It’s probably a cliche at this point to say “Actually, comedians are sad”, but ya… My time at a comedy club was fun and left me envious of the improvisational talent of these comedians, but it also left me a little sad about some things. Like it felt like every stereotype about comedians that I’ve heard over the years turned out to be right on the money, and that some of the sets crossed over from amusing to subtle cries for help. Another thing is that there were certain… recurring themes that I think are worth looking it.
First things first though, “Was it funny?”? Well, ya, some of the sets were funnier than others, and as mentioned before, I was very impressed with the improvisational crowd work that went on. You gotta believe that those could go south very easily, but the MC (who kind of had a set of his own and made jokes throughout) kept the energy going and found some game targets to riff off of. Although, it was amusing when he said relatively anodyne things and followed them with a “Oh I’m sorry, did I offend you?” type comment, especially when his main targets included things like bureaucrats. Nobody cares about bureaucrats. That’s when I first noticed that these comedians are coming from a place of defensiveness, like the world has made them feel under attack and that this was their sanctuary. That fascinating sense of aggrievement flowed into most of the other material of the night.
About 10 comedians came on to compete for a spot in a competition for another comedy night with the finalists from other tournaments, and almost all of them came from that same space of wounded masculinity. A lot of talk about how unappealing they were to women, masturbation, and problematic significant others. The comedy didn’t usually strive into racial areas, although one comedian said “rap was better when Black Lives DIDN’T Matter”, which wasn’t offensive to me personally, but I was a little uncomfortable at a room full of white people laughing uproariously to that one. The point is though, these guys all came here to take back something that they feel they lost to the world. Out there they’re losers who can’t get laid, but up on that stage they’re Gods who absolutely have your attention and can say things they never could before. This dynamic was illustrated best when the MC took a few jabs at a group of girls that were chatting in the middle of his set, the most telling of which was a when he told them that their power came from the hope that men could potentially sleep with them, but because he held no such illusions, he was the powerful one. In other words, he didn’t have to “take” it from them anymore. Again, we all laughed.
It was towards the end of the sets that I was hit with the realization that maybe stand-up comedy is a weird kind of therapy for a lot of these mens. They all feel discarded somehow, and we’re not really socialized to really explore our own feelings, so one of the outlets for that is to joke about them. As far as outlets for negative feelings go, it’s not the worst one and it can be a lot of fun under the right circumstances, but there does seem to be an undeniable sense of anger. I’ve read about how stand-up comedy is an enormous boys club in the past, but only now after personally seeing it, do I see why. It’s this industry built on a safe space for men to complain about how much their lives suck, and the jokes felt so uniformly about sexual inadequacy and masturbation that if there was a female comic to take the stage, it would be such a huge tonal shift that I’m not sure how the room would have received it. Am I saying stand-up comedy as a whole is a sexist industry? Well ya, most are. The point I’m trying to arrive at in writing all of this though is that I’m not completely certain if it’s a totally unhealthy one for men in particular (because we already know it sucks for women).
I’m reminded of this Louie episode (yes I know), where he confronts a female heckler and humiliates her in front of the audience. When the woman confronts him about this later, he responds to her with an impassioned speech about how that time he has up on that stage is all that men like him have in their lives, that by impeding on that time she is tarnishing one of the only good things in his and so many other men’s lives. In the background of this speech, we see other male comedians nodding approvingly at him, and we’re meant to feel positively about their unity. I certainly did at the time I watched that episode, I thought it was cool how he put his feelings out there explained to a heckler why what she did hurt the way it did. But today, I’m struck by a feeling that maybe that whole speech was myopic. Sure, it means a lot to those comedians, and they have every right to be angry at rude hecklers, but that constant sense of bereavement seems troubling. Feeling like your life is pure darkness because of how everyone else treats you, and thinking the only good thing in it is the small window of time where you get to complain about it is unbearably sad and maybe reinforces those negative feelings even more. On one level it’s great that there’s an outlet for life’s stresses that can make a lot of people feel good through laughter, but on another level maybe pulling from your own pain every night to make some jokes about how much the world hurt you just builds a darkness in you that may manifest itself in ugly ways. I don’t know any of these people, but this was absolutely the feeling that stuck with me after as I went home that night.
I’ll end with perhaps the most important element of the evening, my review of the food: The fries were kinda weak but the burger was great, so I think overall it was a fun night.
Quote of the Day:
“Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”
– Jack Lemon