Essay

Stand Up Teachers – or – The Conversations Comedians Have Been Telling Us to Have for Years

Excerpts of some of the best life lessons I've gotten from stand up comedians, including decades old warnings on toxic masculinity and gun violence.

I finished up work yesterday on another of my Trailer Reactions for PopLurker, and I open the piece referencing a Patton Oswalt stand-up bit that I love called Death Bed. It’s a great bit on this ridiculous horror movie that Oswalt is astonished somehow got made. It culminates with Oswalt’s amazement that someone actually pushed through all the hurdles and challenges of getting a movie made, and did so for Death Bed, but even more amazing is Oswalt wondering if the guy didn’t ever doubt himself and conquer those doubts.

It’s odd to say, but that bit inspires me with my writing: whatever doubts I have about my premises or work, the worst thing I can do is stop. It’s up to me to keep pushing. Death Bed reminds me of that. Since I was that kid whose parents let him watch Seinfeld and any other stand up specials from the age of 5, I’ve got a lot of these life lessons squirreled away that I learned from comedians, so here go some of my favorites:

Jerry Seinfeld – Male Idiot Super Hero Thinking

I’ve got very little to say about this, except that it’s completely true, but it does reveal something deeper in society that’s being discussed more, and needs to be discussed even more than it already is: how we raise our boys and train our men as a society and culture. It’s a funny thing to consider, but that is the subtle way men think about their role in “saving and protecting the day” but also in terms of their own power. Equality threatens that power and sense of role for some, and today’s society is clearly pushing on the pressure points that shouldn’t be pressure points to dangerous results. If nothing else, the punchline really hits.

Patton Oswalt – I Tell a Story About Birth Control and Deal with a Retarded Heckler

There are so many bits I could put here, even though I already used one in the opening. I’m going with this one, because it’s a transcendent look at Oswalt’s skill as a stand up comic, the art of stand up, and then a visceral insult so withering I save it only for my darkest moments of ire and spite. First of all, Oswalt has a joke set up interrupted by someone making an obnoxious noise in the audience, and it interrupts the tension and tone Oswalt had been building. He gives the guy some grief, then gets back to finishing the joke, but it clearly doesn’t land as well after the quiet intimacy Oswalt had been trying to set up gets broken. Oswalt reveals that, and reveals a deeper truth about stand ups: it’s ALL performance. They are fantastically practiced at making their jokes, set ups, tonal shifts and even seemingly arbitrary thoughts all seem completely natural, but they are totally planned and mapped out. Oswalt explains all this, and it’s a testament to a real artist’s skill at emotional navigation of an audience, but then his takedown of the guy at the end of the track- it’s soul shriveling.

Maria Bamford – Love Songs

A question first, I know in LA we have 103.5 KOST, Love Songs on the Coast, but does every city have this same show hosted by their own local breathy, lovely woman? That’s not the point, the point is that this couches very well into Bamford oeuvre. Bamford is legendarily frank about her challenges and struggles with depression and anxiety in her comedy, and I’m choosing this one because this bit juxtaposed with that honesty catches that long standing genius from High Fidelity: “Do I listen to pop music because I’m depressed, or am I depressed because I listen to pop music?” The point being: a lot of the things that hurt us are the plastic and false veneers that get “sold” to us. If you don’t believe me, check out the track she ends this special with, “Road Show” and get back to me.

Chris Rock – Crazy White Kids

This past week, Michael Ian Black had an incredible Op-Ed in the NY Times I recommend you give a read to. This particular entry is going to circle back on the idea I touched on above in the Jerry Seinfeld section, but it’s Rock’s foresight on this issue that’s so prescient: I was listening to this bit back in 1999, and we’re only now starting to really discuss this. Rock’s status as a legend is finally catching up to his insight that’s been on point for over two decades. Rock is right in this: not only are the perpetrators of mass shootings overwhelmingly male, but they’re also overwhelmingly white. There’s something that isn’t being discussed, something the conversation surrounding these incidents repeatedly ignores- instead choosing to cast these kids as “outcasts” and blame music, video games, or anything else.

George Carlin – Seven Words

George Carlin is a legend, and if my parents ever made any kind of mistake of ignorance in raising me, it was in letting me watch this on TV when I was 6. Carlin was a master, a legend. This bit will go down in history. However, it’s not just a funny bit about dirty words, there is so much happening in each phrase and moment as he goes through it: our culture’s double standards and situational context, violence versus smut, puritanical heritage and norms still present in a society of “free speech,” and a lot more. Comedy is a matter of surprise, contrasts, and juxtaposition, and just about every sentence Carlin says in this bit accomplishes that while holding up a mirror to our society.

I’m going to wrap it up here, but I will conclude with some honorable mentions for you that I considered adding: Hannibal Burress (Animal Furnace), Donald Glover (Weirdo), Cameron Esposito (Same Sex Symbol), and Michael Ian Black (Very Famous) among many others. If you’ve got comedians to recommend, leave them in the comments below and I’ll give a listen and let you know my thoughts!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s