fear of criticism.” This is not so.
This magazine is mainly for comedians. We rarely, if ever, cater to those who are casual observers of comedy. Our readers are comedians, industry people and perhaps a handful of rabid fans. And they all knew about Brill’s workshops. Many of our readers have taken the workshops! Brill conducted these workshops and publicized them and advertised them openly. We’re not sure what purpose it would have served to make a stink about such a conflict of interest. Like we said– we were appalled, privately. We didn’t see the upside to publicly airing that particular opinion. And, obviously CBS and Worldwide Pants had no problem with the arrangement. We are but a lowly online blog run by two comics/authors. The only result (from our perspective) would have been the “raft of shit from the comedians who would inevitably defend Brill’s practices in the hopes that doing so would make Brill more favorably disposed to slotting them on the show. Like we said, Brill is a politician. And there are plenty of amateur politicians out there. It’s an exhausting game.” Weariness, not fear, is what often motivates us.
Our silence on this matter is in no way a contradiction of any of our previous opinions on the splendor/horror of an NYT columnist dedicated to comedy. We told our readers to be “careful what you wish for.” And, significantly, we said that the worst result might be not what the critic does but what the comedians do in response to the critic. This is a subtle thing. (And something that a culture critic for the NYT should easily grasp… which is why we have our doubts that our commenter is actually Jason Zinoman.)
We are rarely, if ever, motivated by fear. As some proof of this we might point out that we kinda/sorta trashed comedy’s independent columnist at the Times! Were we motivated by fear, we probably would have jumped on the “We Love Jason Zinoman” bandwagon and heralded his assignment with tears of joy and expressions of great relief. (Perhaps in the hopes that Zinoman might turn his attention to our book, which was released just weeks before Zinoman’s debut as the Times’ comedy critic.) Instead, we urged our peers to be cautious. (And we highlighted some of Zinoman’s egregious and gratuitous slams at us– “most of those comedians are ordinary or bad” and “a majority of male stand-ups are neurotics nursing anxieties.”) This doesn’t sound like the words or actions of fearful people.
We are puzzled when “Jason Zinoman” refers to the conflict of interest “issue” as “real and important” and says that he “reported on it.” We suppose that this is true in the strictest sense. It seems to us, however that the conflict of interest wasn’t the thrust of the story. Indeed, it was but a paragraph (the seventh!) in a story that had 19 paragraphs. And, in a story that totaled 1,114 words, the “real and important” “issue” took up a whoppping 46 of them. If we don’t count the words of Anthony Jeselnik, who, we are helpfully reminded in the parting graf, just might have an ax to grind by virtue of an (“unsolicited”) diss from Brill. If anything, it could be argued that the columnist created a protective bubble around Brill by treating the COI so cavalierly and subtly portraying the “skeptical” Jeselnik as disgruntled, thereby leading the reader to discount his criticism and the criticism of others.
In the end, Jason Zinoman (the real one) has made our point for us. We have no doubt that Brill thought that he would come out on the other end of his encounter with Jason Zinoman with a nice, glowing clip in the most influential newspaper in the country (nay, the world!). Instead, he ends up unemployed with his ethics questioned. Of course, Brill must take the majority of the blame for his predicament. Regardless of whether or not his comments were taken out of context (as he claims), had they appeared in the Des Moine Register or the The Oregonian, all would be sunshine and lollipops for him on this Tuesday morning. But he spoke to the independent columnist for the New York Times– great care should be taken when speaking to such an awesomely powerful publication. If you dare to speak to them at all, you should endeavor to appear modest and benevolent and you should, like a master chess champion, try to think several moves ahead. We’re somewhat surprised at the lack of savvy displayed by Brill.
We’re not surprised at the fallout.
The New York Observer says that CBS has canned Eddie Brill. They cite Mirth Magazine as the source. (Mirth is a new publication, run by FOS Larry Getlen. They are quoted in the original Observer story– scroll down to read about that one. In the Observer, Mirth is described as “a new publication about the comedy industry that is planning to release its first issue in March.” Upon reading Brill’s comments, Getlen spun out an opinion piece for his magazine, mainly taking issue with Brill’s crack about female comedians. Brill commented in the pages of the magazine, in the wee hours of the morning of Jan. 15, then, 12 hours later, walked back some of what he said and apologized. A lot.)
Mirth’s source says that CBS let Brill go for “speaking to the press without authorization.”
If we go by the Observer’s most recent headline, “Letterman Booker Eddie Brill Fired After ‘Women In Comedy’ Flame War,” Brill was canned because of the comments he made concerning female comics. They assume a lot.
If this were the case, the dismissal was unjustified and unfair. Brill (and all the other comedy talent coordinators) are paid (and well, we assume) for their opinions– specifically their opinions about standup comedy and standup comics. There is one way that CBS terminated Brill because of the comments about female comedians: CBS might be hypersensitive about gender issues in the wake of the controversy over the extortion attempt of October of 2009, in which a CBS producer “threatened to reveal that Letterman had engaged in sexual affairs with multiple female employees.” (CNN) And Letterman’s incessant attacks on Bristol Palin led some in the press to theorize that the host’s repeated jibes were more about gender than politics. Or maybe it’s about those seminars that Brill was conducting. It is entirely possible that CBS saw them as some sort of “pay to play” device. They may have been okay with such an arrangement until this latest hit in the NYT. Though they were only mentioned in passing, perhaps some “inquiries” were made that caused CBS to have second thoughts.
But, as we said late last year, be careful what you wish for.
We’re torn. We understand the power of the press. We also understand the considerable influence of the Times. And that power and influence could be a shortcut– for a handful of fortunate comedians– to the big time. And good for them if it happens!
But Jason Zinoman is but one man. One man who now wields (disproportionate?) influence by virtue of his new designation as comedy critic at the NYT. To those who rejoice at the prospect of regular standup reviews in the Times, we would recommend that they temper their joy with caution.
Such a column will have an effect on comedians, on consumers of comedy and on the business of comedy. And not all of it will be positive. Much of it may be negative.
We already note that Zinoman says that “most of those comedians are ordinary or bad.” We are not, at this point, going to dispute this claim, but we wonder why a critic would feel compelled to include this in the fourth sentence of the first paragraph of the essay that kicks off the whole comedy reviewing adventure.
And in his second column– on female comedians– Zinoman says offhandedly that “a majority of male stand-ups are neurotics nursing anxieties.”
Leaving aside the fact that Zinoman is bringing his prejudices and questionable assumptions to the task of reviewing standup comics (he is human, after all), we can’t help but think that this could end badly.
Well, it ended badly for one comedian.
We’re not sure what all the fuss is about. Eddie Brill, the comedian who coordinates the talent for CBS’ Late Show with David Letterman, was profiled by Jason Zinoman. (Zinoman, our readers will recall, is the man tapped by the New York Times to regularly comment on standup comedy. We talked about the danger of such an animal here.)
Anyway, Brill said some outrageous things while talking to Zinoman. Oh, he probably said a bunch of innocuous, boring, predictable things to Zinoman, too, but the truly ridiculous statements made it to print in the “paper of record.” And that is what has Brill swimming and simmering in a high-temperature broth.
As far as we can tell (judging from the hoo-ha that has sprung up on the WWW), the thing he said that was most controversial or offensive was this:
“There are a lot less female comics who are authentic,” Mr. Brill said. “I see a lot of female comics who to please an audience will act like men.”
We here at SHECKYmagazine.com found other of Brill’s statements to be outrageous, among them that Brill “never thought Bob Hope was a great stand-up comedian.” And we’re certain that others are fuming over his tepid assessment of Eddie Murphy– “I never thought of him as a great stand-up comedian.”
But it’s the (you’ll excuse the expression) broad condemnation of female comedians that seems to have given most folks the greenlight to trash the large-headed, obscure, avuncular yet influential comedian (all Zinoman’s characterizations, not ours).
Ho-hum. It merely puts Brill in the company of such giants as Johnny Carson, Christopher Hitchens and Jerry Lewis. And, from watching the show over the past few years (or at least watching YouTube clips of the comedians on the show and monitoring Facebook bulletins about who appears on the show, as we have not really watched the show for quite some years), we have noticed something: There are hardly any female comics on the show. Nor have there ever been. So… anyone who has been paying even the slightest attention to the show has noticed that something (not so) funny has been going on.
So… why is this a shock to anyone?
Which explains the title of this post. A Kinsley gaffe is defined as “a politician inadvertently saying something publicly that they privately believe is true, but would ordinarily not say publicly because they believe it is politically harmful.” (And what is Eddie Brill if not a politician?)
We here at SHECKYmagazine.com have known Brill for about 20 years, having worked in the clubs with him, way before he ascended to his current position. And, even though we’ve had our disagreements over the years, we’re still probably what one might call “friends.” (Although that might be stretching things, as Brill “un-friended” both Halves of the Staff on Facebook because TMHOTS once labeled one of Brill’s hyper-political Facebook status updates as “childish twaddle.”)
(Full disclosure: The Male Half solicited feedback from Brill back in “04 or so– for the purpose, of course, of exploring the possibility of appearing on the show– and found Brill to be complimentary. But the follow-up feedback was a smorgasbord of somewhat off-putting, vague, “advice,” contributing to a very damaging bout of second-guessing and a lengthy period of self-doubt. He has since recovered and learned from the encounter. Among the lessons: Never try to get on Letterman again.)
The Female Half auditioned for Letterman’s show many years ago. How long ago? So long ago that TFHOTS acknowledges that she wasn’t ready for the show, but was, in fact, learning “how to auditionunder pressure.” It was a bizarre episode at the old Comedy Connection in Boston (the one under the Charles Playhouse) in which one of the show’s producers hit on TFHOTS just prior to the showcase. So… the “chick problem” at the show is… systemic. And long-standing.
So no one should be surprised. We certainly weren’t. (Which is why we ignored the article when it first came out.)
We have been more appalled at the fact that Brill has been regularly staging workshops– at various festivals and venues throughout Standup North America– in which he purports to teach people how to get on the show. This is mentioned by Zinoman only in passing (“Mr. Brill teaches comedy workshops…”), but we think it represents a glaring conflict of interest. We’ve never gone to the trouble of mentioning it in the pages of this magazine because… well… we didn’t feel like putting up with the raft of shit from fellow comics who would say (with utmost certainty) that the only reason we did so was because Brill has never seen fit to put us on his show. And, of course, the raft of shit from the comedians who would inevitably defend Brill’s practices in the hopes that doing so would make Brill more favorably disposed to slotting them on the show. Like we said, Brill is a politician. And there are plenty of amateur politicians out there. It’s an exhausting game.
So we kept our traps shut, put our heads down and tried to hone our acts for the other late-night showcases. (Privately, however, we made no bones about our dissatisfaction with the conflict of interest.)
And while we’re on the subject of conflicts of interest, we always thought it was somewhat… imprudent… for the show’s standup talent coordinator– Eddie Brill– to occasionally schedule Eddie Brill on the show as standup talent. Of course, who among us wouldn’t take advantage of that?! Perhaps that’s the problem… should a late-night show hire a standup comic– who is still interested in being a comedian– as its standup talent coordinator? Or, if it does so, should it not do so with the understanding that said comedian never appear on the show as a standup comedian, so as to avoid the appearance of some sort of (Entertainment Industry Version of the) appearance of impropriety? Perhaps we’re being too scrupulous here, but we would never take the gig unless there was an understanding that we would never ourselves appear. (With the possible exception of taking one shot– at the end of our tenure– as a sort of a golden parachute. You know, just to get the credit.)
Our estimation of comic Anthony Jeselnik skyrocketed when we read this quote: “He trades on the name of the show,” the young comic Anthony Jeselnik said. “He has workshops, a festival. He has the market cornered. I can’t believe Letterman lets him do it.”
The article contains other insights into the muddled alchemy that goes into booking the comics on a late-night show. We’re not surprised at all that it’s an inexact science. Or that female comics get the shaft. Or that acceptance or rejection is based on such fuzzy, nonsense as “the comic importance of vulnerability.” That’s his prerogative. And, were we he, we would probably never give people like Zinoman any kind of meaningful quotes that would give away our formula for choosing comedians. There’s just no upside. It just opens you and your methods up to examination and criticism.
We suspect that Brill just couldn’t resist. After all, a hit in the NYT means higher fees for personal appearances, workshops and the like. And there you have that nasty conflict of interest rearing its ugly head again.
There have been plenty of tremendous comedians on Letterman over the years. And there will be plenty more on the show in the future. And they should all be proud of their credit, as it is a prestigious one. And we are certain that this little hiccup won’t tarnish that credit one bit.
And we acknowledge that there has to be some sort of filter (some sort of “gatekeeper” as the NYT calls Brill), but we suppose that it’s just somewhat jarring that the one who has been doing the filtering has applied such clumsy, benighted criteria for so long. Or that the process isn’t as… pure… as everyone had imagined/hoped it to be.
China Daily reports about a scholarship established by Shanghai dialect comedian Zhou Libo. He’s forking over $47,100 annually so some Chinese kids can go to school. An admirable thing, right?
Apparently, it’s “controversial.” It’s not immediately clear why. Partly because China Daily doesn’t exactly present stories using the ol’ Inverted Pyramid. (And partly, we suspect, because English isn’t the first language of the journos who file the stories.)
But a Shakespearean scholar (red flag!) says the campus “had been invaded by entertainment figures” and a teacher who declined to be identified said the “scholarship is a sign of bowing to vulgarity.”
So, basically, a bunch of eggheads are upset because a lowly comic is doing well enough to fork over the dough for a college scholarship.
Later on in the story, Libo is described as a “plebian person who always spouts empty and insincere chatter to amuse people.” The unmitigated horror!
Hey, if a comedian can’t be excused for spouting empty and insincere chatter to amuse people, just what is this world coming to? Thank God we don’t have such humorless intellectuals in this country! Right? …Right?
Anyone who did comedy on the East Coast in the 1980s or 1990s probably worked, at one gig or another, with Rick Scotti. (In fact, Scotti was the headliner on The Female Half’s first road trip– at a club in Richmond, VA, way back in 1986.) Scotti stopped doing comedy in 2000.
Scotti is back doing standup again. And writing a blog called “Inside and Out.” The subtitle is “Eleven years ago, Rick Scotti performed stand up comedy for the last time. Now returning as Julia,she chronicles the long journey back.”
Julia Scotti writes of her first time back onstage at The Comedy Works in Bristol, PA:
“Thank you! It’s good to be back.! A lot has happened in these last eleven years…let’s see, I went back to college, got my degree, my parents died, upgraded my cable package…and oh yeah…I HAD A SEX CHANGE.”
At that moment, the oddest thing happened. There was total SILENCE. The kiss of death for a comic. The equivalent of being buried alive underground in a cigar box. Like being at your grandma’s 100th birthday party with five generations of your relatives giving her gentle hugs and you squeeze her so hard you crack her rib. It’s that horrifying. Time stops. The little people in your mind get the battle stations claxon and you can see them rolling out of their bunks. Millions of tiny little engine room workers are frantically shoveling mental coal into the boiler to bring the brain some power. At the very least, this line should have provoked a titter, and possibly a nasty remark from some scoundrel heckler. But there was nothing. Crickets. Why?
And then it hit me. They didn’t believe me. All my fears of being teased, of being called a freak in public, of religious zealots throwing holy sand at me and exorcising the demons that led me astray back to Sodom were for nothing, because they thought I had been lying! This was fucking insanely fabulous! (Cue the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah)
I had to do something. So I looked them squarely in their eyes and said; “No really.”
At this point, it was like opening the trunk, taking out the jumper cables and attaching them to their collective nipples. I took one last shot.
Finally, they responded. Some laughed. Some began to talk among themselves. I needed to take control again, so I found the hunkiest young guy in the audience and said…
“And don’t get any ideas, buster! I see you looking at me and undressing me with your eyes! Come on… put ‘em back on !
And that opened them up. The rest of my set was nothing memorable, but I got enough laughs to make me realize that maybe I could do this again after all. Sure I was rusty and my timing needed a tune-up, but I had told the truth. And I survived.
When it was over, Kaplan walked over to me. I was expecting kudos. What I got was, “NOW WAS THAT SO FUCKING HARD?”
Ya gotta love him.
The Kaplan referred to is the perpetually (but charmingly) annoyed Comedy Works proprietor Mike Kaplan.
We always find it fascinating when someone leaves standup… and then returns. And it’s even more interesting when the returnee comes back after a major change or two (Divorce? Weight loss? Near-death experience?) and feels the need or the desire to re-invent himself/herself onstage.
The above-mentioned comeback performance occurred just a few weeks ago, so Scotti’s real-time recounting of the saga has just begun. There’s no better time to hop on, bookmark it and follow along than now!
The Male Half was waiting in line a the Budget Car Rental Counter in Vegas when he looked up ta the plasma screen behind the counter and spotted FOS Lisa Corrao in a national commercial for Liberator Medical, a company that sells, among other items, catheters and catheter accessories. Corrao portrayed one of those headset-wearing 800 operators who are always “standing by.”
Fast-forward a few months and there’s a viral video which consists of a short chunk of The Soup in which host and Minister of Snark Joel McHale runs a snippet of one of Corrao’s commercials (this one pushing mens’ catheters) and then makes vicious fun of the commercial. It’s hilarious!
We sure hope the producers of the show bring Corrao on live! It’s a natural. If you’ve never seen the show, it’s really well done and it moves like lightning. It’s been around a while– initially named Talk Soup and originally hosted by Greg Kinnear– it has evolved while being hosted by comedians John Henson, Hal Sparks and Aisha Tyler. Some would say that the show has reached near perfection in its current form.
Making fun of such uncomfortable things as a cheery commercial for male catheters is right in the show’s wheelhouse. And it’s known for occasional guest appearances by some of the same celebrities (and near-celebrities) it so mercilessly skews. So… an appearance by Corrao would be hysterical and entirely appropriate.
The new, new hack. Trashing wildly popular comics and their fans! It’s all the rage!
And this time, the trashing comes with a twist: It’s perpetrated by a comic! (Jason Serafino. We mention his name in passing.)
What is it with these bitter, maundering goofballs? Do they think that standup is a zero-sum game? How many Enlish-speaking people are there in this world? Wikipedia puts it at 375 million… and that’s just the folks who claim to use it as a first language. Throw in the Dutch and the other folks who are handy with it as a second language and you probably have nearly half a billion. That’s half a billion potential fans of standup spoken in English. That’s who we’re all competing for, now that we’re all connected via the internet.
So… why all the fuss if Margaret Cho manages to carve out seven-figure income while catering to one-tenth of one-tenth of one per cent of them?
Does the author think that toppling the top 15 comics will clear the way for him? Is he convinced that it’s a zero-sum game and that he’s number 16?
And the writing is atrocious. We’re not up for any Pulitzers here at SHECKYmagazine.com, but Complex.com might actually hire an editor or two. Carrot Top, “…bores crowds into submission with an array of props that are about as funny as being audited by the IRS.” Oh, really? How exactly does that work? Does he bore them before or after they fork over millions each year (at $49.95 a pop) to see him perform live here in Las Vegas? When does the submission happen? Before or after the ticket prices. (The packed crowd we were part of last year at the Atrium Luxor Theater was far from bored.)
Serafino calls Carrot Top a “ginger-haired dud.” Okay, Gramps, whatever you say! The writing is a cross between Daily Variety and a junior high school “how I spent my summer vacation essay.”
The Carrot Top description should be enough to discredit Serfino. It’s mostly just inaccuracies and pure snark.
But the attempted takedown of Bob Saget clearly demonstrates that Grandpa Serafino is in the dark when it comes to his comedy history. Saget’s comedy “…comes off as a sad attempt to shed an image that has been attached to him for the past two decades,” and he’s “…desperately trying to separate himself from his clean-cut sitcom image by profusely cursing and telling some of the filthiest jokes this side of Reddd Foxx.” One problem: Saget’s been delivering this kind of act since 1980 or so– long before Serafino was watching Full House in his jammies with a bowl of ice cream. Saget, he says, “simply isn’t funny.” (We suppose this nitwit’s never heard of the concept of comedy being subjective. Such pronouncements are embarrassing. But, we suppose embarrassment is yet another concept he isn’t familiar with.)
No doubt Serafino committed this heinous act to gain some sort of cred. We’ll put it in terms that Serafino can understand: “Fail!”
Has he noticed that even the least successful person on his list is pulling down millions? Is this immaterial to him? We suspect that he’s contemptuous of the fans of the top fifteen. Such impotent ranting is difficult to watch. It’s the new hack.
Las Vegans wishing to hear a lengthy interview with “Mr. & Mrs. Comedy” can tune into KNPR tonight at 10-ish. And, through the magic of Podcastitism, those who are outside of KNPR’s footprint can hear it immediately by clicking here.
We were quizzed on our book (of course!) and on a variety of other subjects like our appearance on Last Comic Standing, what it’s like being married standup comics, how we come up with material and hecklers. A wide-ranging interview, done yesterday in the KNPR studios on the campus of College of Southern Nevada.
Since we moved here, nearly ten months ago, we have confirmed one notion: EVERYbody wants to play Vegas. At least it sure seems that way. When we tell people that we’ve moved there, they freeze for a moment, the wheels inside their heads spin briefly and then they ask a variation on the same question: “How can I work Vegas?”
Well… here’s one way, maybe: Enter the Improv’s “Up Yours” contest. That’s a link to the rules for the latest edition of Budd Friedman’s and Mark Lonow’s online clip battle that ends up with six finalists peforming in front of a panel of judges at the Improv comedy club at Harrah’s on the world famous Las Vegas Strip.
The winner gets paid gigs at The Improvs in Las Vegas and in Lake Tahoe, which are, according to the website, “valued at $25,000.” No word on just how many gigs at the two clubs which are necessary to add up to that magical figure. Also, the winner gets “a meeting in Vegas at the time of the finale with an agent from the talent agency APA.”
Hop on, check out the competition and dive in. And, as always, check out the rules before you enter. Know before you go. Poke before you joke. Enter with your head, not over it. Blah, blah, blah.