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Ever since the September 11 terrorist attacks, I've
been told repeatedly that the country wants to laugh...no,
the country needs to laugh. The question remains,
however, is the country ready to laugh.
Ever since the September 11 terrorist attacks,
I've told myself repeatedly that I want to make the country
laugh...no, I need to make the country laugh. The
question remains, however, am I ready to make the
Fifteen days after war was declared on the United States,
I was standing onstage telling my little jokes at the Federal
Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick, Georgia. FLETC--
as I found out just minutes before the show-- is where we train
future members of the CIA, FBI, INS, DEA, Border Patrol and
every other division that falls under the purview of the
federal government. (Keep in mind, the location of FLETC
is not a government secret. Signs lead from the highway
to the compound, inmates from a nearby prison keep the
landscaping looking pretty and shuttle buses regularly
take FLETC trainees on trips to the mall. In other words,
it's Harvard with guns and barbed wire.)
I must admit, I was overwhelmed and more-than-slightly
in awe of the people who occupied the building. The men and
women of the FLETC (or the Federal Law Enforcement Training
Center for those of you who have joined this column midway)
are preparing for the most serious task of their lives.
According to President Bush, our nation's intelligence
community will be on the front line in our war against
terrorism. Which means that the man in the front row who's
penis I made fun of may soon be responsible for saving western
civilization. Yet as I looked out over the sea of brave
freedom fighters I had but one thought: "I wish these
people would just shut up so I could make them
laugh!" (Actually, I had that one thought over and
over and over again for about 24-1/2 minutes until I
turned it over to my husband the headliner who continued
the thought for me.)
Forgive my harshness. I'm merely exaggerating to
make a lame and completely insignificant point.
A mediocre comedy show is not always the fault of the
standup comic. If somebody tells you differently, kick him
in the shin. Too many people plus too many kegs divided by
too few speakers equals a less than ideal comedy setting.
But, while in the past I would have taken a difficult performance
to heart, this time I felt worse for the audience than
I did for myself. I was frustrated to be sure, but only
because I wanted the crowd to have a good time.
My usual not-so-good-show humiliation was replaced by
a disappointment for them, not a disappointment
because of them. That's just one of the ways I've
changed since that fateful day in September.
Saving the world. I can't imagine someone asking me
to do it, let alone trusting me with its completion. Can
you see why I was so desperate for the FLETC attendees to
forget their troubles if even for a few minutes? As a comic,
I now feel a certain responsibility to help alleviate stress,
especially when it's the stress of people who are in
charge of protecting our collective ass. When I fail,
I feel like I've let down my country. My personal reaction
just doesn't seem to matter anymore.
At the same time, I felt as if only the committed fifty
or so who sat up front during the show had the energy or
desire to laugh out loud. The rest didn't have it in them.
I could see it in their eyes. I found the same to be true
at The University of West Virginia the week before. Some
were desperate to laugh. Others laughed but it took a
lot of energy to keep up. The country is in mourning.
We will all have good moments and bad moments and those
moments won't always sync up with each other. As comics,
we can no longer analyze audiences the way we have in the
past. The old rules do not apply. The new rules have yet
to be written.
On September 14, I wrote my first joke about the
horrific events. It wasn't a particularly funny joke, nor
was it a joke that I would ever dream of telling onstage,
but considering that three days prior I thought I would never
write another joke again, I took it as a major accomplishment.
Here's the joke: "There has been an dramatic
increase in weddings near military bases as servicemen
prepare for the possibility of war. Can you believe it
takes the deaths of 7,000 innocent people to get some guys
to commit?" Yes, it's a bad joke, but it's a bad joke
that I'm darn proud of.
Comics will understand the importance of this event.
Non-comics will most likely think I'm being trivial.
To be honest, even I thought I was being trivial
at first. After all, why did writing a joke about a
situation that was so completely unfunny concern
me in the least? The answer is simple: I'm a comic.
It's my professional and moral obligation to find the humor
in every situation. That's what I do.
And suddenly, I couldn't do it.
Contrary to popular beliefs, comics, for the most
part, are caring and sensitive individuals, but we do
have an uncanny ability to write jokes about the most
depraved, depressing and tragic situations imaginable:
racism, murder, child molestation, rape... you name it
and we can make fun of it. For example, Sam Kinison's
bit about starving Ethiopians is legendary. His joke didn't
make famine any less serious, but for a few minutes, it did
make famine funny, which ironically made the horror of
famine a little easier to comprehend.
I don't plan to ever talk about the attacks onstage.
I can't. I'm just too upset about all that is happening.
I will look at my time onstage as a chance for me
to escape and for me to forget my troubles if only
for a moment. I only hope I can do the same for the crowd.
However, my fear is that audiences will begin to expect
me to joke about the situation. Will the importance of my
dick jokes shrivel in the eyes of the people? (Ok,
"shrivel" is a bad choice of words.) Will they
look to me for guidance? I worry about a country that
looks to its entertainers for leadership. Pat Paulsen
may have run for president, but he never expected to win.
Until 9/11 I never fully realized the important
part comedy plays in American society. The fact that we
are able to laugh at all is nothing short of miraculous.
I sincerely hope in the days and years to come America is
able to keep its sense of humor. It's the one thing we
should never have to sacrifice.
And as a woman who wears short skirts and tells
dick jokes in public, I will continue doing what I am doing
knowing full well that who I am and what I stand for is
offensive to the Taliban in general and Osama bin Laden in
particular. In Afghanistan, my behavior would result
in the death penalty. In the United States, it results
in a paycheck. God Bless America!
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