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When an audience member doesn't like a standup comic, they register their disapproval with deafening silence or a well timed heckle.
When a reader doesn't like what is published in an online magazine, they
write a letter. Here's a letter I received in response to my October
I read your column on comics and mental health issues, and you stated your case well, I thought. What particularly struck me was your comment about the control over the audience that the comic performer has, at least temporarily. Very good insight. As to your use of language, it's a little too raunchy for my taste, and doesn't tickle my funny bone at all.
Then again, I haven't been in the business, and you know what works for you. I theorize that ultimately the funniest jokes are the ones that touch the heart, that may hit on a serious subject and let the comic have his or her catharsis through humor. Using words like dick, balls, testicles, etc, may have their shock value, but they're just descriptions of the human anatomy.
We want to hear the "cry of pain" that comes from the soul, converted
into humor through the comic's unique creativity. We want the person to be
communicating, not teaching us that it's okay to use dirty words. That's
kid's stuff. Don't preach. Unless you want to be laughed at, and not "with."
Thank you for your pseudo-compliment. I must admit, I take pride in having good insight into the comedy business and spend an inordinate amount of time analyzing every facet of our industry--including the use of raunchy launguage. Since I seem to be gaining a reputation as a person who likes to state their case, I certainly can't pass up this opportunity to tackle your letter point by point.
1. "As to your use of language, it's a little too raunchy for my taste, and doesn't tickle my funny bone at all."
Comedy is subjective. There is no one person on this planet who can make every other person on this planet laugh. Some people think Lenny Bruce is a God and others think he was a self-indulgent hack. As a comic, you learn to play the percentages. But, I must point out, that Lenny Bruce was frequently jailed for his use of raunchy language and I take great comfort in knowing that in 1999 I will not be incarcerated for the using the word "asshole."
2. "Then again, I haven't been in the business, and you know what works for you."
Excellent point! Although, I must say that my language, in the scheme of things, isn't all that raunchy. A well-placed "shit" or "sonofabitch" is hardly earth-shattering vernacular. Also I've never bought into this idea that it's easy to get laughs with shocking material--especially when that shocking material is coming out of the mouth of a perky blond female such as myself. I learned early on that if I wanted to push the envelope, I had to demonstrate a certain amount of restraint, which is why I never use the "F"-word or the "C"-word on stage or in my column. For the record, in real life, I am a very polite lady who addresses her elders as "sir" and "ma'am" and who gets angry when she hears a group of teenagers use obcenities in the mall. I save my "raunchy" language for my profession, where it will only be in the face of the people who want it there. (See, I put a lot of thought into this crap. Oops! There I go using scatalogical words again.)
3. "I theorize that ultimately the funniest jokes are the ones that touch the heart, that may hit on a serious subject and let the comic have his or her catharsis through humor. "
I theorize that ultimately the funniest jokes are the ones that make people laugh. Truth is a bonus. Jerry Seinfeld does not touch the heart. Jerry Seinfeld does not hit on serious subjects. Jerry Seinfeld does not have his catharsis through humor. For the Jerry Seinfeld's of the world, truth is a bonus. I often wonder if he's ever really lost one of his socks in the dryer.
4. "Using words like "dick," "balls," "testicles," etc, may have their shock value, but they're just descriptions of the human anatomy."
Precisely! They are just descriptions of the human anatomy! Let's face it, the one thing all men have in common is their genitalia. Rich men have penises, poor men have penises and if a man has his penis cut off by his crazy wife, then every comic in America is obligated to make fun of him. It's in the Comedians Canon of Ethics.
5. "We want to hear the "cry of pain" that comes from the soul, converted into humor through the comic's unique creativity."
The fact that you want to hear "the cry of pain that comes from the soul, converted into humor through the comic's unique creativity" makes me want to run screaming from the room. Dave Attell is one of the funniest comics of our generation and I guarantee he has never revealed any of the pain in his soul. He's just funny. Most folks go to a comedy club because they want to have a good time. They want to escape the pain in their own soul, even if it's just for 90 minutes. Some comics do reveal their own pain and some, like Rick Reynolds, do it quite well. But how much revelation is a crowd expected to take? If you want revelations, stay home and watch the 700 Club.
6. "We want the person to be communicating, not teaching us that it's okay to use dirty words. That's kid stuff. Don't preach. Unless you want to be laughed at, and not "with."
I must admit, I wasn't the least bit annoyed by your letter until I read these last few lines.
A. "We want the person to be communicating, not teaching us that it's okay to use dirty words. "
Have you forgotten, I'm a standup comic, not an eighth grade English teacher? You may be one of those people who thinks that performers have an obligation to the society at large, but, quite frankly, I would be frightened by any adult who learned to use foul language from little old me. These words have been around long before my existence and the word "balls" will be around long after I've turned to dust. Let's keep things in perspective.
B. "That's kid's stuff."
Ok, now why did you feel it was necessary to categorize what I do for a living as kid's stuff? I've said it before and I'll say it again: If I want to be insulted, I'll spend more time with my family.
C. "Don't preach."
Correct me if I'm wrong. but YOU are the only one who is doing any preaching. I'm just telling dick jokes. (At least that's what you seem to think.)
D. "Unless you want to be laughed at, and not "with."
As a standup comic, I have an obligation to make my
audience laugh. As an artist, I have an obligation to be true to myself.
If they laugh at me or with me, it really doesn't matter. At least
Thanks and have a SHECKY! day!
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