Comedy stinks right now because you forced it to stink. You vilified every experience in life that makes a great comedian. You made the safe, sponsored version of laughter the norm. You’re so afraid to really laugh in front of other people, that you turned comedy from an anti-establishment weapon into a cottony security blanket.
Comedy stinks right now because of you. Because you’re afraid of your true feelings.
Let’s take, as an example, one of these pusillanimous women that the media holds up as Queens of Comedy. You know the ones, I don’t have to name them. They’re all over glossy magazine covers at the checkout aisles, making “zany” faces to remind you they’re funny.
If you had any concept of the history of humor, you would see these ersatz comediennes for what they are; sellouts making softball vagina jokes until they get a movie deal. If they say “the wrong thing” and the media ambushes them, they will say whatever it takes to make things “right”, while crying, to let you know that they’re a human being too and you shouldn’t be so mean. Their imagined toughness disappears, revealing a fragile little person underneath.
They play the victim, instead of doing what their female forerunners did in the same situation and make a joke.
Let’s pretend for a moment that you’re in the audience of a popular comedy club, and a female comedian that the media champions as “brave” and “inspiring” strolls onto the stage. You come to discover that in this woman’s past, she was:
- Court-martialed, three times, while in the Air Force
- Arrested and jailed for not producing an ID to police, telling them “I don’t believe in government-issued IDs”
- Penalized by the IRS after an extended period of drug abuse and neglect of taxes
- An atheist who calls religion “bullshit” and “kid stuff”
Would you stay and listen? If not, why?
Because those are all experiences that shaped a man called George Carlin, generally regarded as the greatest stand-up comedian of all time, after Richard Pryor.
Carlin and Pryor wrote from a point of view contrary to the Establishment. That’s where the fire in their bellies sparked from. The idea that at heart, government and the status quo are harmful to you, and your mind. Not that those things represent any sort of goal, or friend, or finish line. Comedy is a release from those things.
George Carlin’s inner turmoil sprang from a lifetime of people trying to make him something he wasn’t. He was blessed with a small retinue of supporters, including one of two women he married, and Tony Hendra, who kept him on as even a keel as was possible. They understood his genius and importance even more than we do now. Thankfully, Carlin’s work endures, despite the mainstream media’s endless efforts to make such material unlawful.
Your average contemporary female comedian’s inner turmoil comes from one place: self-doubt. If she does observational humor, it’s about her looks, the looks of other women, and the way she is treated as a woman. She hones her skills in a handicapped manner; performing with other female comedians, being introduced specifically as a female comedian, and confining her material to a female point of view. If she bombs, and BOMB SHE SHALL, it’s because the (male) audience just couldn’t handle the rare spectacle of a woman telling jokes. It’s never, ever the weakness of the material, or the delivery, which tends to slide into one of three modes:
- Whispering, eye-rolling crazy lady
- Seen-it-all, world-weary monotone
- Barking no-nonsense militant (with a soft side)
It is to stand-up comedy what Christian rock is to rock and roll. A safe, predictable alternative the “whole family” can “enjoy”. Lots of people choose Christian rock over the Rolling Stones, right?
Amy Winehouse, rest her smelly soul, would have made a better comedian than Amy Schumer is, because she had the raucous, rebellious life to draw upon for humor. Shit, she pretty much put it into her music. As soon as she croaked, every aspect of her upbringing was dragged under scrutiny and marked as undesirable.
Even though it made her who she was. Is it any wonder she disintegrated like she did? The world accepted her as-is, then said she wasn’t good enough.
Wanna know why? They couldn’t control her anymore.
George Carlin had a bad heart that he only made worse with drinking and drugs. In 2008, it caught up with him for good. When you have a near-death experience thanks to your own corporeal body, the vipers close in, and tell you it’s time to soften up and play ball. People don’t like to go to a comedy club and be provoked. It’s an insurance risk. Plus, you’ve got medical bills now, which have to be paid if you want to keep on living. Play ball. There’s no shame in it. A couple of silly movie roles, you’ll be back in the pink. Everyone does it.
That’s why comedy isn’t funny anymore. All the risk has been surgically extracted. Comedians make a studio movie to make money, not to set the world afire with the funniest goddamn film ever conceived. That’s why no one has topped The Jerk, Life of Brian, Blazing Saddles or Caddyshack. That’s why the steam went out of The Hangover, Step Brothers, Old School and Superbad as soon as the paid promotion ended. Weren’t those movies parlayed as “mic drops” when they premiered? Why aren’t they funnier than the classics, then?
Because there’s no risk involved, and risk is to comedy what pollen is to flowers. Without the presence of the former, the latter withers and dies. People laugh as a release. They don’t laugh to make the performer on stage feel good about themselves and their chosen career. They laugh because their lives suck and the performer made them feel better about themselves. They laugh because the performer honestly and truthfully made them forget about their pain. And they’re all in pain. All of us are.
That pain is what made George Carlin pick up a microphone. Richard Pryor’s pain was even worse, and he’s never been bested. Pryor burned his face off freebasing cocaine, and when kids ridiculed him for it, he made it part of his act. He didn’t search out the kids lighting matches and saying “look; it’s Richard Pryor running down the street.” He didn’t question the kids’ upbringing or moral fibre. He did what a comedian of his caliber is supposed to do. Make it funny. If you can’t make it funny, make it funnier.
If you can’t do that, quit comedy and go into insurance. It’s safer, and much more profitable.