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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

What A Turnoff!

April 23, 2001 marked the beginning of "Turn Your TV Off Week." Or was it "Turn Off Your TV Week?" Or was it "Take Your TV To Work Day?" I don't know, I get them all confused.

Actually, it was called "TV Turnoff Week" and, ironically, I learned about "TV Turnoff Week" while I was watching, of all things, TV. Why, you wonder, would anyone inside the glowing box utter such heresy? It seems that the pointy-headed news director at my local television station felt it was his civic duty to instruct viewers to ignore --if only for a week --the very medium that provides his livelihood. I half expected to pick up the newspaper the next day and read that it's "Wipe Your Ass With The Sports Section Month."

"TV Turnoff Week" is the creation of the TV Turnoff Network and the group's website proudly states that "TV Turnoff Week" is endorsed by the U.S. Surgeon General. Of course, keeping in mind that a former U.S. Surgeon General once endorsed masturbation, I have to wonder what the current Surgeon General thinks the turnoff in "TV Turnoff Week" really means.

Normally, during such campaigns, I make an effort to be as ornery and contrary as possible. That is why I always eat a Big Mac during the "Great American Meat Out." Oh, yeah --and I also have sex. So, of course, when I'm instructed not to watch television, I tend to watch it even more than I normally would. I soon learned, however, that regret is not just a river in Egypt... wait --that's denial. My contrariness, it turned out, cost me dearly this time, as I sat through 120 greuling minutes of the ABC original movie Kiss My Act.

In a never ending quest to do as little work as possible, I've decided to reprint the synopsis of Kiss My Act that appeared in the Virginian-Pilot daily paper rather than write my own capsulization. "Camryn Manheim plays Sam, a comedy club bartender who secretly dreams of taking the standup stage herself. But she's convinced that nobody wants an overweight female comic for anything but fat jokes. So she feeds her best stuff to airheaded Jennie, who makes a hit with a comedy festival scout."

Here is what the Virginian-Pilot failed to mention. Kiss My Act is yet another remake/ripoff of the classic (and beaten to death) story, Cyrano Debergerac. "Airheaded Jennie," it seems, not only makes a hit with a comedy festival scout, but she makes his pants fit tighter as well. Manheim's Sam pretends to be Jennie via an email relationship with the scout, because, as we know, once the scout discovers that Jennie isn't intelligent, he will lose interest in her. (This is a fantasy, right?) I can hear the pitch session now: "It's like Cyrano Debergerac, but with women...and the women are standup comics...and instead of the guy being ugly, this time the chick is fat..." They would have been better off calling this Cyrano Deberger-hack.

This film was wrong on so many levels, but I am particularly annoyed at the depiction of standup comedy. Why? Because I'm a comic and if my doctor saw Erique LaSalle operating on E.R. with a bottle of whiskey and an X-Acto blade, I would expect him to at least write a letter to the network brass. Objectivity be damned!

Little things bugged me:

1. Naming the fat girl "Samantha Burger"
2. Showing a comic trying out material on a bus (Trust me when I tell you that most comics dislike contact with strangers. We don't talk to them unless we absolutely have to.)
3. Hearing Samantha say to the scout, "Don't fall for any of those overrated hacks in Boston."
4. A male talent scout being depicted as shy (Years ago during a Letterman audition I was hit on by then producer Robert Morton. He didn't get a date. I didn't get the show.)
5. A comic killing on her first, second and third time onstage.
6. An alleged brilliant comedian doing "complex and accessible" material which, in reality, is so lame that not even an "overrated hack in Boston" would touch it.

But I think it is the larger issue --no pun intended --of Samantha's size that bothered me the most. Sam (portrayed by noted slow-metabolism activist, Camryn Manheim) moans that there's "no room in comedy for an overweight woman. And that she's "doing it for all the fat chicks." Does the name Roseanne ring a bell? How about Totie Fields? Sophie Tucker? Rosie O'Donell? In fact, it's airheaded Jennie that would most likely have the more difficult time being accepted by both the audience and the shy festival talent scouts. Which of the two is more likely to hear the drunk in the back of the house yell, "Show us your tits!" ? At least Jennie has the guts to go onstage. In yet another scene where she makes excuses, Sam whines to another comic, "People like me are a heckler's buffet." Stand in the heckler's buffet line, Ms. Burger. Stop feeling sorry for yourself --we're all targets! I once worked with a visually-impaired comic. As he was being introduced, I overheard a guy in the audience say, "Let's fuck with the blind guy!" Comedy's tough. Deal with it!

Throughout the tortuous two hours, Samantha confides in an aging comedian played by Dabney Coleman. He sits at the end of the bar and constantly tries to convince her that she's a natural to be a boffo standup comic. He is so convinced of her talent that he freely and regularly puts what's left of his reputation on the line. And he drinks...a lot. At the conclusion of this fright fest, we learn that he will be receiving a lifetime achievment award of sorts at the upcoming Aspen Comedy Festival. Naturally, he asks Sam to accompany him. Naturally, he invites Sam up on the stage during the festival to do her act. Naturally, Sam kills even thought she's only been onstage twice before. (This is a fantasy, right?) Here was Sam's closing bit. "A guy once told me he loved me like a sister." (My husband Brian says, from the comfort of his chair, "Let's move to Alabama!") Sam says, "So, let's move to Georgia." What a "complex and accessible" bit! The comics in Boston must be shaking in their little Boston boots.

Later that evening, Sam is told to get to bed early because "there's going to be a lot of meetings tomorrow." Meetings? What kind of meeetings? Overeaters anonymous, perhaps? (Sorry, I did that one for airheaded Jennie.)

This movie was an embarrassment for Camryn Manheim, for ABC and for the Aspen Comedy Festival. More importantly, it was an embarrassment to standup comedy. Maybe the folks at the TV Turnoff Network had the right idea. Maybe they should change their mission to "Bad TV Turnoff Week." That I could support. Just in case they do, I would like to nominate Kiss My Act to the "Bad TV Turnoff Hall of Fame." It was definitely TV not worth watching. HOME Back to the Top