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Jeff Maurer's Blog About Comedy
Tuesday, 20 May 2008
Comedy Contests
Topic: The craft of comedy

Tonight is the DC Comedy Showcase finals at the DC Improv. I'm not going, but I wish everyone luck (a stupid and disingenuous thing to do, because they can't all win, right?). I'm in the Drafthouse Comedy Challenge tomorrow. Also tomorrow, I'll post my most recent podcast, which is about comedy contests (featuring some of the guys in tonight's Comedy Showcase). It's comedy contest season in DC.

I don't want to rehash too much stuff that I covered in the podcast, but I do want to hurry up and get some of my opinions about contests on the record before tomorrow night, at which point whatever I say could be perceived as sour grapes or gloating. So here we go:

I think that comedy contests are good for comedy but bad for comics. Contests are good for one reason and one reason only: they create shows that would not otherwise exist. For example, if the Drafthouse cancelled their comedy challenge, they wouldn't replace it with a comedy showcase; they'd replace it with a showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing.

Contests bring crowds. Contests encourage comics bring their friends – some contests are almost entirely bringer shows. People are intrigued by contests and like the competitive aspect - witness that virtually every popular reality show includes the competitive element. Practically anything that brings audiences to see comedy is good for comedy.

Okay, enough being positive: contests are terrible. They’re discouraging. They’re unfair. They’re stupid – what’s more subjective than comedy? No matter how well run – and some contests actually are well run – they’re still unbalanced and arbitrary. And here’s something that came out in the podcast that I hadn’t thought about much before: contests stoke the competitiveness between comics.

There’s already plenty of competition in comedy. It’s just the nature of the business, and I don’t think it can be gotten rid of. My generation of DC comedians tried very hard to avoid competitiveness between comics, which was a well-intended effort but, in hindsight, probably also a bit naive. The people in the most recent podcast, who are a bit younger than me, were big enough to admit to competitiveness, which I think is a positive step. As Bryson said, admitting to competitiveness is a bit like admitting to racist tendencies: it’s healthier to acknowledge it and manage it than to try to deny it.

Personally, I think I’m making progress in the way I approach contests. I’ve seen such stupid things happen in contests that it’s getting easier to actually convince myself that they don’t mean anything. In the past, when I’ve lost to shitty comics it’s eaten at me for weeks; this time, I’m just going into the contest with the knowledge that it’s extremely likely that something I view as completely unfair will happen (for the record, I don’t know whom I’m competing against tomorrow). Of course, it’s hard not to not care when money, opportunities, or prestige are on the line, so I’m not going to pretend that I don’t want to win. But, if – wait, when I lose, I honestly think that I’ll be more pissed off about the money than the competitive aspect. It’s greed, not ego. I think that counts as progress.

So, I think that we’re stuck with contests, and we’re also stuck with the competitiveness that they inspire. Probably the best thing to do is realize: 1) Contests are extremely random, so it probably doesn’t make much sense to let results affect your mentality too much one way or the other, 2) We don’t need to go through the charade of pretending that we don’t care about the outcome; we just need to try to keep our competitiveness from turning into vitriol.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 11:29 PM EDT
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Thursday, 8 May 2008
Ri Ra Ri-view
Topic: The craft of comedy

  Get it? "Ri" view! That's the best joke I've written in four months.

  Dr. Dremo's, the Arcade Fire of DC Comedy Venues (in that some people loved it and some people thought it was good, but overrated), died a few months ago. I was ambivalent about Dremo's, but I'll still miss it; half of the time, you got a good enough crowd that you could work out new material. That's a pretty high success rate for an open mic.

  Ri Ra is Dremo's descendant. It's on the same night (Wednesday), it's in the same part of town (Wilson Boulevard in Arlington), and it's a Shackelford show. I was at the first show last night. My impression: generally positive. 

 

  First the good:

- There were people there. Actually more people than the room could fit (by the middle of the show). The attendance pattern actually closely mirrored Dremo's - a few groups of people at tables to start, then no-necked dudes with beers filtering in near the middle of the show. Granted, first show attendance at an open mic can be misleading, but it was a good sign.

- The show has it's own room. The setup is a bit like Rendezvous - it's a room upstairs from the bar. In my opinion, this is a necessary condition for an open mic - I don't want bar wenches and frat guys talking over my set.

- The room isn't too big. I always hated the first three slots at Dremo's because the room hadn't filled up yet and was just too damn big. This room is a bit smaller than Topaz.

- The sound system was fine. No cracking, no buzzing, right volume. It's a Shackelford show - you know the drill: Johnny Bravo amp, small stage, fake brick backdrop, sandwich board out front. Curt has these shows down to a science, and they work.  

- Polite wait staff. The servers who were bringing up food were unobtrusive. Amazingly, not every server realizes that this is important at a comedy show.

- The crowd laughed. They were there for comedy.

 

  Now the bad:

- Some noise was drifting up from the bar below. If you were standing on the side of the room near the stairs, it was a bit tough to maintain focus. Once the room was completely full, they shut the door at the bottom of the stairs, which made a big difference.

-  The crowd was just a bit of a bar crowd. Not stupid, but very dependant on dirty words and punchlines. Very much like Dremo's used to be. If you had a subtle joke or something with a long setup, you were probably in the wrong place. 

-  Given the number of people who ultimately showed up, the room may have actually been a bit too small. Curt says he's hoping to move the show downstairs eventually; I don't really know about that. I'd rather have a small, quiet room than a big, noisy one. Anyone remember that one show at Tryst? I think that may be what we're looking at if the show moves downstairs.

 

  So, on the whole: good show. We'll see if it continues. I hope so, because with Dremo's dead and Rendezvous in a coma, Wiseacres is the only Wednesday show in DC. The Wednesday Wiseacres show has been overrun by about 25 comics the last few times that I've been there. We need another Wednesday show to releive the pressure. 


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 6:16 PM EDT
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Thursday, 1 May 2008
Yo You Suck You Fucking Faggot LOL
Topic: Arguably funny stuff

  If you've ever worked in customer service - and I did for six years through high school and college - then you probably suspect that most people are boiling cauldrons of rage, with social conventions being the loosely-placed lid keeping the vitriol from boiling over the top. People are angry; they are insecure. If you've worked as a waiter, or a clerk, or pizza delivery guy, or anything in the service industry, then you've been the victim of someone's misplaced anger. They can't yell at their boss, or their spouse, or their parents, or God, but they can sure as hell take you to task for bringing their hot wings without any goddamned ranch dressing. What is this, Afghanistan? I hope you weren't expecting a tip, dollface.

  If you've ever doubted just how angry and vindictive many people are, doubt no longer; internet message boards have drawn back the curtain. The internet is the wild west of human interaction - there are no laws, and justice is rare. When people interact face to face, most people are afraid to be assholes. Society frowns on it, and you just might get your ass kicked. But when societal and survival considerations are removed - when you're safe in the anonymous darkness of your Mom's basement, wearing only underwear and a single sock - there's nothing to keep all the anger and rage from spilling out. 

  Every exchange on every message board on the internet is roughly the same. The topic of the initial thread barely matters - the same arguments and the same assholery always comes to the front. For example, the comments below are in response to a brownie recipe posted on foodtv.com:

 

aceofknaves: First!

gourmandini: too chewy

megwiggle: first!

drandi29: Fuck you you fucking faggot thes brownies suck!!!! they tatse like my shit!!!!

reese_piece: gourmandi what would you know you fucking dago cunt. I'd like to rip out your eyes and piss in the sockets   LOL

aceofknaves: Hey megwiggle, do you know how to count? Sorry to sound pedantic, but...

Kosovi_is_Serbia: hey drandi29 do you eat your own shit?

ryguy: nice.

m1k3: ooooooooooooooooooohhh, aceofknaves."pedantic". you harvard assholes think there so smark

justiceispeace: This is about the level of conversation I would expect from a country that commits genocide against prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Athens created art while Spara prepared for war, which is why you Americans and your paternalistic, militaristic culture will never truly appreciate the dimensions and nuances of fine food. Enjoy your hot dogs!

aceofknaves: At least I can spell.

m1k3: spell cocksucker you fucking bitch LOL

thedrumroll: I don't know why your so concerned with protecting the terrorists justicispeace. I know you got used to surrender during WWII but if we surrender now in Iraq then the terrorists will be in control. Hillary and Ombama want to tuck our tail between our legs and run home but we need to have someone with some BALLS in the White House to keep the world safe. I served in the Marine Corps for 20 years justiceispeace and I'll take your apology that you don't speak German right now.

bakken: first!

funbundle: (sigh)

hotchocolate18: do you eat your own shit drandi?!?!

aceofknaves: m1k3 I'd respond but I doubt you'd understand...

justiceispeace:  Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Vietnam, East Timor, Falkland Islands, El Salvador, Rwanda, Kuwait, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq...when will you Americans lean that WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER!

a_TOM_explosion: yo check out my band son we be rockin Cin City and all points north south east and west come check us on myspace: www.myspace.com/atomexplosion

 

 

 

That was made up. But still. 


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 12:01 AM EDT
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Monday, 21 April 2008
The Tyrrany of the Majority
Topic: The craft of comedy

**This blog was written as a guest blog for DC Comedy 4 Now** 

 

Andy Kline recently wrote an excellent blog about “genre shows” – shows that play to a specific comedy niche. I recommend that you read the whole blog, but, basically, his point is this: genre shows hurt comedy because they allow comedians to hide from challenges.

Andy’s complains about genre shows are dead on. Most genre shows are obnoxious. They’re first and foremost about reinforcing the audience’s identity. Moving merchandise is the second priority, and launching terrible movies is the third; providing good comedy is maybe seventh or eighth on the priorities list. And genre shows are only part of the problem – more and more these days, comedians are selling themselves as genre comedians. Think of some of the comedians who have gotten really big in recent years: one is the redneck guy, one is the frat guy, and one is the Mexican guy. The fact that you don’t need their names to know who I’m talking about just goes to show how much their identities overshadow their comedy. 

But the self-segregation of comedy is only part of the story. Andy calls out genre shows, then discusses how comedians used to challenge themselves by “crossing over” – playing rooms that draw different types of audiences. He’d like to see more of that nowadays. That’s where he and I differ. I don’t like genre shows, but I’m also not eager to return to an era in which comedians are obsessed with crossing over.

Here’s what I think of when I think of crossing over. A few years ago, I was emceeing in a Def Jam-type room. Please note: “Def Jam” is not a euphemism for “black.” “Def Jam” is a euphemism for “combative.” To explain this to non-comedians: black crowds are like white crowds; they come to a show to see comedy, and they give bonus points for comedy they find relatable. Def-Jam crowds, however, aren’t there for comedy at all: they’re there to judge the comedians. They use the first 30 seconds of your set to decide whether they love you or hate you, and they use the remainder of your set to either cheer you like a war hero or boo you mercilessly. I got booed all week. After one particularly rough set, I brought up a guest act. I had met the guest act briefly before the show; he was a non-descript white guy from California wearing a baseball hat. But that wasn’t the comedian who came to the stage; the comedian I brought on stage was a strutting, swaggering jack-ass wearing a backwards baseball hat and speaking with what I call the “MTV accent.” His first joke was about how bad I was. His second and third jokes were about whitey. From there, he did some of the hackiest, dirtiest crowd-work I’ve ever seen, culminating with this line: “I’ll be black women’s pussy taste like fried chicken!” He was a god – the crowd absolutely loved him. He had successfully crossed over.

In comedy, this man will judge you. 

Now, I’m positive that Andy isn’t advocating this type of comedy when he encourages comedians to cross over. That story is an extreme example. And Andy isn’t encouraging comics to play different rooms so that they can pander to the audience; he’s encouraging comedians to challenge the audience. But I think an implicit part of Andy’s argument is that crossing over makes you a better comic because you’re forced to learn the tastes and preferences of different audiences – you learn to adjust. And that’s all fine, but I think that this also needs to be said: there have to be limits on how much a comedian changes him or herself to please the audience.

As many comedians have noted, comedy mixes styles and genres more than any other form of entertainment. Most comedy shows are advertised only as “comedy” – no other form of entertainment does this. You’ll never see a Cineplex marquee that just says “Movie!” No concert has ever featured four unnamed musical acts that turn out to be a metal band, a rap group, an opera singer, and a country jamboree. But this type of thing happens all the time in comedy. The range of tastes that comedians are expected to satisfy is already ridiculously broad.

It isn’t good for comedy when incredible breadth is a prerequisite for success. We had that atmosphere once, back in the 1980’s. Back then (and, obviously, I’m relying on the recollections of people who were actually there), there was only one way to make it: you got on The Tonight Show, and if Johnny waved you over to the couch after your set, you were in. Of course, The Tonight Show – even then – featured very broad humor; remember, it was the only game in town for the entire country at 11:30. So, basically, you either wrote jokes that appealed to everyone in the country – including 14-year-old boys, 60-year-old widows, soccer moms, drug addicts, and everyone in between – or you didn’t make it. Period. That’s unbelievably constrictive.

To be fair, that era produced some truly great comics. But it also produced a remarkable number of hacks. Remember all the guys in sweaters doing observational humor on Evening at the Improv – the comics Jerry Seinfeld made fun of on SNL’s Stand Up and Win sketch? Those were all guys who were trying to get on The Tonight Show. When comics try too hard to be all things to all people, comedy gets limited to the five topics to which everyone can relate: TV, work, dogs, relationships, and air travel. It’s pretty bleak.

 


What's the deal with this thing? Do we really need this much Mountain Dew?

But the hacks don’t bother me as much as the true tragedy of the 1980’s system: all the great comics who didn’t make it. The system back then put so much emphasis on breadth that there wasn’t much room left for comics with a great deal of appeal to a narrow segment of the audience. When I ask myself whether a lot of my favorite comedians – such as Paul F. Tompkins, Eddie Izzard, and Todd Barry – would have made it during the 1980s, the answer is probably “no.” They just aren’t broad enough. If the Balkanization of comedy is bad because it rewards jokes that aren’t funny, then the homogenization of comedy is bad because it punishes jokes that are funny.

That’s not only unfair to the comedians – it’s also unfair to the audience. Putting aside your opinion of Kat Williams for a minute, ask yourself: who was the Kat Williams of the 1980’s? I don’t think there was one. Or, more accurately, there probably was one, but we never heard of him because he wasn’t broad enough to make it on The Tonight Show. There is obviously a market for Kat Williams’ humor; it just happens to be a deep, narrow market instead of a broad, shallow one.

The Maria Bamford of the 1980s. 

Of course, Andy and I aren’t actually very far apart on this issue. I don’t think that Andy is arguing for homogenization; I think that he wants comics to challenge themselves, and he’s also reacting to the arrogant “I’m above the audience” attitude that some comics adopt. And I agree with both points. Comedians should challenge themselves - anyone can make their friends laugh, but comedians are supposed to be able to make strangers laugh. And a comedian should always go onstage with the goal of making the audience laugh; if you want to create high art, go write a symphony. Comedy is entertainment.

What I’m advocating is essentially a balance. Comedians should challenge themselves by trying to make different types of crowds laugh, but they should stay within the parameters of their actual personality and taste. And I’m okay with genre shows, but only if the comics use the opportunities those shows provide to produce quality comedy instead of pandering crap.

Andy ends his blog with a music analogy: Nirvana, he says, made great music because they weren’t afraid to challenge their audience. He’s right, but there’s more to the story. Nirvana became Nirvana because they didn’t care about cultivating broad appeal. Seattle in the late ‘80s was a second city without a lot of “industry” floating around (sound familiar?). There was no hope of making it, so there was also no point in making the type of music that was likely to get you a record deal. So they made the type of music that they liked, and it’s a good thing, too: Kurt Cobain probably wouldn’t have been any good at teasing his hair and playing virtuoso guitar solos. There was a segment of the population that was never going to like them, and they were fine with that. Which is something that comedians should always keep in mind: after all, during the best set of your life, 20 percent of the audience hated you. In comedy, you can’t please all the people all the time. So, fuck it: don’t try.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 12:01 AM EDT
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Monday, 11 June 2007
I'm Calling Bullshit on the Sopranos
Topic: TV

Last night's unorthodox and cofusing ending to The Sopranos is a perfect time to talk about pretention in art.


  Basically, what needs to be said is this: there is a lot of pretentious bullshit involved in art. People often pretend to appreciate art in order to make themselves out as smarter than other people. That's why there's so much pretending to "get" stuff in the art world.


  Quick story: I actually began college as an art major. In one class, we had to produce one piece of art each week based on a selected reading. On Friday, the class would get together and critique each others' art. The was an extraordinary amount of bullshit involved in these sessions. People would describe the deep symbolism embedded in their shitty paintings, talk about how their work reflected societal trends, and gratuitously throw around words like "composition," "visceral," and "juxtapose." One girl (her name was Willow - that's the type of crowd we're dealing with) actually executed a feat that rates a perfect 10.0 on the Bullshit Scale of Difficulty by speaking for five minutes about an almost entirely blank canvas that should have been entitled "I Woke Up This Morning and Suddenly Realized This Was Due, So I Crapped This Out."


  At the time, I was working part time at a day care. The kids spent a lot of time finger painting, and they would often give me the paintings they made. One week, I decided to take one of the paintings that a three-year-old had given me into class (in addition to the actual, real painting that I had made for that week). I presented the finger-painting just as I would any other painting, describing how the red represented rage, and the yellow represented hope, and blah, blah, blah, wank, wank, wank. And absoultely nobody called me on my bullshit. I got a full participation grade for that day of class. Presumably, everyone was too afraid to admit that they didn't get it.


  And now, people are too afraid to admit that they don't get the ending of The Sopranos. And no matter what you think, you don't get it. Does the blackout mean that Tony was killed? That's what I thought. But Tom Shales of the Washington Post seems to think that it means that the family continued living, same as always. Some people think it means that the whole family was gunned down. But, basically, we'll never know, because we weren't given any information. So one person's guess is as good as any others, and anyone claiming to "get" it is completely full of shit.


  Of course, that's not stopping people from pretending to get it. Here are some comments from a New York Times message board:

What's great about this ending is the calm narcissism with which this nuclear family goes off to eat onion rings after some of their closest friends have been murdered. Sort of the Discreet Charm of the Anti-bourgeoise. Anybody have a thought on the fifties getups on Tony and Carmella in the final scene?

I had to watch it twice on TIVO to get it. Good for David Chase...he had his cake and ate it, too. Bravo.

  **Note - I like how this asshole proclaims that he gets it, but then decides not to share what "it" is. Thanks, dickhead; I guess we'll all just try extra-hard to understand that which is obvious to you.**

A great ending. The mood of foreboding shows us the peril Tony lives with every day, and the unresolved conclusion could as easily mean that his life ends abruptly as that his life goes on. But as A.J. reminds Tony, Tony once told him that you just have to focus on the good things in life. That's what Tony was doing at dinner with his family. That's all that any of us, no matter how perilous our situation, can do.

I personally think that the ending was far from a joke on the viewers. The ambiguity allows each of us to make what we want of the ending. Some folks have delved into going back through the diner to look for clues to what happened after Tony looked up - that one of the FBI guys was in the diner or some such. If that's what they want to make of the ending, good for them. Another possibility: the mob in the US, one of the most storied periods in our history, ultimately just faded away, just like Junior and just like the show. Or: the show was really about how a mobster dealt with the problems of everyday life, so the show ended with just a scene as everyday as possible. It's up to you, people, to make it an awesome ending. If you're disappointed, you have only yourself to blame. The canvas is there.

  These comments have the distinctive markings of artsy bullshit: proclamations of genius, liberal use of "art words," intense focus on themes, parallels, messages, and other elements of storytelling that often enhance a story but do not, in themselves, make for a good story. My favorite comments was by the guy who encourages us to imagine our own ending. Great suggestion, Dipshit! Actually, I'm going to take it one step further and imagine an additional four seasons of the show! I'm also going to imagine an additional five Nirvana albums - it'll be like Kurt Cobain never died! Wow, it's so nice not having to wait around for people to actually produce art or entertainment that communicates something to the audience! Maybe I'll try that at my next show: "A guy walks into a bar, and...well, I don't want to lock your imagination in a thought-prison, so you just imagine the rest."


  Actually, I may be one of the few people who actually does get the ending of The Sopranos. For years, I've become frustrated with all of the loose ends and unexplained symbolism in the show (what did the ducks have to do with anything?...and the bear, which supposedly didn't actually exist?...and was Tony actually in pergatory after he was shot?...and what about all the dreams?...and what ever happened to that Russian dude from the episode in the forest?) and have wondered if these were meaningful elements whose meaning would be ultimately - and dramatically - revealed, or is David Chase just a pretentious asshole who likes jerking his audience around? Well, this last episode provided a definitive answer: the purpose of the blackout was to symbolize, beyond any reasonable doubt, that David Chase is a pretentious asshole who likes jerking his audience around.


  For those who would argue with me, I ask this: what, then, did it mean? Are you sure that you get it? Did you notice that all of the commenters I quoted above who claim to get it actually "got" different things? Isn't that evidence that, if David Chase did have something he wanted to communicate, he completely failed? And if you argue that the show doesn't need an ending, I'm calling bullshit on that, too. David Chase has talked in interviews about how he enjoys plot lines that go nowhere, and events that ultimately don't mean anything, because that's the way things happen in real life. Well, guess what, asshole: storytelling isn't supposed to be a perfect reflection of real life. It's supposed to be a story. Nobody wants to watch a perfect reflection of real life, which is why we watch compelling shows about mobsters who kill people. You know why Casablanca didn't have fifty sideplots about Rick's early life, and the time in high school when his football team went 6-4, and the time he thought he lost that pair of shoes that he really liked but then found them underneath his coat, and that time when he had a dream where his hands were made of pudding? It's because nobody gives a shit about any of that. It's not entertaining. By writing a story or making a TV show, you're saying: "This is a series of events that are worthy of your attention." And that's doubly true when you pepper your story with teasers and hints and confusing elements with purported deep meanings.


  I'm not arguing for complete gratification (which, for me, would have been Tony getting killed or busted). The "Tony never pays for his sins" angle would have been a justifiable and interesting ending. But you do need an ending. And, if the symbols and surrealism had any meaning whatsoever, you should give us a fighting chance at understanding them before you end the show.


  But, I think we can draw a clear conclusion: none of it meant anything. It was all bullshit. It was weird, and intriguing, but ultimately meaningless. The Sopranos was a good show with great characters, several outstanding stand-alone episodes, memorable venues, and - perhaps most importantly - the best chance for 14-year-old boys without internet access to see boobs. But the symbolism and mystery and other elements that allowed it to stake a claim to genius were - as so often happens with art - just bullshit.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 12:08 PM EDT
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Monday, 11 December 2006
KFC Classic Bowls
Topic: The craft of comedy

  I had a joke-in-progress about the KFC Classic Bowls. I'e done it two or three times, and it still needed major changes, but I was determined to make it work. Then, last night on Comedy Central's Last Laugh, Patton Oswalt did a joke (a good one - pretty much all of his jokes are good) about KFC Classic Bowls that was basically the same premise as mine. Strangely, we even both mentioned loading the ingredients into a gun and shooting them into somebody's mouth. So, to make a long story short: that joke is gone. I've already done it on stage, so if I wanted to be stubborn I could argue that I did it first, but I don't see the point. That's his joke now.


  The moral of this story is this: this happens all the time. When I started doing comedy, I had no idea this would happen so often, but it happens a lot. So, new comedians should be aware: you will unknowingly make the same observation as somebody else. It will happen more than once. When it happens, try to determine to whom the joke belongs, and maybe whether the jokes are different enough to coexist, and maybe you can come to some sort of agreement with the other person. But a lot of the time, you will just have to throw the joke away. It sucks, but get used to it.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 12:10 PM EST
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Tuesday, 5 December 2006
No More Glasses
Topic: The craft of comedy

            I've decided to stop wearing glasses while I do standup. I've been thinking about this for a while, and I finally decided to change because I think that audiences are making assumptions about me before I even start.

            On the one hand, I feel bad that I'm letting the audience change me. On the other hand, I don't wear glasses very often outside of standup. I'm nearsighted, and my vision isn't really that bad, so I really only wear glasses when I'm driving at night or when I'm doing something that requires distance vision, like seeing a movie. Because I drove to my first couple shows, I was wearing them, and when I showed up at later shows without them, nobody recognized me. So, I continued to always wear them for comedy, even though I rarely wear them in real life. I don't really think of this change as something akin to changing the way I dress or speaking in an affected accent; I'm actually changing myself to be slightly more like the way that I am in real life. It's a stupid thing to have to do, but I also feel like some audience members are judging me for the wrong reasons, and I want to take one of those factors out of play. Anyone ignorant enough to judge me by my appearance isn't someone I want as a fan, but I would like those people to laugh just enough so as to make the show enjoyable for people who might actually like me.

            I am making another change: I am incorporating a puppet into my act. Some people will say this is too edgy, but I'm all about breaking convention. The puppet's name is Ching Ding Dong, and we are going to be doing some hilarious ethnic humor about the Chinese or Japanese (I haven't yet decided which one Ching Ding is going to be). I don't consider this to be pandering to the audience, because people who know me know that I frequently walk around having zany conversations with a sass-talking puppet in real life.

            While I'm at it, I should probably mention this: the puppet does magic. After a little funny back-and-forth with a "pretty bronde rady" in the front row, Ching Ding will ask for the lady's jacket. Ching Ding will place the jacket under a silk handkerchief (I'm really leaning towards Chinese right now) chant an ancient Chinese voodoo spell, and…ARACAZAM! The jacket has been replaced with a spring roll! Then, while the lady is sitting there, completely stunned, I tell her to look under her seat, and – to her amazement – there's her jacket…pressed and dry-cleaned! Then, just before the laughter reaches fever pitch, Ching Ding will say "You give me your dog I make that disappear, too!" Huge laugh, standing O, applause, underwear thrown on stage, I hold up my CD, exit.

            So, if you catch me, perhaps on the Original Queens of Comedy Tour (on which I was recently booked), without my glasses, performing racist humor with a magic puppet, please don't think that I've sold out. I'm just letting the audience get to know my real self.



  The glasses part is real. I'm going to try it for a while and see how it goes.

Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 12:11 PM EST
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Tuesday, 28 November 2006
Lookwell
Topic: TV
  Lookwell is a very funny show created by Conan O'Brien and Robert Smigel in 1991. It stars TV's Batman, Adam West. It is original and hilarious, but the pilot is the only episode because NBC declined to pick it up. I wrote a whole blog about how unfair it is that stuff like this gets cancelled while complete crap goes on to overwhelming success, but MySpace dumped it, so you just get the link, which is far more entertaining than the shit I wrote anyway.

Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 12:12 PM EST
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Tuesday, 21 November 2006
Michael Richards
Topic: The craft of comedy

  If you aren't up to speed on the whole Michael Richards racist tirade, watch this clip. There's also this weird, disjointed sort-of apology on Letterman, which certainly lends credence to the whole "I'm a disoriented old man and I don't know what I'm saying" defense.


  Before I address this topic, let me state my prejudices: I am biased against TV has-beens trying to make a career in standup. And I'm not the only one: Justin Schlegel recently talked about this on his video blog. He also talks about hecklers on that blog, so that's sort of a two-for-one topical link there.


  Here are my thoughts on this, in no particular order:
 
- I hope we're at the point in society where we don't have to debate whether or not what he did was okay.


- Non-comics should realize that this tirade - absent the racism - is not at all unusual. This kind of exchange between a comedian and some drunk audience member happens all the time (though it's usually less intense, and, again, the racism is unique). The Billy Burr tirade is my personal favorite. Not only is yelling at an audience member somewhat common, I also completely endorse it, provided the audience member deserved it. Talking can ruin a show, and sometimes the only way to get someone to shut up is to call them out and embarrass them.


- People talking during your set is incredibly infuriating. I can understand why he was upset, even if I don't endorse what he did. I can't imagine why someone would be so rude, so thoughtless, so fucking ignorant that they would actually talk at a full voice during your set and ruin the show for everyone else (and if you're not convinced that talking ruins a show, go to one some time. It definitely does.). If you don't like the show, JUST FUCKING LEAVE. I've had people walk out during my set, and I consider that completely acceptable. If you're not enjoying me, then I'm sorry it wasn't a match, and you're under no obligation to stick around and watch me suck. But you don't need to ruin the show for me and everyone else, asshole.


- A few people were laughing at the beginning of the rant. This proves two things: 1) Some people are complete fucking morons and have no idea what's a joke and what's not, and 2) Having a TV credit or being recognizable in some way means that people will laugh at you no matter what you say. This is apparently true even if you're using vicious racist slurs.


- The audience member(s) responded by calling Richards a cracker and a white-boy. Granted, they're just retaliating to what Richards started, but we should recognize that that's not okay either.


- The rules for what's acceptable on-stage are different from the rules of what's acceptable in real life, and I think that's what made Richards think he could get away with what he did. In his pseudo-apology, Richards mentions being "edgy" and "pushing the envelope," which isn't surprising; comics frequently confuse "edgy" (which I think refers to something that makes an original statement and may offend people) with "offensive" (which I think refers to something that requires no originality and is intended to offend people). The desire to be edgy is why you so often hear shitty comics say blatantly racist, homophobic, or misogynistic things - and usually get away with it. The fact that people were offended by this demonstrates that what Richards did was remarkably racist.


- I'm pretty sure that, during the most offensive part of the clip - the part when he's pointing and yelling "He's a nigger! He's a nigger!" - Richards was trying to speak in someone else's voice. I think he was trying to do an act-out to compliment that brilliant "hanging upside down with a fork up your ass" jewel that he threw out there. Maybe this is a new "what they did to black hecklers 50-years ago" character that he's workshopping. A bit conceptual for my tastes, but I think that's what he was after. Though that doesn't make it okay, I do think that changes things a bit.


- The use of the "n-word" should not, by itself, be considered racist. Context matters. For example, look at the way I used it in the previous bullet: I'm quoting somebody. I'm not using it against someone or endorsing it in any way. Some people have adopted the mentality that it's some magical, taboo word whose very utterance has demonic powers and must never be said - at least by white people. That's ridiculous; it's just a word. A very hateful word, true, but still just a word, and it matters very much how it is used. I mention this because it seems incredibly stupid and childish to have to say "n-word" when it's being referenced in a context that no sane person would interpret as racist. Still, people should never test the limits of acceptable use.


- Even if we give Richards the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was speaking as a character during the worst part of the tirade, it was still racist for this reason: he brought race into it. That, in my mind, is one of the most racist things that a person can do: inject race into an issue where it doesn't belong.


- He wasn't funny.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 12:13 PM EST
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Thursday, 14 September 2006
What if Arnold Schwarzenegger Attended a Web Conference in Atlanta?
Topic: Arguably funny stuff

      Danny Rouhier has decided to get rid of his Arnold Schwarzenegger joke. Danny, I support your decision. I hope my fellow comedians will join me in recognizing the tough decision that Danny had to make; it's extremely difficult to ditch a joke that works (and that joke does work). But he's doing the right thing based on principal.

 

      I think that most non-comics don't realize how much duplication, repetition, and outright stealing there is in comedy. Hack comics are parasites; they ruin good comics' bits and build their reputations on lame, derivative, or blatantly stolen material. They often get away with it, too, because most audience members don't go to four shows a week or have a memory filled with old Richard Prior bits and Stand-up Stand-up episodes, as most comics do. So when the average audience member hears the "I said 'it's not the pants that make you look fat, it's the fat that makes you look fat'" joke, they're hearing it for the first time.

 

      Anything hack usually starts out as a good bit. There's a reason why these jokes get used so much; there's always something inherently funny about them. For example, when Cheech and Chong started talking about the weird things people do when they're high, it was new, interesting, and funny. That was 1978. Twenty-eight years later, I've heard every possible iteration of the "…then I did this goofy thing because I was high…" premise at least seventy times. Thus, hack comics have razed the crops and salted the earth on that topic.

 

The Arnold Schwarzenegger impression is one of the things hacks have ruined. Pretty much any impression you see on Saturday Night Live becomes a hack premise overnight; have you ever seen anyone do an impression of George H. W. Bush who wasn't actually doing an impression of Dana Carvey doing an impression of George H. W. Bush? It's a thousand times easier to do an impression once you've seen someone else do that impression.

 

Danny is unlucky that one of his strengths is a strength so easily bastardized by crappy comics. But this is a reality of comedy: sometimes you have to give up duplicative bits. It happens to everyone. You don't have to be a thief to be duplicative; comics come up with similar jokes with surprising regularity. Personally, I've had about 20 jokes ruined by Onion articles, and had one joke (the occasionally-used "misuse of touché" joke) ruined by a Macintosh add. My "gay friend" joke might be too close to a Mike Birbiglia joke that I've never heard before; I still need to get a ruling on that one. Those jokes are gone. It sucks, but they're gone and I have to accept it. It's just part of being a comic.

 

My point is this: if you're a new comic and you have a hack joke, it's best to give it up. This is especially true if you're a comic (like Danny) who is capable of writing other, better material. It will hurt, partly because you'll have one less reliable joke in your set and partly because you'll lose comedy contests to people doing ripped-off Brian Regan bits, but good comedians will respect you for it.

 

I am at a conference in Atlanta this week. In honor of Danny, I am writing my account of that trip in his writing style.

 

Holla, b*tches…

 

I will soon return to DC from Atlanta, which will be a cause for much mirth on my part. I have much to share.

When traveling to Atlanta, the following things will happen to you:

 

1. The Federal Government of America will hook you up with a new laptop immediately before you go…tightness. This laptop will have a wireless card that allows you to access the internet.com from almost anywhere, allowing you to post this blog in the middle of your conference. As long as GPO employee Jon Mumma reads this blog, this is technically a government function.

 

2. As is the tradition at these conferences, you will experience hotel problems. You will be booked into a hotel one mile away from the conference center in spite of the fact that there are several hotels right by the conference center. This hotel will be chosen in spite of the fact that it has a sh*tty workout room and intermittent air conditioning (intermittent air conditioning + Atlanta = sweaty, unhappy dude at a conference). There will be arrangements for a shuttle between the hotel and the conference center, but this shuttle will be only a myth (P.S. it will rain like a b-oytch three of the four days you are there). 

 

3.  Upon getting off the subway (the Atlantans have named it MARTA), you will ask a random dude for directions to your hotel. The random dude will be very friendly…extremely friendly…incredibly friendly. He will walk with you outside of the station until you can see your hotel. You will be very grateful. The man will then ask you if you'd like to have a drink, at which point you will suddenly add everything up in your head. You will politely decline, at which point the man will leave, grateful that you didn't try to beat him to death with a stick. You will decide that this encounter is, on the balance, a compliment, though you will only wear t-shirts with pictures of monster trucks and metal bands for the next few days in an attempt to avoid coming off gay.

 

4. Atlanta will remind you of Baltimore in that there are very few places to eat downtown. The only thing near your hotel will be a Hooters. You will realize that Hooters are all built with enormous windows so that you can see the afore-mentioned Hooters inside from the street. You will think that maybe eating at a Hooters could be the linchpin of the not-coming-off-gay initiative, but ultimately decide that you don't feel like explaining that credit card charge to your wife. Upon making that decision, a random passerby will read your thoughts and make the "wha-CHII" whip-crack sound.

 

5. You will realize that being a Hooters girl must be extremely depressing, as your job is essentially to flirt with random dudes for tips. You will then realize that Hooters girls probably make about three times what you make. This will make you wonder whether Hooters could be sued for discrimination if they refused to hire a dude. At this point, you will realize that your current train of thought is inconsistent with your not-coming-off-gay initiative and move on.

 

6. Upon arriving, you will receive a conference packet that includes a brochure entitled "50 Fun Things to do in Atlanta." Thing number 1 is masturbate. Things 2 through 20 are board games. Thing number 30 is a tour called "The Gone With the Wind Experience," which you will think sounds interesting. At this point, you will realize that your not-coming-off-gay initiative has bounded violently off the rails.

 

7. The hotel maids and fast food employees in Atlanta will be native English speakers. All of these people are counted as "fully employed" by economics statistics, thus once again demonstrating the shortcomings of those statistics. You will realize that this situation indicates that the economy in Atlanta leaves something to be desired.

 

8. You will see the Georgia Dome from the outside for the first time and immediately christen it the Ugliest Structure Built in the Last Twenty Years. It was built in the 1990s, and yet it is pink and teel. The facing on the outside looks like the corrugated metal that you use for the roof of a garden shed, only pink. Altogether, the entire building looks like a cross between my grandparents' living room, a circus tent, and an above ground pool. 

Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 12:31 PM EDT
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