While driving to see my mother in a nursing home, I was approaching a busy intersection at about 35mph when I was forced to slow down and wait for a woman, in casual defiance of what was a mature green light, diagonally crossing the street across the middle of the intersection. Concern for my car and day prevented me from hitting her. As I slowed to around 5mph I expressed my frustration by shrugging my shoulders and outstretching my hands. What Gives, lady? Her reaction, sadly, didn’t astonish me.
She gestured back similarly, as if somehow I was in the wrong, swinging her thick ankles at the exact same speed as before. How else am I supposed to cross the street, buddy?
“It’s a road! There’s traffic! There’s traffic!” I shouted at my windshield, karate chopping my hands back and forth.
She raised her arm in disgust and gave me the finger. “Yeah, fuck you, too!” I yelled at my passenger window as I drove past her, extending my bird at full salute, belching as much sound and smoke as my 8-year-old 4-cylinder Subaru can muster.
I’d encountered one of Planet Earth’s great abundances: assholes. An asshole is a person whose disposition invites strife, unease, argument and stress. They’re alive and well and the worse things get the more they’ll flourish.
Here’s the thing about assholes: assholes think the world is filled with assholes. Let that sink in. To them, it’s a dog-cheat-dog world out there, a whole planet of unhappy jerks. This is because a majority of their interactions with people are negative. It’s a terrible way of life, surrounded by a poisonous fog that causes constant meaningless conflict with strangers provoked into participating in your sad manner of existence.
I caught the poison. I went straight to her level. I became an asshole.
To her, I was yet another sonofabitch she’s forced to share the planet with until she dies, proof that the human hive is full of jerks. She didn’t know my form of it was temporary. (though the stress wasn’t; I was mildly upset for hours.)
Here’s the recipe for instant assholes: Add one asshole. Done.
Fortunately, there are more of us than there are of them, however occasionally assholes (let’s call ‘em ‘fuckheads’ for short) get a platform they do not deserve and they use it to do what they do: bring the world down to their level.
Two such assholes did that on Jan 3rd in the Chicago Tribune. Their names are Nina Metz and Chris Borelli. Their only credit is in the sub-heading, “The Tribune’s…” Shrug.
Appearing in the Arts & Entertainment section, the piece is titled “A field guide to hecklers” but the browser tab calls it “A defense of heckling.” It’s a conversation between the two in which they outright encourage disruptive audience participation at stand up comedy shows. I don’t know anything about either of them but after reading the article I know they are simply bad people. Like, really bad. Unflavored oatmeal bad.
A better title would be “Ruin Fun: Because We Are Evil and Have No Soul”
Right off the bat these two numnuts (sp?) make clear that it’s all about them. During Nina’s intro she writes:
“Heckling is the scourge of comedy clubs, ruining everybody’s good time. Right? Not in my book.”
Oh, aren’t you adorable? Allow me to translate: “I’m conscious that most people hate it but it’s all about me me me me! Me! Also, I’m a stupid bitch!”
(Don’t worry, Nina, Chris is also a stupid bitch. I’m actually quite fond of your gender.)
Then the “conversation” begins. It’s a back and forth of inane, self-indulgent bullshit in which our proud antagonists reveal their secret affection for hecklers.
During Chris’s first chime he states:
“On the other hand, as someone who wants an event to be memorable, yes, I’m pro-heckling. Who isn’t? I have seen countless comedians and forgotten most of them. But I remember each and every time I have witnessed a performer get into it with an obnoxious audience.”
I’ll tell you who isn’t, Chris, you stupid bitch: The performer, the rest of the audience, the venue owner and staff. ALL DECENT PEOPLE. EVERYBODY ELSE.
I’ve forgotten a lot of movies I’ve seen but I’m not going to set fire to the theatre so that I remember the event.
To defend public assholery. In fact, to call for increased fuckheadism– it’s irresponsible and it’s weak. Cowardly. You’re unable to remember fun so you’re actively advocating ruining other people’s fun so you can get a shot of memory juice?
“Yes! As journalists and critics, we’re trained to stand and back observe, so I don’t think it’s ever occurred to me to heckle. But I am always secretly thrilled (and nervous!) when someone else does it.”
Yes, tension can be great. It’s why jokes work, why flirting is fun and why divorce is hilarious. But it’s not up to an [often inebriated] audience member to decide when and how tension is invoked. That’s the performer’s right and privilege. That’s why we go out and practice night after night and claw our way up the ladder– for the opportunity to say words into microphones. We earn it. Not hecklers. Here, have my drink tickets.
In the next paragraph she shows a little bit of her coal heart:
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it is miserable for the comic.”
Well, aren’t you Mother Fucking Theresa?
The conversation turns to how heckling separates the men from the boys, how it’s useful in determining who is truly funny, how it lets the audience see what the comedian does when his “back is against the wall”. Chris completely agrees!
“You and I have spoken to enough comics to know, there are funny-funny comics and funny-unfunny comics, and the paradox is, both can very funny. But the heckler pulls back the curtain and reveals which kind of funny we’re looking at: The one who can write a joke and tell it well, or the one who doesn’t need carefully considered material in his head to generate a laugh. I am not judging one over the other.”
Yes, you are, Chris! Funny-funny? Funny-unfunny? You make it seem as if the funny after the dash is the important one, the one where loud, obnoxious people are now part of the show. Three words: FUCK YOU. AGAIN. To be fair, you did use the word “paradox” so your argument clearly is brimming with intelligence. I suspect that’s just how you hide the fact that your brain is made of cake, and by that I mean the gross yellow kind.
Paradox. See? I’m so smart. Somebody blow me!
Some comedians are better at dealing with hecklers than others. That’s true. It doesn’t make the one who struggles a bad comedian or not funny. Thanks to people like you (assholes), though, we all get plenty of practice. Good work.
Nina, three words for you as well: Fuck you, too.
We’re not rats in an experiment. The idea of live stand up isn’t to bully the performer into revealing his or her true self, testing our emotional limits, seeking breaking points, challenging our stage persona so you can slice our bellies open and root around with a butter knife in search of whatever pound of flesh you feel you have the right to extract.
I’ll break it down for you. It’s actually quite simple: Stand up comedy is an exchange between an audience and a performer with an inherent agreement that the audience listens and the performer speaks. If what’s said provokes/induces laughter, then it’s good. If it doesn’t, then it’s bad. We train and practice to maximize the good and minimize the bad.
Me? Who am I to speak with authority on defining stand up? I’m a stand up. I’ve been doing it a little over three-and-a-half years, mostly here in Chicago. I’ve performed around 900 times. I’ve watched thousands of sets. I’m fully aware that in the Laughter Industry I’m a certified nobody but even though I might be a toddler comedian I’m smart enough to wipe the finger paint off my hands before I diddle myself. Take that!
Here’s what heckling is: It’s theft. Stealing. Robbery. People pay to see a comedy show and they deserve the best the performer can deliver. When a person heckles he or she is taking value away from people who paid to see a person tell jokes, not see someone be an asshole.
A comedy show is a swirl of intricate psychological exchanges between the audience and the performer that ebbs and flows as the night gets on. Many complex factors are in play that only people who do it are aware of. Part of the design is that it’s a casual, take-a-load-off-and-have-fun kind of thing, and it should be exactly that for the audience. For the performer it is anything but.
Some of those factors? Sure, I’ll try and be quick. Expectation is everything. People are more invested if it’s not free. A full room is better because it increases the likelihood of laugh-leaders (people who laugh easy and vocally), which helps the anonymity effect and leads to a group-mind, a positive collective experience. Sound checked. Phones off. Seats forward. Attention focused. The performer should be elevated and illuminated. Comedians introduce themselves (the opener), generate laughs, sustain interest and build to a strong finish (the closer). Bookers make choices on room design, hosting, as well as constructing the show based on the various flavors each comedian offers. There are numerous others. I hope to learn them all some day.
What it comes down to is distraction. The best comedy venues are designed to minimize distraction. Minimize, not eliminate. Elimination is impossible. Unlike music, listening to a stand up show requires the same focus and concentration as reading. You can go to a concert and scream your bloody fuckin’ head off the whole time and walk away happy. Do that at a stand up show and it’s a quick escort to the door. A single syllable can be missed and the entire joke can be ruined. That glance down at your phone to see if your ex-boyfriend is horny can be a deal-breaker. The question to your friend about how much you owe for half the vodka fishbowl and suddenly you’re offended by the second half of a comedian’s joke. You missed the part where he said, “Here’s what you shouldn’t say about baby seals.”
All forms of heckling serve the evil of distraction. It distracts not only the performer, but also everybody who’s trying to enjoy the show. Even the lightest talking is noise-pollution. A cellphone light is universally irritating in a dark room where people are trying to focus. I don’t have to list ‘em all.
Here’s another suggestion for you two misery sluts. Try it. Do stand up. Do it for 3 months. A week. Once. You won’t.
Try it. You won’t.
Cowards. Shit shadows. (At least shit has substance.)
There’s a reason people fear public speaking more than death or snakes or death snakes (see: Australia). The truth is people don’t fear public speaking. People fear public judgment. Stand up comedy is the ultimate form of public judgment. I will stand alone on stage and make you laugh for x amount of minutes and you will pay me for the privilege. What utter lunacy!
But when it works, it’s beautiful. It’s one of the most wonderful things in the world. Laughter. Joy. Happiness.
And you pieces of shit want to take that away from other people simply because you have a bad memory? Because tension is exciting? You strike me as the kind of people who bought those DVDs of alcoholic bums fighting that those assholes were selling awhile back. What happened? Did your parents have a shouting match the first time you masturbated? Is that what locked it in? You sick fucks.
The good news is there’s a much better alternative to heckling: Silence. Been there, heard that. Or… not heard that, as it were.
You’re both writers (“The Tribunes…,” right?). That’s a form of expression that invites public feedback, but unlike from behind the safety of a keyboard you haven’t the slightest idea what it’s like doing stand up. Does someone you can’t see yell, “Wrong!” when you press Q instead of W? Do you have to interrupt your train of thought because a drunk is arguing with a waitress in your office? Does your boss shine a light at you to let you know you have 60 seconds to finish your article?
The feedback stand up comedians receive is both its greatest asset and worst feature. Failure (what we call a joke bombing) is instant, personal and public. And you’re expected to shrug it off and move on, which we learn to do.
Along with Jazz, stand up comedy is one of two truly American forms of art. Because they’re the only two in which we pretend we didn’t practice. Well, it’s not easy. And we do practice.
We do it because the joy of getting a laugh slightly outweighs the pain of not. More than just having a sense of humor it requires a unique psychosis, a blend of delusion, drive and durability, especially to survive the first years which are filled with embarrassment, isolation and failure. I’ve sucked my pride dry countless times, gone home angry, drank away the anguish, stood on stage staring into the maw of all-consuming silence after a joked bombed. I couldn’t tell you how many people I’ve seen start comedy and are gone in three months. I couldn’t, because their names aren’t worth learning.
Most who try quit. Most who don’t quit fail. Stand up comedy is why I get up every day. My depression would have long ago sucked me down if I didn’t discover the joy of other people’s laughter. Fuck you.
Back to the “article.” When not name-dropping (Oh really? You spoke to Zach Galfianakas? Nick Kroll? Your journalism professors must be so proud! Fuckheads.), the two take turns name-creating. They define the various types of hecklers they’ve observed, ascribing cute names such as The Happy Heckler, The Drunk, The Serial Antagonist, The Casual Discusser. Good ones! I’ve got another name for a very specific type of heckler. Ready?
The Irresponsible Journalist.
Here’s another one: The Lazy Reporter (Really? A conversation? You got paid for this?)
Mina and whatshisface’s argument is this: “Let’s take what is regarded as one of the most, if not THE most difficult performance arts and make it even harder. It is our right to control the stage because we are incapable of genuine fun and require the discomfort of others for something to be worth remembering.”
Oh, why don’t you both go heckle each other in the pants!? I don’t know what that means but do it where no one can hear your ugly moaning. You make my teeth hurt. Or better yet, jam a tampon down your throats so you’re the only ones who have to choke on your bullshit.
What a couple of cunts. Yes, you’re both bitches and assholes. Motherfuckers. Fatherfuckers. Get out of here!
I feel sorry for you both. I’ve been a complete asshole this whole time but for me it’s a temporary condition.
You’re stuck with it.
Hank Thompson, Comedian and defender of happiness.
Of course Louis CK says it and shows it way better than me.
Yet another website ascends to spend eternity in the great digital archive in the sky, a place filled with failed hopes, unrealistic expectations and poor execution. Nonetheless it’s a happy place, for when not basking in the warm web-ready light surrounding the throne of DOS, dead websites download delicious grapes, transfer images of soft comfortable clouds and play ping pong with jimi-hendrix.org.
Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me, 30 Days, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold) produces this series on Hulu in which we get a glimpse into the day in the life of an interesting person. In this episode he follows Marc Maron (Your iPod, My iPod).
For a comedy/podcasting geek like myself this is pure mana from athiest heaven.
I couldn’t help but notice the music and how effectively it is employed. Spurlock creates added layers of intensity and sensitivity with the choices he made. He could have gone with light-hearted fluff that simply moved the story along, or served only as bumpers to the commercials, but the tone here seems to fit perfectly the tone of the subject. It fits the story and somehow adds an element of time that goes beyond the aforementioned “Day.”
To me, it’s a good example of the function music can serve in a presentation such as this, or a short, or a film, or whatever. To state the obvious, music sets the tone. It’s a guide for the audience not just on when to feel but how– an unseen conductor facing the audience, chopstick rising, falling, pointing and swooshing, until the evening ends, and we finally get to go home and take our shoes off.
Comedian Louis CK did something called a reddit chat on something called reddit, which is one of those words you see all over the Internet but never click on. Well, I did because Louis CK, the current Dalai Prophet of comedy, who just released his latest hour special via his website (louisck.com), did a session answering questions from fans on reddit. You can read the exchanges here.
Then, for some reason, that nutty Asian outfit, NMA.TV, which makes those poorly but wonderfully animated news videos did a summary of the reddit chat. It’s worth a couple watch throughs.
Last night I had the honor of being the special out-of-town guest introducer of the 1-Year Anniversary Birthday show of SpeakEasy Comedy at Stanley’s Kitchen & Tap (Mondays, 8pm, $5). That means I was the guy who brought up the host, and without my pitch-perfect introduction the night might not have been the rousing success it was. Also, they had these cupcakes. Man, so round and delicious! Nom Nom Nom LOLz haha dawg.
Here are a couple pictures I took using an app on my phone called Pano. What it does should be obvious. Click on the picture, zoom in to full size and scroll side to side. It’s like you’re there!
That’s the night’s headliner, Adam Burke, on stage in the first one. And you might recognize the three people on the left who acted in my short film, as well as that fella on the right. In the second picture you get a decent angle on an uncanny painting of Adam, which the producers found collecting dust the first time they investigated the basement as a potential performance space. It’s not actually him. Yet it is.
It’s no small feat to keep a comedy show alive past the first three months, let alone the first year. The comedy highway is littered with the crumbling forgotten corpses of failed showcases, each a husk of wasted effort and unrealized dreams tearfully abandoned by its creator, the project and its attendant posters, handouts, unfilled raffles, tealight candles, booking schedules and facebook invites dumped roadside to rot in the shallow cold puddle which slowly dissolves the humiliating failure after explaining to an annoyed bar manager why no one showed up and that next week we’ll put even MORE fliers on the wall above the urinals. All too often, there is no next week, there are no more urinals. Flush.
But that isn’t the case here.
Due to the tireful work of producers Kenny DeForest, Jeff Steinbrunner, Jeannie Doogan, Saurin Choksi, John McBride, Derek Smith and John Ming, SpeakEasy Comedy is one of the best showcases in the city. They bust ass and the world is a laughier place. Performing on the show is a feather in the cap* of any local performer.
As one of these tortured chuckle-hunters it’s comforting to know audiences still turn out to support live comedy. We need their laughs more than they do and rooms like SpeakEasy provide a venue for it to be sought and found. An audience’s patronage is both earned and rewarded with quality and consistency, week after week, flush after flush.
Watch this, you ADD motherfucker depraved shit-eating comedians.
Bill Burr talked about this scene on a recent episode [direct link] of his podcast [site link]. For those that don’t know, Bill is a 20-plus year vet in stand up comedy. He would hate being called a legend in the making, which is why he is one. He’s a goddamn beast. If he ever reads this he’ll hate it. Fuck him. He’s wrong.
The more I’ve been exposed to Burr the quicker he’s risen to the top of of my list of most admired comics. The reason is simple: He makes me laugh. But more importantly, he makes me remember why. I’ve seen his last two specials and I’ve seen him live at Just For Laughs Chicago and what I like most about him is that he makes the audience keep pace with him, rather than slow down for the dumbest person to get caught up. He leads.
Anyway, listen to that episode of Bill’s podcast for his tribute to Jerry Lewis. In a style that would seem rambling if it weren’t so coherent Bill describes how he’s encountered Jerry Lewis at different points in his life, and it includes a breakdown of this scene. Even as a fan of Burr who worships the ground he beasts on, I hit play on that video thinking, “Alright, Bill. Whatever. Some old Jerry Lewis bullshit. Yadda yadda. I’ll watch it.”
I watched it. Bill Burr was fucking right. That scene is goddamn genius. It’s brilliant. It’s a lesson in timing. And rhythm. And in surprise. And in getting to the fucking point.
Some friends and I made a short film. It was our submission to the 1st Annual Pizza Film Festival in Chicago. Please watch:
It got a great reaction from the crowd of about 90. Or 200. I’m not sure. I’m bad at estimating crowd numbers. Let’s go with 87 and round that up to 90. Anyway, it got decent laughs throughout and a pretty hearty applause at the end. Although my decision to do forty-five seconds of credits on a four minute movie seemed to taint the ending, like a comedian who ends on a huge laugh, says, “Thank you. Goodnight.” and then walks offstage in ultra slow motion taking five minutes to get behind the curtain. But oh well.
The festival was a big success. Pizza didn’t have to be central to any of the films but each had to incorporate it somehow into the film. The creativity and variety of the entries was impressive. Lots of good films. Or shorts. Comic and writer Tia Ayers conceived and organized it and did a great job. She’s moving to LA and is planning to hold a west coast version of the festival.
Also, this kind of comedy is different from stand up in one important way. Well, lots of ways, actually. More than lots. But in one way I found interesting: After the film was finalized and submitted, there is a delay in feedback. You have to wait for it. Wait for it!
See, in stand up comedy, you get instant feedback. Instant. Immediate. Instantaneous. Immediately. Instantopalocalypse.
There’s no delay in finding out if what you’ve written and performed is worthwhile or not, or has a sliver of potential, or needs some mild tuning, or needs to go back in the rock tumbler for a few more months, or should be curbed and kicked into the gutter along with hundreds of other failed jokes to be eaten by a clown-faced Tim Curry with pointy teeth who loves the taste of unrealized humor and leaves and children from the 80s.
This is NOT cool, this waiting business. I’ve been taking the joys and oys of feedback for granted all this time. But when there’s a delay, for someone conditioned to expect an instant response, the waiting period can be excruciating. Not in a botched self-amputation sort of way, but in a when-will-I-get-my-sweet-sweet-validation sort of way.
Making a feature length film or writing a book– that could be months or years of waiting. I can only imagine the torturous ponderances of someone awaiting his rottentomatoes score or an author awaiting his friedgreentomatoes score, which is where I assume authors go to find out what assholes on the internet think about them.
I only had to wait a week and I was crawling out of my skin for people to see it. I showed it to a few friends and to the girlfriend. I even called up movie theaters and explained the plot to whomever answered the phone. Anyway, I learned to be grateful for the instant feedback you get doing stand up, good or bad. Stand ups have their crosses to bear but the instant feedback is something most creative forms of expression don’t receive.
Also, here’s the storyboard. Having never done a film before I didn’t want to be mistaken for an amateur so I sketched this up at the bar while Simmons filled me in on the concept, more as a brainstorm than anything. Looking at it now, I’m kinda surprised how similar it is to the final product. Click for larger a image.