Friday, October 30, 2009

If You REALLY Know Funny...

...then dispense with the string of expletives, sexual references and the same, tired derogatory pokes at racial minorities, gays and women.  I dare you to try that, aspiring comic!  And yes, even you, famous comedian! 

I attended an evening event in DC where new and more experienced comedians gave short, several minute acts to a small audience of maybe 20+ people.  None were super amazing, but most had a few good jokes.  Two guys were great, personable and had original things to say that were also very funny.  All the other acts were replete with expletives and references to the same old things that I never have considered gut-busting funny, but were ok, worth a few laughs here and there.  Some of the acts came across as straight crude humor, or what I like to call caveman humor.

Yeah, and I'm female.  But that doesn't mean I don't find comedic expletives, sexual references and derogatorily-slanted jokes about gender, black/asian/hispanic/gay/lesbian people amusing, if the joke has been thought through and told right.  Caveman humor is enjoyable and hilarious if done well and sprinkled throughout an act tastefully.  And you do need some taste, even with a repertoire of tasteless jokes.  But when every other offering is one about sex, and every other comic swears like their life depends on how many "shits" they can let loose in a row, they lose their charm and their humor fast.  I'm not here to pay testament to your manliness.  Get over yourself and entertain me!  Of course someone's gotta be the butt of a joke, but it doesn't always have to be the same groups.  Saying "fuck" every other sentence, or going through a detailed pantomining of "pussy-checking" at an imaginary store in a world where women have been cloned from the waist down, isn't exactly the most hilarious thing you could be doing.  One person howling away in a corner (probably laughing only because she knew the aforementioned pantomimer on stage) does not a good joke make.  Faced with a long line of these types of jokes, they start to feel like very awkward, very obvious crutches to me and apparently most of the audience, what with the number of times the comics basically pleaded for audience laughter outright over the course of the evening.

So to most comics out there: stop relying on these topics alone.  It really makes you sound desperate.  Try using more jokes that anyone can relate to without having to look around for permission before laughing, stories that cross gender/racial/sexual orientation borders.  Parental issues.  Family issues.  Money.  Jobs.  Traffic.  Internet.  Lawns.  Culture clashes.  Make fun of a different group for a change.  Let's have some equal opportunity mockage!  Not that I'm a prude, not that I'm a feminazi, or can't relate to crude humor or racial jokes.  It just isn't that funny anymore, because everyone does them already.  They're tried, they're old, and I want to be amused and entertained.  Give me clever, give me unusual, give me a new way of phrasing an old joke, or dare to provoke some thinking, and only then will it have the potential to be a damn good show.

Also, dear comic, do you sometimes wonder why people laugh automatically at some things, or find certain people or situations amusing without any effort?  It's among my random musings.  I've heard it said that laugher is a social/biological response to awkward or embarrassing situations, and so it may be.  So if I laugh at you acting out some sex act on stage, or chuckle at you describing in soft-porn detail what you did to your girlfriend last doesn't actually mean I thought it was that funny.  (This goes for you too, Dane Cook!)  Most of it is for your effort...some is to join in with the crowd, and perhaps the rest is just letting that automatic silence-filler laugh come through because face it, we automatically laugh at many awkward situations.  But laughter doesn't necessarily equal appreciation.  Caveman jokes really don't impress me much.  It takes very little imagination to come up with, very little imagination on the part of the audience, and so I find it equals very little actual funniness for me.  Call it a cheap thrill.  Every time I see people laughing at graphic sexual jokes, I wonder how many are laughing because they honestly, truly found it funny.

It's also interesting how sensitive comics can be to racial jokes.  One person told several jokes about Vietnamese and Chinese people, and I noticed they were a bit more toned down than they could have been, at least compared to what you could say were some extremely offensive jokes from a feminist perspective (and even if you aren't a feminist, you might be able to see how a bald portrayal of women as body parts to be bought and sold might be just a tad insulting).  You never know who might be sitting in that audience...  (There was indeed at least one person of Viet and Chinese heritage that night.  Represent!)

And on a last note, it's always amusing when pseudo-science is dragged on stage, told by a non-scientist to a roomful of non-scientists.  Now I understand why good science writing is so important.  The authority with which the comic spoke of the unquestionable results of a recent  "cell-phone brain cancer study" was painfully amusing in a different way than the caveman jokes.

But overall it was an enjoyable evening, and I give those comics much credit for standing up in front of a roomful of strangers, just trying to make everyone laugh.  But if they'd like to help one audience member really laugh, and not just out of politeness, accept her dare to the caveman!  Evolve!

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