The Hangover Effect
If you read this blog you belong to a few select groups of people:
1) You are a comedian that enjoys a well-worded stream of misery.
2) You are a regular person that enjoys a well-worded stream of misery.
3) You are my mom.
One of the things I have taken both pride in and offense to is how fellow comedians have characterized my blog. A friend repeatedly tells me that my blog makes him feel better about his comedy, basically because I represent the floor of human emotion when it comes to comedy. Another comedian told me that when he reads my blog, it feels like he is reading the words of a man alone in a cabin on top of a windy, snow-capped mountain. And then it dawned on me, comedy has so many bad things about it that I may have to be done with it, in spite of my pleasure in writing and telling jokes. Comedy is like the best sex in the world with the worst person on Earth. Ladies, it would be like finding out the greatest sex you ever had was with Adolph Hitler. Men, it would be like the greatest sex in your life being with Kathy Griffin. I will try to keep this under 5,000 words, but if I don’t, just pretend it is an article from the New Yorker on what it is like being a no-name comedian in NYC. So here are the things that are crushing my love of comedy.
Comedy Is About Characters, Not Comedy
I have dubbed what I see in comedy as “The Hangover Effect.” The 4 main comedic elements of the Hangover, were as follows:
- The crazy man – Alan (Zach Galifianakis – the guy with the beard)
- The nerd – Stu (Ed Helms)
- The cover boy/douchebag (Bradley Cooper)
- Ethnic Goof – Ken Jeong
The Hangover was wildly successful (not to mention very funny), but it either culminated or represented a dangerous trend (at least in my opinion) in comedy: the increasing compartmentalization of comedy into different archetypes. Every ensemble comedy cast (not to mention each episode of Live At Gotham) appears to have a bearded wild man (spouting non sequiturs or off the wall comments a plus), a nerd, someone telegenic (often a good place to squeeze in a female comic) and some sort of ethnic grab bag that often, but certainly not always, feeds into Middle America’s sensibilities.
Now I am all for diversity of style and voice in comedy and I believe ethnic (and to a lesser degree, gender) diversity will flow naturally from that desire to hear different voices and styles. But more and more I get a feeling that movies like The Hangover have ushered in a new development for what people want (and what they will be given) in comedy in general (not just comedy films) – funny will get trumped by type. This does not fit for the already established acts in comedy, but for up and coming comedians I think it may apply. As a test – check the upcoming Summer movie “Bridesmaids.” I’m sure it was pitched as “The Hangover for women!” but like the WNBA, women may dig that, but most men will not. But, if by some minor miracle, it is a success, look for that to become the barometer for female comedians. There is a fat, overly sexed character featured prominently in the preview. If the movie is a success and that character is the break out character/actress then I suggest all the female comedians start stuffing their faces with food.
Being in comedy, means having to dive headfirst into the emotional wasteland of social media. I use it to post jokes, post info about gigs or comedy videos I have done and occasionally on issues of some social relevance. But being a comedian immersed in social media is like showering in prison – you have to do it, but you constantly feel violated.
I honestly believe that how many likes and comments you can consistently generate is inversely proportional to how intelligent you and your friends are. I don’t mean for things like “I’m on The Tonight Show” or “I got married,” but rather for things like “My dick just murdered Lady Gaga.” (LMFAO).
Beyond comedy, my wing of the Social Media Prison, I think the amount of people incapable of keeping feelings to themselves is downright frightening. I once posted a joke on a woman’s comment to which she responded, “I don’t know what that means, but seriously today is not the day!” Ok, well here is a suggestion – keep your feelings to yourself – if they are so powerful and important why are you posting them on the same place where you describe “yummy salads” and pop songs you like? Facebook is like a club where I thought people went to have fun, but half the people are on the dance floor only to feel like someone cares about them.
And if you are friends with comedians you probably receive 50 invites to shows a week. When I invite people to my monthly show I do it individually (takes a lot longer), but to ensure that the only people invited (unless I make a mistake) are in the city of the show and either performing on the show or non-comedians who may show up as audience. But that is the professionally courteous thing to do, which, like basic social graces, is something foreign to many comedians.
And lastly, I know I write a blog and I tweet, but I am a good writer and capable of funny remarks. Given the sheer volume of bloggers and tweeters I am in the minority in both. And without fame credentials I am merely lumped in with the rest of the no-name illiterates out there. As Groucho Marx said, “I would never want to be a member of any club that would have me as a member.”
Comedy – The Most Hypocritical of the Arts
Comedians are the first to bash awards shows for being pretentious, self-congratulatory and useless. And yet, every time you turn around there is a new awards show for comedy or comedy related matters. And the pandering for these things is relentless and like the MTV Awards or Wrestlemania, time will simply bestow a legitimacy on the awards that they never deserved. It reminds me of an “alternative (barf)” comedian who I was recently reminded of that will say “I’m not going to say I look like a combination of blank and blank.” Now the laughs he receives are not for his meta-approach to comedy, mocking anyone who has ever made a look-a-like joke but rather, are for the resemblance itself. But the comedian will entertain the fantasy that people “get what he is about.”
Comedians love to talk about art and pretending like they are all Bill Hicks disciples that would never sell out. But if you have ever attended an open mic where a comedian with some heat is doing five minutes the ball-licking laughter is unbearable. Comedians cannot wait to attach themselves to the “next hot thing,” just like any desperate actress in Hollywood would. But somehow no one has misconceptions or undue respect for the actress and what she does to get ahead.
Then there are the comedy journalists, who remind me of famous sports journalists. When a journalist is too close to the subjects or wants to be part of the world they cover (or at least have access to that world) they are no longer a journalist and are now just a cheerleader. It is sort of like a reporter’s equivalent of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle – once you get too close to a subject you can no longer effectively report on it. For example, I am a huge fan of Michael Wilbon of ESPN, except when he is discussing certain athletes. In those cases he becomes a fan and is no longer credible, which had deleterious effects of his coverage of Tiger Woods, Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Vick, to name a few. But imagine if Wilbon’s access to ESPN events was contingent on him being only positive about everything in sports and only covering the already industry-approved stars and trends. Then you would have the comedy writers. When access, and not truth is your main objective then a lot will be left out. Never a word about bringers, open casting calls or any other myriad of fraudulent practices in comedy. How about something about how feature acts have been getting paid the same thing for about 20 years now – is there any other business where an employee’s pay has not been adjusted in 20 years? Or about the fact that one of the major industry showcases is skewed towards searching “character” based comedians (I don’t think The Hangover Theory is that off)? Off course not, because criticism of these thing might mean fewer free tickets.
Good Things Happen To Bad People
I remember in 6th grade seeing some students cheat on a quiz and I was not a snitch (because in wealthy private schools “snitches get… fewer rides in Mercedes Benz cars from their friends’ parents”), but I remember complaining to my mom. And she told me a terrible lie. She said “eventually it will catch up to them.” Anyone who knows someone who works in finance knows that this is a horrible lie. In America if you are rich and you flaunt the rules, you often times, just get richer.
Several years ago (I think it was about 34 years ago), I had booked Craig Ferguson and told a more established comedian this. My thinking was not one of arrogance because the other comedian was much further along in their career and accolades, but it was sort of a response to a comment. Well, a few minutes later this comedian was bashing me to some other comedians (that I knew and respected) behind my back (my girlfriend at the time overheard). Well that comedian, with his insecurites and ill will is now a pretty big deal. And I am still touting Ferguson as my only substantial credit. I feel like Woody Allen could write a movie about it called “Way Too Late With Craig Ferguson.”
Comedy Leaves You Lonely
Of all the highs and lows that I have had from comedy over the last 8 years, the lowest may have occurred last Friday. I was at the wedding of my oldest friend (known him 26 of my 31 years). This is a guy who visited me in college,only to see me ride the bench for a basketball game. This is a guy who visited me in law school down in DC. This is also a guy who had the guts to voice concerns (and speak to my family) that my engagement of a few years ago was a disaster waiting to happen (it was the relationship equivalent of the financial collapse of 2008 – and he saw it coming a mile away). But ever since moving back to NYC from law school, more and more nights, that could have been spent socializing were spent in basements writing and telling jokes for a profession that is, in many ways, dying as hard as print journalism. Eventually I stopped getting asked to do 95% of stuff and my requests for comedy support went largely unanswered until I found myself at the miscellaneous table at the wedding of my oldest friend. And worst of all, for someone who enjoys complaining and finding the wrong in others, I have to own up to the fact that I have made the choice to pursue comedy ahead of other things that should matter more and the blame lies with me.
So like a degenerate gambler I continue to double down on comedy, but now it is clear that I don’t have much left to gamble with. So I will keep writing and complaining and performing, but for the first time in 8 years I am genuinely looking for something else to do with my life besides comedy. Maybe I will start a rock band. That can’t be too difficult. All I need is a Mac, an autotune machine and some angry, real musician to bitch about how I am ruining music.