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I was working as a waitress at a comedy club….
I know this sounds like a Human League song, but I helped pay for my college education (or at least a used “pre-highlighted” text book or two) with some of the money I made working at Bart Reed’s Comic Strip in El Paso for a little over a year.
At the time, I was entertaining the idea of becoming a stand-up comic, which to my father was akin to me wanting to run off and join the circus or work as a busker on the street corner. I eventually went down the writing path instead, but I learned quite a bit from talking with the dozens of comics. Some of them went on to become pretty successful, others were fading out of the scene (and existence) quickly, and a few were just struggling, chasing a dream and hope that the one joke, one bit, or one unforgettable club set would push them over the top and into the public eye.
Witnessing and talking to this last group was particularly eye-opening, because even in the early 1990s when pushing the comedy envelope wasn’t just welcomed, but encouraged, making it in the stand-up world could be a thankless, desperate, and difficult road. If you’ve ever seen a young, fledgling comedian completely bomb on stage, as the spark and fire slowly fades in his or her eyes, it is heartbreaking on a kitten-kicking level. Comics, more than anything, just want to make people laugh. I know, weird, huh?
I can’t imagine how hard it is for a comedian today to try and make it in the business, as it goes well beyond trying to provoke a chuckle. Today’s comedy work includes trying to maneuver the mob-infested minefield of the cancel culture. Yes, there were some jokes I truly found offensive in the past, but they were just jokes. Some challenged my own world views (but didn’t really change the ones I felt confident about), and that’s okay.
This is why a new video released by comic and podcaster Ryan Long, Comedians Against Comedy, with the help of fellow comics Mike Fenney, Aaron Berg and Kerryn Feehan struck such a chord with me. Check it out:
This is the perfect summation of what comics are going through today. Walking on eggshells and hoping they don’t get caught saying something (or having said something well in the past) that someone somewhere might construe as “problematic.” This just nailed it the best way any comedian could–with humor.
There was one other thing I did learn from my time at the club, and that was most of the comedians I got to know, from the most blue-voting liberal to the blue-collar right wingers, were likable, fun, and friendly people who just wanted someone to talk to and bounce jokes around with. This is really where I learned that one’s political ideology, which has practically replaced religion for many, shouldn’t be the litmus test on whether or not a person is a “good person,” or whether or not they deserve to speak their mind, no matter how weird, off-putting, clean…or offensive.
As far as Ryan Long and his cohorts, I don’t know all their personal politics, who they are voting for, or what their thoughts are on the somehow ongoing debate over pineapple pizza, but I do know they want people to laugh, and that is something I can get behind 100 percent. (RELATED: ‘Freedom to Laugh’ Comedy Tour—Live AND on Fox Nation!)
Yes, comedy can be political. It can be thought provoking. It can be a practice in intelligent word-smithing, or a sight gag-based experiment in juvenile snickers. It can lean right, left, up, or straight down at Hell for all I care. What comedy has to be, at least at some level, is funny.
This year, as a rioting, pandemic-panicked world makes us all just a teensy bit angsty, maintaining a sense of humor, even a dark one, is vital to surviving.
When everyone is a little on edge, it’s okay to get a little edgy in our humor, and when the world seems to be going crazy, it’s just fine to act a little bit insane. For that we need comedy.
If you don’t like a joke or comic, don’t listen or watch, but for the love of all that is holy, and several things that might be a frankly a little profane, LET THE REST OF US LAUGH!