Friday, March 18, 2005

Comedy Grievances. (Click POPDCAST)

Pronunciation: k&-'mE-dE-&n
Function: noun

1 archaic a : a writer of comedies b : an actor who plays comic roles
2 : a comical individual; specifically : a professional entertainer who uses any of various physical or verbal means to be amusing

I felt the need to open with the actual definition of a comedian because I think that we have forgotten what a comedian does. Lately I’ve seen many comedians being punished for doing their job or not being allowed to do their job at all. One comedic vehicle is throwing a pie in somebody’s face whether it be a literal pie as in the case of Soupy Sales, or a metaphorical pie as in the case of countless other comedians. Whether it is deserved or not, somebody has to take a pie in the face. But comedians are the only performers who can be professionally harmed for doing their job to the best of their ability. Several names come to mind Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, The Smothers Brothers, George Carlin and Bill Maher. I fear that we are going back to the time of Lenny Bruce where people are taking inventory of the words that he used and did not listen to what he had to say. There is a perception that comedians are subversive. Well they are. Who else but humorists are able to find flaws in the status quo? Before things get any worse I filed the following grievance.

Grievant: Comedians Everywhere
Date Filed: 3/15/2005
Filed By: Tony Figueroa
Incident Date: Ongoing
Person(s) Who Have Had Dialogue Concerning this Grievance: The Uptight, Self-Righteous, Morally Superior and Overly Sensitive.
1, Not being taken seriously:
Issue Nature and History:
Not being taken seriously is nothing new to comedians. If Groucho Marx would insult a waiter who was giving him bad service, the waiter would be honored to have been insulted by Groucho. Personally I had trouble being taken seriously when I tried to get a credit card or a car loan. The Daily show’s Jon Stewart recently appeared on CNN's "Crossfire" and tried to engage in the discussion but was expected only to tell jokes. Jon Stewart Crossfire Transcript

STEWART: You know, the interesting thing I have is, you have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.

CARLSON: You need to get a job at a journalism school, I think.

STEWART: You need to go to one. The thing that I want to say is, when you have people on for just knee-jerk, reactionary talk...

CARLSON: Wait. I thought you were going to be funny. Come on. Be funny.

STEWART: No. No. I'm not going to be your monkey.

2, Admonished for using levity or "What are you a comedian?"
Issue Nature and History:
Comedians are the only performers who can be admonished for doing their job, and will get in even more trouble if they say, "Just kidding", "It's a joke!" or the classic "F**k em if they can't take a joke." Sure comedians like all creative people do take creative risks that push the envelope or cross the line. It’s what they do. Lately certain parties do not want comedians to do their job.
Jay Leno’s gag order bared anyone connected to the Michael Jackson case from publicly discussing testimony or evidence so Jay could not do any Michael Jackson Jokes in his monologue.
Chris Rock was expected to not be like Chris Rock while hosting the Oscars. The only thing worse than Chris Rock toning down his jokes is Sean Penn not getting his toned down jokes.
Robin Williams had to cut out his comedic song about cartoon characters during the Oscar telecast. The song included the lines, "Olive Oyl is really anorexic" and "Pocahontas is addicted to craps". The song was cut for fear that it may offend anorexics, Native Americans and conservative critic James C. Dobson who claimed that Sponge Bob Square Pants is gay.

3, Defending comedy. Why is that funny?
Issue Nature and History:
Just because you don’t get the joke, does not mean that it is not funny. It’s just not funny to you. Maybe you are the butt of the joke. Maybe you are a prude and need to lighten up. Maybe you are too stupid to get it. I had this coworker who was reading some "Far Side" books someone brought in. She kept turning the pages saying, "I don’t get it" "I don’t get it" "I don’t get it". You see, first of all, cows don’t talk!
Sarah Silverman was on Late Night with Conan O'Brien and joked that she had been called for jury duty but didn't want to serve. Her friend said, 'Why don't you write something inappropriate on the form, like 'I hate chinks'? But I don't want people to think I was racist, so I just filled out the form and I wrote 'I love chinks.' And who doesn't?" The audience laughed, but Sarah had to answer to Guy Aoki, president and co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian-Americans on the show "Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher" and explain why the joke is funny to a humorless person with an agenda.

Suggested Remedy:
Lighten the hell up! Comedy is an art form and like any art form it is subjective.
Those who joke about the O.J. Case are not insensitive to murder and spousal abuse.
Those who joke about the Michael Jackson case are not insensitive to child molestation.
Those who joke about the Martha Stewart case are not insensitive to K-Mart shoppers.
Censuring art in any form is a violation of the artist’s freedom of expression.
Trying to sanitize comedy is like putting pants on Michelangelo's David, but there are still people who want a detailed explanation as to why something is funny. Well there’s Low Brow Comedy: comedy that comes from the gut. Usually in the forms of parody, pun, or farce. Then there’s High Brow Comedy: comedy that comes from the brain, usually in the forms of Wit, humor, irony, or satire. But these findings are inconclusive and not very funny because to quote Theodore White, "A joke is like a frog. If you want, you can dissect it to see how the parts fit together and understand what makes it all work. But the frog tends to die in the process".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa
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