Last Comic Standing is back after a 4 year break and it only took about ninety minutes of airtime before shock waves rippled through the comedy community. Ben Kronberg, a comedian I know and like personally and as a comedian (he is “alternative” if I were to categorize him, but he has the calves of a top tier athlete – at least the last time I saw them in Summer 2013 – so I think that always made me less prick-ish about his alternative stylings). Well the first episode of LCS was going smoothly until Ben got on stage and began his set with, depending on your perspective, a tired-stock joke or a somewhat modified industry standard (Ben fiddled around on stage, getting himself settled while not addressing the audience and then after about twenty seconds looked at the crowd and said (paraphrasing) “Oh like you start right away at your job.” The set was then edited and there was a seemingly heated exchange between judge Roseanne Barr leading to Roseanne saying “Go fu*k yourself” to Ben. This led to a viral hashtag on the Internet and the rest is history, depending on how important you feel stand up comedy is.
Now I interviewed Ben a couple of days ago on my podcast as part of my running commentary/analysis of the show this Summer. He was gracious and I tried to ask some serious and some funny questions about his experience with LCS this year (you can listen to the podcast episode here). However, I was disappointed in myself for failing to ask Ben’s opinion on one other thing regarding this incident: do you think, despite being a beneficiary of some nice community vibes, that other comedians took Roseanne’s words too personally or defensively?
The response directed at the incident and some of the vitriol aimed at Roseanne would have seemed acceptable if this was just a show at a comedy club, but it is reality television. From America’s Got Talent to American Idol (not to mention the glee our society, and many in the comedy world, take in watching the train wrecks that occupy the non-contest reality shows) it is clear that these shows are partly about talent promotion and all about ratings. Simon Cowell is a mega rich television personality, in part, because he tore people new assholes on live television.
Now I know comedians are mostly sensitive types (despite whatever confidence or swagger they display on stage) who only manage to speak up with hashtags or when Carlos Mencia steals a joke. But for people who get on stage and try to entertain strangers, the defensive posture to rally around one of their own seems a bit weak. I mean, what do people expect from reality television? Ben, in our chat seemed to know that anything was fair game and was disappointed how it was portrayed, but not startled and certainly not of the “Never Forget” mindset that some of the comments on social media would seem to indicate. Maybe other reality show contestants are just as sensitive to their fellow artists, but I am not friends with many emo musicians “just trying to share their gift with the world,” though every time I see an Upworthy article in my Facebook news feed I feel like I am that much closer to being immersed in a world of annoying sensitivity training supervisors.
My only real thought on this is comedians – you cannot have it both ways. You cannot be the tough guys (and gals) of the First Amendment – getting a pass for everything you say about anyone or anything, but then, when someone gets sh*t on on a reality show (as rigged, as GOTCHA and as edited an entertainment format as there is) start calling out how uncouth it was. WELL I NEVER!
So good luck to Ben, who seems to be getting some nice traction from the hashtag (Can we get a #YesAllWomenTellBenToGoFu*kHimself tag going?) and will be more than fine (as he said in our talk – it may not do as much for him as being a finalist, but he already is being talked about a lot more than any of the other people eliminated), but to the portion of the comedy world who found Roseanne beyond the pale and jumped to Ben’s defense – lighten up. If comedians cannot accept the harshness of entertainment and television gimmicks, why should regular folks be so open to your next edgy joke about (insert edgy thing).
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