Stand up is the least respected of all the performing arts. As if being a stand-up comic weren’t hard enough; the years of being judged by every person who owns a liquor license and a microphone, driving six hours to a non-existent gig, begging moronic agents and managers who are looking for a “new, original and exciting” talent, to come out to see your show only to be asked why you aren’t more “Seinfeld-ish.” On top of that it takes years to develop an act and find your voice on stage. There are child actors, child musicians, tiny dancers and even I would guess a few very young working writers but no child comics. Why? Because stand-up comedy is the only experientially based art form. Kids can tell “jokes” but they can’t do stand-up. Stand-up comedy, really good stand-up comedy has evolved from joke telling into a personal narrative dialogue with the audience.
Still, every now and then some elitist hack with a degree from the right college and the proper connections gets a job at a failing weekly magazine and decides to take a shot at you and your profession, feeling they are qualified to judge this art form because they know how to laugh and talk. This is rarely if ever done with other art forms. Seriously folks, when is the last time you saw an article about actors who can’t act, dancers who can’t dance, painters who can’t paint or pointless “performance artists.” Yet, about every six months some “critic” declares a number of famous comics “not funny.”
Ms. Sarah Ball of the soon defunct Newsweek is the latest to declare some great comics “not funny.” In her article, which I found on Newsweek.com she lists 12 acts and gives snarky put downs of their talents. I found it interesting that Ms. Ball’s list is mostly west coast, politically conservative/moderate comics. Apparently if you are from New York and ultra liberal Ms. Ball finds you hilarious!
Topping her list is every elitist favorite comedy punching bag Larry the Cable Guy. Larry’s sin seems to be his is a little too lowbrow for Ms. Ball whom I am sure worships at the altar of urinator Larry David, and christophobe Sarah Silverman. There are a couple of folks working at the top of the intellectual chart. When talking about Dane Cook (I admit, not my favorite) she heaps praise on Louis C.K. (a guy I happen to also enjoy) who also tends towards the scatological for his humor.
Here is another thing that annoys me worst than Barney Frank, several times Ms. Ball demeans comics for being less than original and yet in her writing she uses a number of “stock” lines, clichés and banal comments. She also works for a magazine which recently selected a cover picture of Sarah Palin that was borrowed from a shoot for another magazine and used without contextual reference.
Ms. Ball also apparently hasn’t seen some of the comics she lists in some time. For Emo Phillips she uses an outdated photo, (again Newsweek using a photo out of context!) and critiques the vocal and delivery style he was using in the 90’s. Artists grow and change Ms. Ball; you might want to catch Bob Goldthwaite sometime this century too! Her total critique of Jeff Dunham is that he is a ventriloquist, a comedy form she declared “went out of vogue in the Eisenhower era.” So did unbiased journalism and accurate reporting, Ms. Ball, but I’ll save that for another blog. Ventriloquism is experiencing a great revival outside elitist circles with Ronn Lucas and Terry Fator being two of the top draws in Las Vegas. While Jay Johnson, Jeff Dunham and Dan Horn wow audiences across the country. It might do Ms. Ball good to get out of Manhattan once in awhile and see what us rubes are doing out here in Flyoverland.
There are a lot of comics who I don’t find funny but I realize that my taste in comedy is skewered by my values, faith, politics and a number of other factors. I would never declare Bill Maher “not funny.” Thought I find his drug addled ramblings repulsive at times I realize that a number of equally intelligent folks find him hysterical. I might say I find his humor “baffling” or call him an “alleged” comedian but to declare him “not funny” isn’t fair to Bill or his fans.
People like different things, that’s why they put numbers on horses at the track. I would expect an open and fair minded progressive person like Ms. Ball to be a little more…what’s that word? Tolerant!