Feel Good Bad Comedy

Last night upon seeing the results of Last Comic Standing (and the fact that I had predicted the exact order of everyone except the winner, Felipe Esparza) I tweeted “I don’t understand America’s sense of humor. Felipe Esparza!”  That was greeted with a tweet from someone else in reply that said “Well said – you don’t.  He’s funny as hell.  Over your head.”

Without addressing the irony of something going over my head, is this what America thinks is “smart” comedy?  Perhaps that is why we are such a dumb country.  After all I have a feeling a majority of the country does not realize that amending the 14th Amendment to strip children, born in this country to illegal immigrant parents, of their citizenship (AKA Mexican-Americans) is only a midterm election issue.  That won’t play on a national level during a presidential race, but the point is to get House and possibly Senate seats this Fall using the hate-driven proposal.  It has nothing to do with amending the Constitution because that won’t happen.  Republicans just want to use it as a wedge issue to pick up Congressional seats now.  Unfortunately Obama’s supporters consist of too many fair-weather black voters (they did not even support him until after he won Iowa) and too many white voters who were ready to jump ship at the first sign of trouble (they had done their “I’m not a racist” duty by voting for him in the first place).  The messsage needs to get to them that the uncool white men in the Senate and House have some power too and people need to wake up and realize what is going on.  Go vote during the midterms! (end of tangentially-related political pitch)

Now perhaps in that context I should be happy to see Felipe Esparza win.  After all, he is a Mexican-American and that sends a nice message.  The only problem with that is that comedy viewers, unlike Academy Award voters (Milk) don’t take issues like that into consideration.  They want their comedy simple, but also to feel good about themselves subconsciously.  Nothing does that better than when that comedy is delivered by an ethnic comedian who plays into their ethnicity.   And entertainment is a safe place for people of color.  They can be appreciated without any discernible power (once again, Obama elected on the strength of an incredible and entertaining campaign, but as soon as he started wielding the power he was given all Hell broke loose). 

Being on the road a lot more in the last two years has shown me something about America – it is that rooms full of white people are generally a lot kinder to a comedian of color especially if he does one of two things:

1) confirm stereotypes, which allow white people to laugh twice as hard – once for the joke and once for relief of their feelings


2) portray themselves as fish out of water – I cannot tell you how many times a black comic has killed on stage with some line like, “I must be at the wrong club.”

Felipe Esparza was easily the 5th comic out of the five on the show last night.  I thought he was more like 8th out of the overall final ten.  He was literally the only one of the five that I thought could not win.  Sadly I have also said that Sarah Palin could never win a presidential election.  But Esparza gives America what it subconsciously wants – an ethnic friend.  He delivered a quirky character.  I am not saying he played it up to some caricature, like say, Dat Phan (Last Comic Standing winner – season 1), but he gave America enough.  Perhaps the “I have a black friend” mantra can now be replaced by “I like that Mexican comedian” in thousands of homes across the country.

But that show was awful last night and not just because of the result.  Kathy Griffin was the big headliner.  To me, her success tells me that a lot of gay men and women have awful senses of humor.  She acts like she is saying shocking things (“Oh no she diiiiiiiin’t”), but she is just saying things that Jay Leno passed on in his monologues.  She is awful to look at and listen to.  And just because she acknowledges her grotesque face and surgeries does not make it any more watchable.

Can millions of women and gay men be wrong? Ask the Twilight series, Bravo and a 1980s blood bank.

Also Tom Papa, “The Marriage Ref”.  Thanks for giving me another GPS-voice joke.

One highlight was Iliza Shlesinger (last season’s winner).  Someone has been doing P90X while practicing Dane Cook-esque pratfalls!  My friend John (non-comedian) only texted me twice during the final episode.  One was to say: your boy Kaplan 🙁  (when buddy and frequent vanquisher of me in comedy contests Myq Kaplan was eliminated) and the other was: Shlesinger 🙂  I guess he liked her comedy.

Another highlight was Mike Destefano,, “If you voted for me thanks and if not Fu*k you.”  I wish the show had ended there.

  • Kath

    In response to the graph begining “One highlight was…” I think it’s safe to say that none of the comics, (judges, pros, contestants) did particularly well last night. My guess is that the producers or powers that be said “okay, everyone be super accessible/hacky tonight.” Kathy G ended her set with an “amberlance/liberry” joke, for crying out loud. Greg Giraldo is one of my favorite comics and he’s certainly stronger than what his performance on LCS suggested. And Iliza did a “hunters/gatherers/shopping” analogy which I’m sure isn’t her edgiest stuff. It was comedy for the masses and thus, not particularly smart. Myq Kaplan came in 5th — we all should’ve stopped watching after that. Heck, once they eliminated Rachel Feinstein and kept the guy who burped into the mic, I was done.

    1. J-L Cauvin

      Fair point on it being network television, but if Myq Kaplan, Tommy Johnnigan and even Destefano could be funny on network then the other folks have no excuse. I like Myq Kaplan, but I still watched because I just figured Esparza would be 4th and that was just an abberation. Wood Jr., Destefano and espeically Johnnigan had strong seasons. I just could not beleive Esparza won. Good for him I guess. Being objective I thought Tommy Johnnigan was hands down the overall strongest.

      Maybe I am viewing through man-crush eyes, but I enjoyed Giraldo’s set. Kathy Griffin should not be allowed out of her cave.

  • Kath

    I have a full-on girlcrush on Giraldo (guess that’s just a crush) so maybe that’s why I feel like I’ve seen him do stronger work. He’s set the bar so high when I’ve seen him live.

    Re: Kathy G and her cave: The plastic surgery.. it’s a tough thing. I’ve heard Joan Rivers talk about it and it’s a catch-22. The surgery is done so that women can stay in the business longer (as we all know, the standards of attractiveness are wildly different for men and women in entertainment). I think Felipe is rather slovenly looking but it wouldn’t stop me from thinking he’s funny if I actually found him funny but at some point cosmetic surgery goes from being looking tastefully-more-youthful to downright scary or grotesque. It apparently is a necessary evil, at least for now.

    Kathy’s best stuff is when she talks about being an Irish Catholic or her parents. The celebrities, the tv shows… I can take or leave.

    1. J-L Cauvin

      Much like Felipe Esparza I appreciate that Kathy Griffin has fans. But I laugh a lot more at Felipe than Kathy G. Kathy G had the good fortune of becoming a mascot for gay comedy fans. So she, like Dane Cook as an example, now has legions of dedicated fans who will laugh at everything she says, regardless of actual originality or humor content.

  • Heeter

    Thank God for u sir…I thought the EXACT same thing…Felipe was AWFUL! Seriously, i see better than that at my local Funny Bone on weeknights and THIS is supposed to be “The strongest comedian” out of the thousands who tried out? Roy Wood Jr. was hands down my favorite…His facial expressions were great….2nd was definitely Tommy, and i woulda been happy if he won…This is so disappointing to see how dumb America really is….Felipe told jokes just a little north of fart jokes and won a nationally televised comedy show….Sad.

  • Abbi Crutchfield

    I am a fan of Kathy G’s writing and delivery. Finding your niche audience (the people that COME to see you, not the people who tolerate you when you show up) is something Richard Lewis says everyone should strive for. It gives you purpose when you’ve finally found your voice–honing your delivery and talking about what you enjoy talking about–to have an audience who gets you. Think of all the sports nuts and movie buffs who will eat your act up the stronger it gets. Are they morons for liking what you talk about? For liking who you are? I think your complaint about Kathy isn’t a reflection of her being a bad comic, but her doing comedy you don’t like. There’s a difference. Strength of humor and originality wanes with the increased amount of appearances you have to make and other ways you use your celebrity to make money (see: Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy). Maybe an audience that already agrees with you before you say anything doesn’t push you to challenge yourself, but you also don’t have as much time as you used to to write and work it out.

    When you’re an award-winning veteran there might be a blogger 20 years younger than you calling you a fraud, but chances are you probably won’t notice.

  • Abbi Crutchfield

    Also, it sucks to have to dilute your jokes to appeal to a wider array of people–but the bigger the masses the more marketable you are and the more money you can make. Most comics are broke for the first 10 years so when they see a pinhole of light through the stone wall that is their career, they claw at it with their bare hands–dignity and integrity be damned. As far as I can tell, Felipe paid his dues, and he’s being true to himself. I think all of the finalists had that going for them, so it boiled down to one of two things:
    1) which group of Americans voted the most?
    2) which person did producers want to win this year?

    If you believe the voting system is legit, then the finalists should have busted their humps getting people to vote as much as possible. It was campaign season. It’s not up to the masses of Americans to have a sophisticated sense of humor; it’s up to the comics to have an excellent promotional machine. Since Esparza was from LA, locals were driving in filling the auditorium, which can influence voters at home.

    If you are cynical and you think everything is manipulated by network executives, then you know that they haven’t had a Latino comic win yet. With Felipe as the face of the tour, a conspiracy theorist might suggest they’re balancing out the injustices dealt to undocumented workers in Arizona. Not that NBC has a political agenda, but it is a good time to strike on that opportunity of being able to show a little subliminal compassion.

Comments are closed.