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"Someone should do a study on how many standup
comics wore trench coats in ninth grade and had to
take frequent walks through the school metal detector."
We've got a battery of columnists here who talk about standup in different ways. They talk about the business of standup, they talk about standup in L.A., in N.Y., they talk about the road, they attack standup from a variety of angles. My particular niche has been to talk about how standup is treated by the press, by the media, in the culture... at least that's the impression that everyone seems to be getting. I suppose it's appropriate that I deal with the media. I am, after all, listed on the masthead as the "Editor in Chief." And one of the clearly stated missions of this magazine has been to rehabilitate the image of standup comics in the minds of the public and to gently nudge the media into a more favorable portrayal of standup comics.
"It's OK to say most comedians are depressing
My antennae have been sensitized to detect bias wherever it rears its ugly head. At first, I found the occasional cheap shot here and there. I was careful not to perceive anti-standup sentiment where none existed. I wanted to make sure that I wasn't merely hypersensitive. Now, however, my antennae are red and sore. I am picking up negative vibes on a monthly basis.
"Barbara Walters once said following an interview that
she's 'never met a dumb comedian.' I disagree. In my
seven years as a standup comic, I've never met anything
The magazine only got started in April of 1999, so we've got a lot of catching up to do, a lot of damage to reverse. We have several weapons at our disposal.
Chief among them are our aforementioned columnists. We're hoping that some of the folks in the press might read up on the art and the lifestyle and the business of the standup comic here and, in so doing, may might be little less snotty the next time they throw together a story about us. Civilians (those not in the press or in standup) might also be a little less willing to adopt and/or repeat the old stereotypes about standups if they regularly read SHECKYmagazine.com.
Another way we seek to change the perception of comics is by sending the occasional letter to a particularly vicious writer or publication. A reader alerted us to a particularly bleak (and ill-informed) piece in suck.com back in June of 2000 by a miserable jackass who identified himself only as "40th Street Black." Black, like so many other clueless members of the press, proclaimed the death of standup. We sent him and his "publication" a nasty but reasoned letter and we published several snappy rejoinders to the article from our readers (some nasty, most reasoned!) on our Like We Care page. We're happy to report that Suck.com has gone belly up while standup remains pink and healthy.
"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.
Those laugh factories that still exist do so as dimly-lit
testaments to sweet human despair of the most naked
and delectable kind."
We were hunting around on the search engines for various bits of information recently when we stumbled across the Salon.com profile of Mitch Hedberg. The author, identified as Salon.com's "Associate People Editor," was Chris Colon. While praising Hedberg, however, he fell into the same old lazy habit that so many of his ornery little colleagues fall into: He couldn't resist tearing down all the other comics. It's a peculiar thing to witness, this inability to say nice things about one comic without saying ugly things about nearly all other comics no matter who they're talking about! Hedberg is tremendous comic. You'd think there'd be enough greatness to talk about without tearing down other comics. But, no, Colon can't resist.
When rock critics spill gallons of ink on local rockers, they don't find it necessary to trash less-experienced rockers or bands that don't measure up. They deal with each band on its merits. The same with theater. And food. Why hasn't the coverage of standup matured in a similar manner? I've come to the rather embarassing conclusion that Colon and others like him are woefully inept when it comes to hiding their very deep-seated and, undoubtedly in some cases, personal dislike for comics. Jealousy? Perhaps. Something weird is going on.
I wrote Colon and Salon a letter. In it I said, among other things, that "You make reference to "bland misanthropy" and you imply that all or most comics are fake, vicious and unimaginative. You, my friend, gotta get out more. I say that without a hint of misanthropy. I simply mean that wherever you've been getting your standup from, you're not getting what our psychometrics friends might call a 'representative sample.'"
I got back a nice and reasonable letter from Mr. Colon. Unfortunately, I can't reveal the contents of that letter because, when I asked if I could excerpt it for this column, he replied that he'd rather I didn't and that he'd send me a different email. I guess the first one didn't have enough negative stereotypes and gratuitous slams of standup comics in it. At press time, I still haven't received a second reply from him. We hope we get a reply before Salon drops off the face of the earth like Suck did.
"Kids, if you want to be famous, don't try stand-up comedy.
Sure, it worked for Jerry Seinfeld and Drew Carey and, at
least for a while, Ellen DeGeneres, but at what cost?
Traveling from town to town, standing in front of a brick
wall, yelling like a crazy person, delivering the same
jokes night after night--what kind of life is that?
Being a comic is being in show business only in the
way that being a bowler is being in professional
There are a lot of comedy club owners who are panicking, post-9/11. They're sensitive to any dip in attendance and they're worried that America got some crazy idea that it's somehow inappropriate to aggresively seek out laughs by going to a comedy club. We think their fears are unfounded, but we understand their edginess. They're also edgy because, even when things were going well, they didn't always get the support from the local papers that they should have. In the post-9/11 world, establishments like restaurants and theaters can depend on a boost from the press. Judging from the press' track record, the comedy clubs have no reason to expect a similar boost. As one club owner we talked to put it, getting a hit from the local paper has always been "like pulling teeth." After reading the press quotes I've excerpted here, is it any wonder? Some people might say that I'm way too sensitive to this anti-standup bias. I say they're wrong. I also must say that, aside from it being personally hurtful, it's an impediment to the business.
If editors and writers think this way about standup comics (and if they rather blatantly convey it in their articles), it translates into fewer articles and (totally unwarranted) negative press. The reader picks up on such things. The end result is the withering of a legitimate and popular branch of the live entertainment biz. There are plenty of artists and art forms that don't exactly tickle the fancy of critics--Britney Spears, Raffi, 3/4 of all the movies that have ever been made. Yet they continue to devote acres of Entertainment Section real estate to such endeavors, all the while being pretty charitable. I once heard a movie described as "a disaster, but not unwatchable." Can you imagine a standup comic getting cut such a break?
After the atrocities of September 11, we sensed that many people changed their attitude about standup comedy. It appeared as though comics experienced an "upgrade" similar to that which had been experienced by firemen and cops. In my October column, I wrote that "When we started this magazine 31 months ago, we were a little sore at America and at the press for what we perceived as shoddy treatment of standup comics... We still feel misunderstood. After what we've witnessed over the last two weeks however, it seems as though America appreciates us." We hope the good feelings last. We hope that the newspaper editors also pick up on the upgrade.
We'll be out there monitoring things.
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