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BRIAN MCKIM has performed standup comedy in all 50 states. He earned a B.A. in Magazine Journalism from Temple University. Any resemblance to a living person is purely coincidental.


Brian McKim
Editor In Chief

"John Barleycorn
Must Die"

An astute SHECKY! reader, whom we'll call Rex, alerted us to an article that appeared in the online magazine I've run across a few times in the past. They've been around a while and they've managed to get a lot of press. (And the name "suck" is easy to least for a guy.) So I clicked on the URL that Rex emailed us and I read "Last Man Standing," a wretched little piece about standup by someone who identifies himself as 40th Street Black (I'm not kidding--just "40th Street Black"! Must be his CB handle or something! "10-4, Good Buddy, this is 40th Street Black and we're rollin' inta Shaky Town...Over!") It starts with this sentence: "You can see and hear a lot of funny stuff in a comedy club, it's just that almost none of it is up on stage." Hmmmm. Obviously this is someone who has zero sense of humor and is pretty aggressive about proving it.

Anyway, the article goes downhill from there. It struggles mightily to make some points, but it ends up sounding rather like a college term paper that's been hastily typed up 45 minutes before class. I dashed off a grumpy letter to and solicited opinions from our readership. (For that, see this month's Like We Care.)

Then I re-read it a few times. It reminded me of 1992, a ghastly year for comedy. College campuses were miserable places to be, and, in many cases, miserable places to perform. College students were positively terrified to laugh at anything, lest they offend someone. Political correctness was primarily to blame. The Classes of 1992, 3 and 4 were determined to be the most serious, the most sincere and the most dreary batch of spoiled shitheads ever to graduate. Everything was dandy as long as this attitude was confined to campus. Before long, however, the P.C. started to slop over into the general pop. Before long, serious-minded young people (who were absolutely convinced that nothing was funny) were making up a good portion of many of the crowds at comedy clubs (Why were they there?!). They were into Irony, not Humor (Pure, naked Irony...sort of a schematic for the joke, rather than the joke itself--verrry disturbing.) The more something tried to be funny, the less funny it was. The less something tried to be funny, the funnier it was. (Not coincidentally, Adam Sandler came to prominence during this period.)

Comedy clubs--where a seemingly endless parade of comics told jokes (Jokes that had setups and punchlines and stuff!)--were doomed in this kind of atmosphere! Imagine the nerve of these comics! Who did they think they were? My God! They go up on stage and the implication is that they're...funny! How gauche! I say we hang them! You know, I saw that Andrew Dice Clay on Showtime last week and these comics are all filled with hate! Every last one of them! I hear they all beat their wives! Is there anything we can do to shut these clubs down?

Paranoid? Just a touch. Exaggeration? To be sure. But you must forgive me--I was inside that 55-gallon drum known as the standup comedy business when everyone was whanging on it with baseball bats. I am only trying to capsulize just a bit of the anti-standup sentiment that rippled through the culture during that period. It was open season on standup comics and everybody piled on--not just the press, not just the psuedo-intellectuals, not just the college punks--everybody!

Actual exchange between Traci and an audience member, circa 1992:

Audience Member: "Did you go to college?"

Traci: "Yes."

Audience Member (with profound disgust): "Figures."

And it seemed that everyone took their cues from the press. Some markets, like San Francisco, Chicago and Boston had newspapers that employed someone to regularly scout the clubs and write actual reviews of standup performances and keep tabs on other offstage developments among comics. But the rest had crusty editors and freshly minted journo-geeks who tarred ALL comics with the same brush and portrayed all of us as miniature Dicemen and Dicewomen. Even comic strips and TV commercials and the occasional episodes of Full House were portraying us as homophobic, foul-mouthed sociopaths who lacked any kind of subtlety or creativity. Don't get me wrong, Andrew Dice Clay wasn't to blame for this mess. He just happened to be a hot commodity at the exact same time that P.C. was gaining currency. His Diceman was to the P.C. movement what John Barleycorn was to the Anti-Saloon League. The remnants of this polarization persist to this day.

Which brings us to the mischievous little elves at The article was sooo 1992! Fortunately, it's 2000! So, now that we have a little perspective, let's get a couple things straight: A good argument can be made that it was the above-mentioned confluence of events, attitudes and ideological fads that contributed significantly to the crumbling of standup comedy nearly a decade ago. (It WAS NOT television! Television never killed anything--with the possible exception of lame radio drama and a few marriages here and there.) And it can also be argued that we let it happen. And we must be very careful not to let it happen again. And we can prevent it very simply--by being diligent and using a little common sense.

We've gotta jump on folks like 40th Street Black when they exhibit this kind of prejudice. (And if you think I'm kidding about the "P" word, Merriam-Webster gives this definition: "an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics.") Which is why I wrote my grumpy letter to (And, much to their credit, when they ran a pile of letters in response to the article, they led off with mine.)

And, among standup comics, we must think positively and resist taking on attitudes and opinions from outside. And refrain from self-deprecating rhetoric. (For heaven's sake, stop referring to standup comics as "whores!"). Take it seriously when someone tries to harm our business or tries to paint us in a less than favorable light. And don't fall for the "Boy, for somebody who's funny, you sure can't take a joke!" line. This might be the Funny Business we're in, but it's still a business. HOME Back to the Top