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TRACI SKENE has appeared on VH-1's Standup Spotlight, A&E's Comedy On The Road and Lifetime's Girls Night Out, all of which has done her absolutely no good.

Traci Skene


Traci Skene

SHECKYmagazine Chief

Equal Parts


Ever since the September 11 terrorist attacks, I've been told repeatedly that the country wants to, 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, I need to make the country laugh. The question remains, however, am I ready to make the country laugh.


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! HOME Back to the Top