I wrote this this morning but never posted it, but then I saw Judy’s post on it and figured what the heck - why not see if people want to read another thousand words on the topic?
I’m glad that Jesse David Fox loves criticism because I’m going to say that this is the stupidest thing I’ve read all day. (And I’ve read like four things today.)
Oh, well the part where he says,
No one really writes anything negative and long about stand-up, excluding things like people using their personal blog to shit on Dane Cook or something along those lines.
seems kind of stupid too. Or wait, does this count as writing something on my personal blog? I forgot that was not a valid form of criticism. (Hire me?)
The rest of the piece above it is pretty good — it clearly lays out that the rising role of comedy in culture and places it alongside all the other sort of serious things that are still fit for mass consumption. It also notes that comedians are not above reproach, and they’re not getting locked up for obscenity like some Lenny Bruce or something. Seriously - when UCB is the obscene (and obscenely cheap compared to college) feeder for Fancy TV Jobs, I think it’s time to give up the idea of comedians being as reviled as back alley abortionists. (Oh yeah, and this whole ‘war on women’ thing that comedians seem to implicitly support does the super-reverse-asshole thing of saying, “Look, women, you’re not the ones being put upon here, no. It’s actually comedians who are being persecuted. Come on, be real.)
Anyway, so, mediocre piece that makes some good points or at least lays out the reasoning behind taking comedy seriously. Then, as a big finish, he has to go and take it all away: a comedy club is not a temple/church/mosque and neither is a rock concert.
Comedians are literally the worst people at taking any form of criticism at all. (Well, they may be slightly behind @sportsguy33.) They’re especially terrible at taking criticism about ‘important’ things like racism or sexism. To go back to something I’ve talked about before, consider Jordan Jesse Go. As with virtually everything (if you’re not constantly interrogating your idols while giving your enemies further thought, then you’re not doing it right) I’ve gone up and down on the podcast. I listen to it still. I like it! But they clearly make racist sexist homophobic jokes all the time. Jesse does it because he went to theater high school (so gay jokes) and listens to rap music (racist jokes) and is a nice guy (sexist jokes). Jordan does it because he’s an asshole. When Merrill Markoe, a real professional comedian, was legit put off by Jordan’s stupid “Thai lady boys” joke, they were somehow surprised and offended. Whenever they get criticism on Twitter, they literally block it.
Surprise and offense. This is the near-universal approach to criticism I’ve observed (anec-data!) from listening to about 100000000 hours of comedy podcasts. I realize that the average comedian has enough self-doubt/loathing that s/he doesn’t need to hear it from other people except yes maybe they do. Like, no one cares that you lack confidence or feel like you’re not as successful as you feel you should be. Those common flashpoints of self doubt for you do nothing to open up yourself as a person and/or grow and/or be reasonably decent. Just because you’re your own biggest critic doesn’t mean your even criticizing the right things about yourself! You may actually be really funny (no worries) and a huge asshole (worry).
Comedians frequently see the comedy club and their act as sacred - why else would they have the confidence to do something as totally fucking insane as being a person who tells jokes in front of strangers? I get that. It’s nuts. But I don’t think it’s sacred, either. You should heckle? No. You shouldn’t heckle at a rock show, either. Oh yeah, and when you’re in a rock band and you do violence to your audience, nobody likes you for it. I don’t know why comedians think they should get away with that bullshit.
Saying that comedy is your own special snowflake form of the sacred is just as fucking stupid as any other dogmatism. It’s almost never a good idea to suggest that something is above reproach, “sacred”. I think some things are sacred (they’re I think for the most part ideas and not actions (almost necessarily, I think, if you think about it)).
I’m guessing that most comedians would think comedy is sacred in the same way how doing tons of drugs or having sex seem sacred (or at least transcendent). Which goes a long way toward explaining comedians’ fixation on, duh, doing tons of drugs and having sex - and then making jokes about drugs and jokes about sex and even jokes about rape. I assure you: there’s nothing sacred about any of that.
I like to end these little screeds with some positivity. I recently bought David Huntsberger’s comedy album, Humanitis, which is pretty funny. (I strongly disagree with his overall premise, but he makes some funny jokes.) At one point he drops the N-word (sorry Louis, I’m forcing you to think that word - I assure you, again, forcing someone to think a racial slur is better than getting called it - asshole). Anyway, yeah Huntsberger drops the N-word at one point, really for no reason because he could have used a different slur or word I think, and I was out walking around so I tweeted at him. I told him I liked his album so far but thought the N-word joke wasn’t great. He tweeted back at me (can’t find the actual post) something along the lines of “Sorry, it happens sometimes. I hope you can get past it.” That’s what you should do when someone calls you out on something! I think, at least. It was reasonable. He didn’t make a sarcastic remark about racial sensitivity. He just said sorry, acknowledged my thoughts, and hoped I’d like the rest of his set. And maybe if other people tell him a similar thing, or he has occasion to think about it, he’ll consider not using racial slurs in his set where’s it’s totally uncalled for. I don’t know. Seems reasonable. Not sacred. Just reasonable.