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Everyone’s a comedian

21 Dec

I’m not a comedian. I’ve said that before, but I liked the juxtaposition of that first line and the blog title post. I’m trying to be funny, which is not the same thing as trying to be a comedian, and every time someone mistakenly identifies me as such, I feel a twinge of guilt. On the one hand, I’m flattered that anyone would think I could perform. On the other, I AM LIVING A LIE. I feel the same need to correct as I do when someone calls me handsome or interesting.

But I do choose to surround myself with comedians. (Also, writers, actors, creative types in general. For the purposes of this blog, I’m focusing on comedian-comedians.) At one point, I felt a little anxiety about that: does going to comedy show after comedy show without actually performing make me a groupie? If I’m a groupie, does that mean I have to sleep with the comics? …Can I sleep with the comics? But no, I think you can be a comedy enthusiast without performing. I also think that writing comedy (OK, my attempts at writing comedy) aligns me with people who perform comedy, even if we’re coming at it from different angles. (They’re not afraid of getting up in front of an audience. I get an eye twitch just thinking about it.)

Still, I’ve been thinking about why I prefer comedians to non-comedy types. And I’ve come up with a list of explanations.

They are neurotic. I mean, some of them are neurotic, and some of them are REALLY neurotic, and some of them are certifiable. I don’t like spending a lot of time with well balanced people. They make me feel crappy about my anxiety, and they can’t relate to my debilitating fears and insecurities. I have a hard time connecting with “normies,” particularly those of the heterosexual male variety, so I appreciate being able to bond with someone over a shared concern that we will never amount to anything, ever.

They are self-aware. I have some totally nutty friends who don’t realize they’re totally nutty. Do you know how frustrating that is? I’ve been in therapy forever (feels like forever; possibly it’s less than that), and I’m a writer, which means I spend most of my time navel-gazing. Comedians seem to do a lot of self-reflection as well, so they know when they’re being batshit (often). More to the point, they know how to turn the crazy into funny. Which brings me to my next point.

They find the humor in life. I had a dream last night that the country was falling apart. I woke up and realized that my nightmare wasn’t far from the truth. What a terrifying, shitty thought! But living in dread is no fun at all, unless you can turn it into a joke. I strive to take all the things that make me unhappy and use them to amuse others—sometimes I want to make my readers feel less alone, and sometimes I want to elicit laughter. Usually, it’s both. Finding the humor in your miserable existence and the world as a whole is an excellent coping mechanism, and it makes you more fun to be around than a straight-up whiner.

They’re conscious of the world around them. Sort of a corollary to the above: in order to joke about the U.S. falling apart, you have to know that the U.S. is falling apart. I’m not saying my comedian friends know as much about the state of the economy as my economist friends do—I don’t have economist friends—but most of them are unemployed, so yeah, I think they get it. And some know more than others, which is frankly just overachieving. What’s important is that they have some sense of what’s going on, in a way that dumber people might not.

They make me laugh. This might seem obvious, but for all the people who make me laugh, there are countless others who are boring as shit. Why wouldn’t I want to surround myself with friends who provide genuine LOLs on a daily basis? Since joining Twitter, I have laughed more loudly and regularly: Twitter is the comedy equivalent of fiber, is what I’m saying. And most of these people are funny in person, too. That is rare, and it is wonderful. Sometimes they depress me, in the way I’m sure I depress others. But I’m never bored.

They appreciate marijuana. Comedy and weed go together like an analogy that would only make sense if you were stoned. OK, not all comedians get high, but a whole lot of them do, and they do it in a way that interests me far more than stoner culture as a whole. Creative people who smoke weed are still creative when they smoke: marijuana doesn’t make you funnier, but it does make you think differently. And if you have a perceptive, witty brain, that is a genuine treat to be around.

So go follow everyone I follow on Twitter. Be friends with my friends. Develop crushes on anyone who tells jokes into a microphone. And laugh more, because as trite as that sounds, it’s seriously pretty great.

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Why I defend Kim Kardashian

20 Aug

Look, I don’t think Kim Kardashian needs any help from me: she’s far too rich and famous to actually let the haters bring her down. And yet, I feel compelled to come to her aid—if not out of genuine sympathy, then at least because her role as walking punchline is absurd. There are people out there who spew hate and actively make the world a shittier place. There are people more deserving of our mockery. Which is not to say that Kim should be off limits comedically—far from it. Make all the jokes you want, but do make sure they’re original. Because Kim’s mere existence isn’t as inherently hilarious as so many seem to think.

In light of her wedding, the jokes have been more and more persistent. And sure, some of them are funny, but the vast majority come down to the following—Kim Kardashian is a vapid, vacuous whore. Let’s break this down.

1. Kim Kardashian is stupid. Is she, though? I’ll give you that she doesn’t have a whole lot of actual talent and has gotten famous for, well, nothing, but that in and of itself is a skill. It takes some sort of savvy to know how to market yourself and make a career out of fame. So while jokes about Kim’s blatant attention-craving behavior make sense, jokes about how she’s a total idiot don’t, really. Not to mention the fact that, like Paris Hilton, her occasional airhead demeanor is likely a persona created to attract an audience. And it looks like it’s working. I’d also argue that there’s also a hint of misogyny to this humor (more on that in a bit). Kim Kardashian isn’t just dumb—she’s a “dumb bitch.”

2. Kim Kardashian is selfish. Spoiled, yes. Selfish is harder to prove. On Twitter, comedians retweet the admittedly shallow things Kim complains about, then counter her with a real world crisis or their personal problems. And yes, Kim’s nails pale in comparison to the number of unemployed individuals in this country, or the violent persecution of gay people in Uganda. But just because she’s tweeting about frivolous issues (which, I might add, we all do) doesn’t mean she has no sense of more pressing problems. How else to explain the clothes she donates to the Dream Foundation, or her trip to Africa in support of Russell Simmons’ Diamond Empowerment Fund? You can find a full list of her charitable contributions here.

3. Kim Kardashian is a slut. This one bothers me the most, because it reflects such an obvious gender disparity. We call Kim Kardashian a slut for the same reason we call Paris Hilton a slut: they both reached new levels of fame through widely publicized sex tapes. But while jokes about Kim and Paris being whores never seem to cease, we willfully forget all the men who have also had sex on camera. The list includes Rob Lowe, Colin Farrell, Eric Dane, and Tommy Lee. (Pam Anderson gained notoriety from her honeymoon tape. Tommy Lee earned a reputation for being well-endowed.) So, yeah, Kim Kardashian had a sex tape, and she profited from it. Good for her.

There are plenty of other easy jokes to be made. You could say Kim has a big ass, because making fun of the way someone’s body fat is proportioned is always hilarious. You could mock her for being Robert Kardashian’s daughter, even though that’s not exactly something she could have avoided. (Full disclosure: I made a Robert Kardashian joke on Twitter this morning. I stand by it, and don’t believe it targets Kim as an easy punchline.) You could make reference to Kim’s apparent penchant for black men, as though that’s some sort of character flaw. Relax, it’s not racist if everyone else is saying it!

I’m not trying to shame anyone: some of my closest friends, all of whom I consider to be exceptionally funny, make these jokes. And I don’t think less of them for it. I just believe that we should all hold ourselves to a higher standard. If you want to mock a celebrity, fine, as long as you’re being creative. Bonus points if you have a legitimate reason to tear him or her down—that is, something not related to gender, race, or sexuality.

You might, for example, ridicule Chris Brown’s insistence that he loves women in light of his violent beating of Rihanna. (Old news? Sure, but it’s still horrifying.) You could lampoon Katy Perry’s role as an ally in the LGBT community when her first major single “I Kissed a Girl” was a queer politics nightmare. Or maybe you just hate their music and think they’re annoying. Nothing wrong with that either. We’re all entitled to our opinions.

What do I think about Kim Kardashian? I think she’s a mostly obnoxious reflection of a celebrity-obsessed culture that values exposure above all else. I don’t feel sorry for her. I don’t think comedians should stop making jokes about her. But give me something new. I’ve told you why I defend Kim Kardashian—now tell me why you hate her.

Crossposted to Huffington Post Culture here.

Sit down or stand up

24 Jun

I went to a great comedy show at the Punch Line this week: John Mulaney, Joe Mande, and my Twitter buddy Emily Heller. I’ve always enjoyed live comedy, but my interest has definitely grown over the past few years thanks to my Twitter addiction and comedic aspirations. For a while, the positive response I got to my jokes (or, uh, humorous observations) gave me a fleeting interest in trying stand-up. I don’t know if you guys know this, but I’ve been drawn to the stage since my third grade debut in A Symbol of Hanukkah at Temple Emanuel Community Day School.

And there’s definitely something attractive about standing in front of an audience, but the more I think about it, the more unsure I am that it’s attractive enough to get me up there. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have aspirations of fame—as opposed to, you know, everyone else. But I’ve never really thought I was going to make a name for myself as a comedian, and at this point, even doing a little stand-up on the side isn’t on my agenda. Seeing people I admire do it only reinforces my doubts. It’s not anxiety—or it’s not just anxiety. At the end of the day, I’m a writer, not a performer.

Not that I don’t feel a little guilty: I had a pact with my friends Lisa and Charley to do an open mic. They’ve both gone for it (with gusto!) and I’m still nowhere near writing a set. I admire both of them for going through with it, and I hope they can forgive me for backing out. But I know how I would feel on stage. It’s the same way I have always felt on stage (Symbol of Hanukkah and small drama camp productions excluded): nervous, awkward, out of place. It’s the “out of place” that really gets to me. My neuroses are something I work daily to get past, and I’m confident I could suppress my shaky knees if it came to that. But I genuinely feel as though I don’t belong on stage, and that’s harder to overlook.

To be honest, I never really thought I was funny until relatively recently. (Relax, I’m not fishing for compliments. I know I am totally LOL-tastic at this point.) So isn’t it possible that while I feel like a writer now, I might feel like something else later? Maybe, but I doubt it. I’ve wanted to be a writer my entire life, save a couple years when I mostly just wanted to eat and get my diapers changed. Writing is the only thing that always makes me happy. I don’t know where I’m going to end up or what I’m going to be doing, but I’m certain it’s going to involve writing because I can’t imagine an alternative.

Of course, it’s not like writing and stand-up comedy are mutually exclusive. They’re actually pretty damn linked. But just as I believe there are born writers, I believe there are born performers. I love to make people laugh: I live for the stars and RTs I get on Twitter. (Well, not live for, because that sounds pathetic. Let’s pretend I said “appreciate.”) But perhaps that’s my venue—not Twitter, exclusively, but the written word. While I might not get the same thrill my friends get when they tell jokes on stage, I can at least feel appreciated in a (quieter) way. It’s also worth noting I can’t bomb online, though the vicious anonymous comments I get are sufficiently ego-crushing!

None of this is probably all that surprising to people who know me in real life. But since I’ve found myself lumped into some “comedians” lists on Twitter, it seemed worth addressing. I’m not a comedian, but I’m flattered by the association. I just want to write and make you laugh and, yeah, OK, make Wikipedia’s list of notable LGBT Jews. You can hold your applause.

No apologies

11 Jun

I don’t like the word “faggot.” I’ll use it—in context or, very rarely, to make a point—but I don’t think it’s worthy of reclamation. It’s a term with a violent, hate-charged history, and I loathe hearing it. That having been said, I would never suggest a comedian not use it. You can’t censor comedy—I mean, you can, but you shouldn’t. If someone wants to use “faggot” or “retard” or the N-word (I’m still not comfortable typing it out) for comedic purposes, that’s his or her prerogative. If I don’t like it, that’s on me.

I bring this up because Tracy Morgan has come under fire lately for comments he made during a live show. It’s been called a “homophobic rant,” but I’d label it severely misguided comedy. Morgan essentially said (joked?) that queer people should stop being “pussies” about getting bullied. If his son were effeminate, he continued, he would stab him to death. Ha ha? It’s horrifying and, worse, it’s not even a little bit funny. But who cares? While Morgan should know better than to tell “jokes” so grounded in hate, I don’t think he would seriously kill his kid for being gay, nor do I think he was trying to incite his audience to violence.

Does it rub me the wrong way? Definitely. Will I ever see Tracy Morgan live? No, but I probably wasn’t going to, anyway. You have to look at the comments in context, as part of his set, not as a political statement. It’s ridiculous to call a bit of comedy a “homophobic rant.” I look at the jokes many of us write on Twitter—I know they’re supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, but they could easily be condemned as sexist, racist, ageist. Maybe some of them do come from a place of genuine ignorance or prejudice, but no one wants to be labeled a monster because of a bad joke.

Remember when Michael Richards got in trouble for using the N-word repeatedly during his set? (If you don’t, he’s TV’s Kramer!) That was a case of very real and very blatant anger, as Richards launched into an attack on the hecklers at his show. There was no joke there, poorly conceived or otherwise. He was pissed, and that’s the worst word he could think to use. And if Morgan had singled people out in his audience, incessantly screamed “faggot” at them with no trace of irony, I probably wouldn’t be as quick to defend him.

And let me clear about my “defense”: I don’t think Tracy Morgan is funny, and his gay jokes were in the poorest of taste. It’s also disconcerting to hear that people in the audience were cheering him on, if only because it’s unclear they appreciated his tone. Violence against gay youth is a very serious issue, and there are certainly parents out there who believe they can knock some sense into their fruity kids. But does that mean comedians can’t joke about it? Of course not. We don’t have to like it, but evangelical Christians probably don’t like it when I joke about Jesus’ washboard abs. And I don’t plan on knocking that off any time soon.

Everyone is offended by something, so while I find Morgan’s material to be especially abhorrent, I’d feel like a hypocrite if I agreed that he should have apologized. What’s especially disconcerting is that he was forced to do this because he’s on a TV show—NBC had to publicly condemn his jokes, as though they represented his official stance on homosexuality. Comedians should be able to aspire to greater career heights (you know, like a TV series) without worrying about having their comedy neutered. Morgan isn’t a mouthpiece for 30 Rock or the Peacock. Comedy isn’t a PSA. The more you know!

So why is GLAAD wasting its time with this? Because what GLAAD does best is take everything way too seriously. Look, I recognize the harm of hate speech, but I’m also pragmatic about it. I don’t give a shit about what Tracy Morgan says, especially when there are legitimately dangerous anti-gay politicians in power. We’ve got another major election next year: we continue to fight for our right to marry, and to defend our right to serve in the military. Why are we wasting energy on this?

For all its good work, GLAAD frequently seems to miss the point. Let everyone take Morgan’s jokes as they will, but don’t tell him what he can’t say. And don’t tell us what we should be offended by. I’m too busy fearing every word that comes out of Rick Santorum’s mouth to concern myself with a comedian. Now, if Tracy Morgan decides to run for president, we can revisit the issue.

Crossposted to Huffington Post Entertainment here.