Comedy Sensitivity: It Doesn’t Get Better

First, before I address the comedy community, allow me to apologize to anyone who is a normal human being that reads my blog.  My podcast is going to be the focus of the more general pop culture and disdain for society that used to be confined to this blog (http://righteouspk.podomatic.com/).  And I am hoping that Monday January 30th will mark the launch of my weekly Movie Review show (www.YouTube.com/JLMovieLife).  So this blog will largely occupy (but certainly with many exceptions) issues with being a comedian.

And normally when I address issues in comedy it deals with the scumbaggery of the powers that be (e.g. I was not invited to a certain comedy club’s holiday party – a possible oversight, but hard not to take personally when my family and friends have probably put two children through college with all the bringer shows I have done at that club). Some examples are:

  • The struggle of feature work, the comedy parallel to the decline of the working class in America.
  • The manipulation and abuse of comedians’ dreams through cattle call auditions for shows where the writing is already on the wall.
  • The equivalent of stunt casting with regards to some TV star, non-stand up comedy qualified headliners.
  • The despair in seeing greats like Greg Giraldo and Patrice O’Neal die before getting their just due in the mainstream culture.
  • The fact that the comedy “media” is simply concerned with web traffic and would not know an actual issue affecting working comedians until it appeared on a verified Twitter account or on Comedy Central.

In my nearly nine years in comedy I have worked hard as a comedian, gone nearly broke, struggled professionally and personally, but I think most comedians that know me or read what I write know (or should know) that I have a deep respect for stand up comedy, at least what I want it to be.  I feel it is almost a calling, not something to dabble in or “think about trying” for a year or five before sacking up and doing it.  But given some criticism I have faced recently over Louis CK comments, plus the (what feels like daily) articles and comments on the perceived underrepresentation of women in comedy. I realize that there are a lot more pussies in comedy than I thought, and I don’t just mean anatomically.

I just recorded a podcast on Louis CK where I had an excellent conversation with another comedian about Louis’ place in comedy, his writing process, the quality of his specials, etc.  Now of course I mockingly summarize his specials by saying every one of them should be called “Working It Out,” and that every track could be called “Jerk Off,” “I Hate Kids,” and “I’m Fat.”   However whenever these comments go up on Facebook, comics quickly call me a “hater,” “bitter,” that I should “work on my comedy career.”  Now of course if I called Tim Tebow a cooky Christian in some clever way, or ripped GOP candidates or bashed the Kardashians, Dane Cook, Carlos Mencia or hundreds of other public figures I would be greeted with “likes” and “LOLs.” But I cracked wise about a spiritual figure for comedians so I got showered with career advice and adjectives.  It is a cliche that comedians are insecure, but much like all the kids who need bullying to stop it appears that comedians are really become a legion of pussies (possible book/movie/late night Cinemax title).  These are the same people who will spend their time calling religious figures vile names, regardless how other people may take it, defending the usage of hate speech or hateful terms in the name of comedy, but as soon as you get near the glass house based on another comedian’s authenticity that they have built for themselves you are a hater.  I am all for full free speech in comedy, as long as it is funny.  But some of my wiser colleagues I suppose feel differently (in case you did not pick up on it, I do not believe any of my colleagues are wiser, perhaps some are as wise).

In the name of the Louis, The C and The Holy K.

Then there is Twitter, which is downright disturbing how unfunny so many comedians are on this medium.  Genuinely unfunny.  But we engage in an ass kissing venture called “Follow Friday” on Twitter where people show support for their friends, many of whom are unfunny and kiss ass to those in a higher station in comedy life than them.  It is just mutual masturbation.  Buy your friend a candy bar or a coffee if you want to be a friend.  But respect the art and the content for Christ’s sake.

But I have saved the best complaint for last. In a discussion about pussies in comedy, I would be remiss to leave out a discussion about the degradation and shame women have been put through in the comedy world in 2011.  A typical Huffington Post/NYTimes/Twitter weekly cycle appears to be: “Women Are Funny Too!” “Are Women Funny?!” “Don’t Judge Women By Their Gender!” “Why Aren’t Women More Represented in TV Lineups!?” “Check out these 20 Hilarious Female Comedy Festivals!”  Way to play against the stereotype of indecisive, frantic and emotional.

An article in the New York Times featured Eddie Brill, the Letterman booker.  In it it was disclosed that:

  • Only 1 of the 22 comedians on Letterman this year was a woman
  • Eddie Brill finds most female comedians less authentic and that many of them are trying to act like men

In another article, this one from the Huffington Post, Judd Apatow’s Critics Choice Award speech was highlighted because he told 197 year old Jerry Lewis to fuck off because 13-14 years ago he said he “I don’t like any women comedians.”

And let’s not forget that Comedy Central only has one television development deal for a female comedian, but a bunch for men.

Well I am not sure how these Taliban have infiltrated the comedy business, but I for one would like to see some marines urinating on their corpses immediately.

Booker for The Evening Comedy Hour in Afghanistan

The fact is, without getting into the “who is funnier” as a gender (I own 20 comedy CDs, all by men, but I am sure it is open for debate), which gender comprises the majority of the top tier of comedians? Men.  I mean in a men vs. women comedy all star game it’s the Harlem Globetrotters vs. the Washington Mystics (the Generals had men and were better than the Mystics of the WNBA).  And as far as Letterman goes, he is very particular in his bookings.  And he only booked 22 comedians and a lot of them were A listers?

I complain plenty about quality of comedy and treatment of comedians in the business, but other than facial hair on Live at Gotham I never break it down into a “there are not enough of me” represented in stand up.  But women in comedy keep playing both sides – “STOP TREATING ME DIFFERENTLY AND CAN YOU PLEASE PUT ME ON THE SHOW BECAUSE THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH WOMEN.”  And Jerry Lewis and Eddie Brill never made absolute statements – they merely stated their personal preferences, but like a “Support The Troops” applause line, telling guys like that to fuck off is red meat for a gender that so often is stereotypically portrayed as misconstruing messages (watch any CBS comedy and you will get what I am saying).

There are funny women.  There are just a lot more funny men.  And the funniest men are the funniest people on the planet. No matter how many times you watch Bridesmaids.

But between being more sensitive to non-traditional challenges (Fuck the Pope = OK, Louis CK is overrated = heresy), mutually masturbating on Twitter and defending women’s honor against an onslaught of sexism, comedy might as well have its own anti-bullying slogan: It’s Getting Worse.

4 COMMENTS
  • Adam Sank
    Reply

    JL:

    Since I am clearly one of the “pussies” who feel women are given short shrift in comedy — and since you and I butted heads over this on my Facebook page yesterday — I’d like to respond.

    First the boilerplate: I respect you as both a person and a comedian. I think you know that, or I wouldn’t have booked you to perform in my show this past year.

    That said, you can’t make a statement like “There are funny women. There are just a lot more funny men. And the funniest men are the funniest people on the planet…” while simultaneously claiming that that’s not a sexist sentiment.

    Of course it’s sexist. It’s no less sexist a statement than “There are smart women…” or any less racist a statement than “There are smart black people…” As soon as you imbue superior characteristics or talents to one particular group over another, you’re guilty of SOMETHING-ism.

    Now, you may argue that there are a lot more men doing stand-up than there are women, so of course more men are going to be among the top tier. And of course, that’s the truth.

    But to that I would pose the old chicken and egg question. WHY are so many more men in stand-up? Could it possibly be because comedy is an arena from which women have traditionally been excluded (pioneers like Moms Mabley, Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers being the exceptions that prove the rule)? Could it be that funny young women out there watching a year’s worth of Letterman’s think to themsevles, “Well, I only see one woman comic. So I guess comedy’s not for me.”?

    I feel you rolling your eyes, dismissing this applying political correctness to the one profession that has the potential of being ruined by that very thing.

    So let me simply give you my personal perspective on this: I find women funny. I find women as funny as I find men. In fact, as a gay man, I often find women funnier. I tend to relate more to their sensibility and their experiences.

    I realize not every comedian or audience member is going to agree with me, nor should they. But so should you not take your personal opinions as established facts; they are not.

    Moreover, after eight years doing comedy, I remain as convinced as ever that the best comedy shows feature a diversity of performers — of ethnicity, of type,of age, of sexual orientation and yes, of gender. And I promise you that is NOT political correctness; it’s common sense. Listening to the experiences and perspectives of five straight white guys — or four straight white guys and one straight black guy — is simply less interesting and less provocative than listening to performers who represent varied segments of our world.

    And I believe given the chance to experience that diversity, the rest of America would agree.

    1. J-L Cauvin
      Reply

      Why is making a comment based on sex automatically sexist? Women are to comedy what white guys are to basketball. There are some great ones for sure, but for whatever mixture of reasons (genetic, historic, socioeconomic opportunities, role models, etc.) there are fewer of them and they comprise a distinct minority of the elite talents. Doesn’t make someone racist to make this point, just like my point is not sexist.

  • Tom Simmons
    Reply

    I think it is obvious that the exact same percentage of women doing comedy are funny as men. There are just less of them. It is also obvious that a funny woman will get more chances then a funny man at television spots. I would argue that between two comedians- a white male will get less tv opportunity then a equally or less funny female.

    I agree with you that Jim Gaffigan is very over rated and not nearly as great as he is universally praised to be. “he is awesome, has ten minutes on resteraunts.” I see that. He should do what great comics do- edit and just do the three that are funny. He is a ventriquist who doesn’t use a dummy or learn how to not move his lips. It is a trick. And if he used the actual dummy he would be universally mocked.

    Oh, and while I think CK is a great comic who has somehow figured out a way to talk to audiences like they are a great friend sitting across the table, when I first met him in NY at the Comic Strip twelve years ago, he was talking loudly in the bar about guess what? He was insisting that there was no such thing as a funny woman comedian.

    1. J-L Cauvin
      Reply

      I never made claims on Jim Gaffigan, but feel free to let this blog be a sanctuary for all things hater-related. CK made an interesting point on female comics. I disagree, but just a little bit.

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