Saturday, September 15, 2007

Your Crying Is a Well-Known Sound

There’s something you need to know about comedians. Many of them are fucked-up in the head. Not me, of course, but a lot of the others. If they’re not already fucked-up when they start comedy, the grind of constant failure and rejection interspersed with dim mirages of hope can really take its toll on a person’s psyche. The majority of comedians I know are a strange mix of narcissism and insecurity - two qualities that seem to be at odds with one another. What this combination usually amounts to is a person who has a grossly unjustified sense of self-importance, along with a constant state of mild paranoia. It can be entertaining if they actually have some talent, but for the unfunny ones, it all just ads up to insane. Here’s an example. Remember when that Michael Richards video hit the internet? Everyone was outraged, but not all for the same reasons. I’d bet money there was at least one misguided comic sitting at home, screaming:

“That motherfucker stole my bit! I’m the white guy who says nigger on stage. That whole hanging-upside-down-with-a-fork-in-your-ass thing – THAT’S MINE! I wrote that after I saw Soul Plane. Where in the hell did Michael Richards see me perform?”

Then, this comic - we’ll call him Rodd Roady - spent the next three minutes unraveling the mystery. He probably concluded, with total sincerity, that Kramer was sitting in the back of the Chortle Portal in Racebait, Iowa last summer while Rodd was opening for a veteran puppet act (“Hey Mutton, do you support the troops?” “Support the troops, I can’t even support my head!!!”). Rodd called all three of his comedy buddies - the Truth-Teller, Mr. High-Energy, and the One Who Plays Guitar - complaining that he could never do the ass-fork chunk again, and that Kramer had screwed up the bit anyway by leaving out all the funniest parts. He lamented that life wasn’t fair, and that the little guy who writes the brilliant jokes is always trampled upon by the big, famous celebrity who steals them. He vowed to take his frustrations out on the crowd at his next open-mic. They’re a bunch of idiots, anyway.

The level of delusion in stand-up comedy is unbelievable. It’s like watching an infomercial with the volume turned down.

I once opened for a guy who called himself “The King of Showbiz.” He took the stage wearing dark shades and clutching an acoustic guitar – your classic single threat. That evening, The King had shown up at a mid-week one nighter in the comedy hotbed of Altoona, PA. You know what they say: If you can make it in Altoona, kill yourself. He arrived fashionably late to a capacity crowd of twelve people (leg-room only), and a wall adorned completely with headshots of past comedians who had used this very bar as their own stepping stone to shame and obscurity. There was The Coach, The Tough-Talking Mother, The Fatty, and of course, Miss Daddy Issues. All of the pictures had turned a dark, rubber-chicken shade of yellow, and most sported fashions from the late eighties. It looked like a Battle Royale of regret, and I’ll bet there was a stack of applications in the back corresponding with each name on that wall. I left before The King’s set, but I’m sure he crushed. In the back of my mind, I was hoping the whole “King of Showbiz” persona was a put on, but that’s a really long drive just to be sarcastic.

Another time, I opened for The Disgruntled Clown. He dressed up in a black and white clown suit with matching clown makeup. He spent his disgruntled life in a disgruntled van, lugging his disgruntled props and merchandise across every run-down state highway he could find. He was a hardcore road dog. I imagine he had at least fifty ways to tell a pothole to lick his balls. Way number thirty-seven: “You know what I call an empty pothole? Motel Nutsack, and I’m checking in!” Before each show, he had to spend time applying his makeup and getting into costume. After each show, he lingered, cleaning up the props from around the stage. Fifteen percent of his act had anything to do with being a clown.

Every comic who’s been around for a few years has stories like these. Why? Because comedy is teeming with the biggest freaks you’ve ever seen. It’s like those fish that grow to a certain size based on the volume of the tank they’re in. The more work these fuck-ups get, the crazier and more delusional they become. I’ve seen ping-pong balls shooting out of a mannequin’s ass. It was somebody’s closer. I’ve overheard a shitty road comic advise his opener to wear a propeller hat and bow-tie on stage. And he was being sincere.

You always hear about the stereotypical sad clown in comedy – the lovable jokester who’s really hurting on the inside. Perhaps he didn’t get attention as a child. Maybe he was a big Creed fan. People love that story because it’s a romantic idea. But you never hear about the untalented sideshow attractions who remain anonymous their entire lives. They’re usually even crazier. It’s just like people say…it’s the ones with quiet crowds you have to worry about.

The same thing happens in music. Everybody romanticizes the tortured lead singer, but I bet there’s a nameless bassist out there who’s only humping amps because his uncle touched him wrong. Rappers love talking about their troubles, but why doesn’t anybody mention the melancholy hypeman?

“Yeah, you know, I love telling motherfuckers to wave their hands like they just don’t care…but I wish somebody would care about me, nah-mean?”

But comedy is worse because, frankly, I have to be around these people. They have the costumes, the song parodies, the one liners, and the wacky props. But they don’t have the talent, and that’s driving them insane. If the seedy underbelly of stand-up ever goes extinct, the people who will suffer the most are the ones working at the silly-string and slide-whistle factories. They’ll lose their jobs and default on their mortgages. An entire town will fall into ruin. Michael Moore will arrive with cameras to document the atrocity. He’ll talk with a father of four who’s been in the slide-whistle game his whole life, just like his father before him. Sure, he’s applied at the fart-machine plant, but they’re about to go under, too. He’ll parade out his youngest son, starving, who will lift one of the last remaining whistles to his mouth and blow, mustering a symbolic, downward slide. Then, the kid will go off and use that sound to write a joke about going limp in bed because he “smelled something fishy.” Years later, it will be his closer.

Freeze frame, roll credits.