<![CDATA[Comedy and Satire - Blog]]>Wed, 02 Mar 2016 14:20:17 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Tig Notaro's cancer struggle overshadows her comedic skill´╗┐]]>Sat, 02 May 2015 07:53:16 GMThttp://www.comedysatire.com/blog/tig-notaros-cancer-struggle-overshadows-her-comedic-skillIt's long been the case that artists of all kinds have mined their own personal grief and struggles for material. Comedians are no different in this regard. In fact, they probably do it more than most. That's fair enough I suppose ... 

But I do think there are smart and dumb ways to go about it. For example, if you're going to make fun of former -- or current! -- sex partners or spouses then you shouldn't make it too obvious who you're talking about! This could have very unpleasant ramifications for them among other things. 

And if you're talking about health struggles and the like I do think you can go overboard with it. In my opinion it's a good idea to have lots of jokes about other stuff. Because if you don't, then you could get pigeonholed as the woman who had a brain tumour, or the bloke who lost his testicle or whatever. Of course this might happen anyway, since journalists like simple, easy and emotive labels to give to people.

One comic who has done this is Tig Notaro. She's had all kinds of horrendous health and emotional struggles that she's used as raw material for comedy, and not so long after she went through them. These included having a double mastectomy as a result of breast cancer. 

Choosing this approach has raised huge dividends for her career wise in one sense. She's garnered huge publicity and is now world famous. But it seems that pretty much every story you ever read about her online refers to her cancer struggles. This aspect of her life and comic persona have totally overshadowed all her other material it seems. And it as has rendered her beyond criticism.

She is a comedian, after all. So you're entitled to ask, is she funny? But given that she's this poster child for cancer survival the questions seems not just irrelevant, but almost offensive! My personal opinion from what I've seen of her is that she's not really funny at all. And I suspect that one of the reasons for this is that given what she'd gone through, no one has the guts to actually tell her the truth about her act. Call me heartless but I think that's a bad outcome for her and the audience. 

That's why if you are a comic yourself and has some endured some similar health-related struggle I'd think long and hard about whether you want to use this in your act, or to promote your career. It could be great short term but end up being a millstone around your neck. It could be like being a child actor in a sitcom. Could be very hard to shrug off the association and branch into other areas.
<![CDATA[Brand meeting Miliband is life imitating satire]]>Wed, 29 Apr 2015 05:23:31 GMThttp://www.comedysatire.com/blog/brand-meeting-miliband-is-life-imitating-satireLike many other well known comedians, Russell Brand considers himself to have significant insights into the workings of the world and is keen to offer these to anyone who will listen. But he seems to have gone further than most of his peers who push their pet causes. He's now cast himself as a kind of anti-capitalist revolutionary; a truth-telling champion of the oppressed.

This is pretty funny in itself, given he's become very rich thanks to the globalized film and TV industries and lives in a home worth millions of pounds. You'd think that someone whose stock in trade was making people laugh would be aware of just how ludicrous his diatribes appear to any sane person. But he certainly seems not to be, or believes it's a small inconsistency given the gravity of his calling. That just makes him sillier in my opinion.

And what's sillier still is the fact that so many people who you'd think would know better are also convinced of the shaggy comic-cum-revolutionary's profundity. Numerous high profile journalists cite him as a dinkum authority, as do some political figures. You'd expect those on the far Left to sing his praises, of course  -- but not those who are supposed to be in the sensible centre, surely. 

Yet in a quite amazing development Labour Leader Ed Miliband has given Brand his stamp of approval by meeting with him for chat to be shown on Brand's popular YouTube channel.

Miliband claims the interview was an attempt to make the election "more interesting". But that's just spin. He was clearly desperate to tap into Brand's fan base of nihilistic cool cats -- many of whom, like Brand himself, are so cynical about political machinations that they don't even bother to vote. Ed's got some crazy notion that he'll be able to bring them around to Labour.

But in the end all he'll end up doing is damaging the Labour brand, while improving the, er, Russell brand! It really was life imitating satire and it's amazing that Miliband's advisers let him go through with something so patently daft. David Cameron hit the nail on the head when he called the whole episode a joke. It certainly was that, and was made even more absurd by the fact that a comedian was taken so seriously.
<![CDATA[Jim Norton seems addicted to sex and laughter]]>Tue, 28 Apr 2015 07:03:50 GMThttp://www.comedysatire.com/blog/jim-norton-seems-addicted-to-sex-and-laughterLiving way down here in Australia I'm not that knowledgeable about many of the really successful US comics. But reading about them online and watching the odd video of them on YouTube I can quickly get a handle on what each of them is best known for. Marc Maron's hook, for example, is his neurotic self-obsession. Christopher Titus is all about dysfunction and rage. And Jim Norton's main claim to fame is his outrageous sex life.

He's open about the fact that's he's actually a sex addict. Referring to this problem in a recent interview he said, "The problem is me being addictive. Not the actual stuff." 

In this he resembles so many other comics. They do seem to be unusually prone to this affliction. Whether it's booze, drugs or sex -- or even all three -- they seem to be chasing a temporary endorphin rush that erases the bleakness they feel on a daily basis.

That intense pleasure assuages the dull, pervasive pain. But as numerous thinkers have opined, pleasure and happiness are not the same thing. All that will happen if you continue to "self-medicate" is that you'll postpone the inevitable low, and probably make it worse when it does hit. 

There's a theory that standup comedy is a kind of confessional. It's a way to confess your sins and also work through your issues. So it's healthy for the performer as well as the audience. This may be true in some cases. But I think in others it compounds the problem because it becomes just another addiction.

I think one reason Norton is addicted to sex, and pretty out there approaches to it at that! -- is that it supplies him with lots of shockingly funny comedy material. The laughter this creates is intensely pleasurable, too. And being famous as a result of it makes it easier for him to indulge his sexual obsession. So ultimately each behavior is reinforcing the other. It will be interesting to see if he can extricate himself from this cycle as he says he is attempting to do ...
<![CDATA[Doing stand-up for kids would be a challenging gig]]>Sat, 25 Apr 2015 06:10:24 GMThttp://www.comedysatire.com/blog/doing-stand-up-for-kids-would-be-a-challenging-gigDoing some Googling about comedy lately I learned about an interesting event in the New Zealand Comedy Festival. It's Stand-Up for Kids.

I found the whole concept surprising because the medium of stand up is such an adult genre in so many ways. 
Firstly there's the general incongruity of this world weary genre -- usually performed in smoky bars late at night -- being transplanted to a kid friendly time and environment.

Then there's the fact that so many comics draw a lot of their material from sex and relationships. And if they're more into political satire and observations then they're referring to topical stuff that kids aren't that interested in as a rule. So that severely limits the sheer amount of material the featured comics can draw from to start with. 

So if you were one of them you may end up having to write a lot of completely new material. And you wouldn't be able to try it out in advance because the only gigs you'd be doing up to that date would be for adults. Bit of a Catch-22!

Then there's the well established fact that kids can be unruly at the best of times, with much shorter attention spans than adults. Comedian Jamie Bowen describes the challenge:

"It is one of the toughest audiences you can imagine in terms of heckling," he says. "You go out there with the best of intentions to tell a story and it just gets completely derailed. What do you do when you're halfway through a story and it's kind of working, then someone yells out 'you've got poo on your head'?

"If they don't like something, they will tell you straight away. You've got about 30 seconds grace.

You've got to think on your feet."

I'll bet you do!
<![CDATA[Russell Brand lends support to Chan and Sukumaran´╗┐]]>Mon, 13 Apr 2015 08:19:39 GMThttp://www.comedysatire.com/blog/russell-brand-lends-support-to-chan-and-sukumaranHere's another case of a well known comedian asking to be taken seriously. This time it's Russell Brand, who's been doing that an awful lot in recent years. (Actually, he seems much more interested in becoming a public intellectual and activist more than an entertainer!)

His latest cause is to try and save Bali Nine drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran from execution in Indonesia. It's hardly surprising that he would take this position. He's a leftie, after all, and a reformed drug addict himself.

And he certainly keeps trading off the image of the drug using hedonist, dressing flamboyantly -- more like a rock star than a comedian. A lot of his fans are hipsters and stoners and others with a generally permissive attitude to drug use.
But the irony is that Brand himself has beaten his addictions to drugs and alcohol (and good on him for that). So his take on it seems kind of dishonest to me. If you want to call smuggling drugs daft, as if it's harmless, then why stop taking those drugs yourself, particularly when you trade off the coolness they evoke? 

This is the politically correct double standard you see everywhere in entertainment industry. A lethal scourge is trivialized, while severe punishment for spreading it is condemned. (By the way I agree that execution is too harsh a punishment for what they did. But I still think it was vile, and the drugs they smuggled would have killed more than two people in the end.) 

And that's the ugly truth that gets ignored by Brand and so many other entertainer/activists. Drugs surely kill more people than capital punishment does. And these victims are innocent. Guilty of drug use, sure. But not guilty of selling, surely a more serious crime.

Brand himself believes we should treat addicts not as bad people but as sick people. Then the drug trade kills only sick people. Surely that makes it worse than those who are killing the bad people who exploit the sick? 
<![CDATA[Insult comic Vinnie Favorito in loans controversy]]>Fri, 10 Apr 2015 07:25:50 GMThttp://www.comedysatire.com/blog/insult-comic-vinnie-favorito-in-loans-controversyThe extent to which a comedian's real personality inspires his on stage persona can vary quite a bit. But I'd say that in most cases there's quite a bit of overlap. You are usually seeing an exaggerated version of that person. If a comic has an obnoxious and cruel persona, and gets laughs from inflicting that on the audience, then there's a good chance he's like that in real life -- or desperately wants to be and is using the act as a tool of sublimation.

The Las Vegas comedian Vinnie Favorito illustrates this syndrome. A famed insult comic, his once thriving career is now in jeopardy because of litigation over numerous unpaid loans. While people can get into debt over no fault of their own in some cases, it usually has a lot to do with their egocentric impulsiveness.

Insult comics are certainly not getting laughs by making the audience warm to them. The humor comes from the cruelty being inflicted on audience members. It's a highly dominant, aggressive performance mode. Reports that Favorito seems to have pressured several individuals into loaning him money without paying it back is hardly surprising.

This was certainly not the case with Bill Cosby, who seems to be the exception that proves the rule. His warm avuncular presence on stage and screen jars hugely with the revelation that he's long been a serial sex predator.  Obviously he wasn't going to reveal that side of himself for laughs. And it looks very much like his persona has been concocted in part to cover it up!

<![CDATA[Dr Frederic Brandt suicide: Martin Short's caricature a factor?]]>Tue, 07 Apr 2015 10:29:23 GMThttp://www.comedysatire.com/blog/dr-frederic-brandt-suicide-martin-shorts-caricature-a-factorOne thing that is often forgotten by comedians who impersonate other people for laughs is how devastating this mockery can be to them. A very extreme and sad example of this seems to be the recent suicide of celebrity plastic surgeon Dr Frederic Brandt.

By all accounts he was severely depressed. As is so often the case with this illness there were several factors at play. But one of them was the fact that he was clearly the inspiration for a character played by comedian Martin Short in the comedy show The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

The caricature was clearly based on him, even having a similar sounding name. Obviously Short had no intention of hurting him so deeply. But this seems to have been the case.

Makes sense that someone who valued appearance so highly had his own physical characteristics, among other aspects of his character, ridiculed in front of millions.

Obviously you just can't predict how people will react to impersonation. Nobody likes it, unless the parody is affectionate. That kind of thing tends to be rare. It's usually not that funny if it's the case. Sad to say, but a caricature usually has to have an element of cruelty for it to be funny.

Politicians cop this kind of thing all the time. But they are used to mockery and derision, copping it from their political foes and journalists as well. They usually have the hides of rhinos.

To be honest I've never been a big fan of this direct and obvious form of mockery, in which the character is clearly based on one person. I think comic characters that have their own identity and operate within a kind of parrellel universe, are more interesting. Sure, they may have certain elements drawn from public figures we know, but these are combined into something unique and enduring. As well as being more interesting and complex, they're not limited by the circumstances of their originals. For example, if you have a character based on Prime Minister Tony Abbott it will become a lot less marketable if and when he's voted out of office. But if you have a more original character you can still cover a lot of the same ground. But you're not so constrained, since he live in his own fictional world. ]]>
<![CDATA[Tommy Chong, satirist of stoners, promotes pot at rally]]>Sun, 05 Apr 2015 07:03:45 GMThttp://www.comedysatire.com/blog/tommy-chong-satirist-of-stoners-promotes-pot-at-rallyOne thing that has long amused me about comedy is that one of the benefits of success and fame in the industry that you then get to push political causes you deeply believe in. And people will listen.

That's kind of ironic because you got to that place by making fun of many things, usually including yourself. Be a clown long, hard and well enough and eventually people will take you seriously!

Tommy Chong's recent appearance at a pro-pot rally in Lansing, Michigan is an example of this:

Headlined by comedian and famed marijuana supporter Tommy Chong, the 44th annual "Hash Bash" brought together people of various ages, races and backgrounds to talk about cannabis.

"What we're having here today is a celebration of the freedom of the greatest plant known to man," Chong said.

Clearly he wasn't joking when he said this.

And you can understand why he's so enamoured of cannabis. Using it as comedic inspiration has made him famous and, presumably, rich as well.

But I can't help noticing another irony: That the memorable stoners he and Cheech Marin created were hardly productive citizens. Much of their comedy came from their lovably goofy incompetence in so many areas of life. We laughed at them as much as with them. Not exactly great role models by anyone's standards!

And that's fine, of course. Comedy is just a fun-house mirror of life. It shouldn't be presented as -- or be seen to be -- an instruction manual for how to live it. Sadly, though, I think many fans of Cheech and Chong did just that, trying desperately to emulate their cinematic heros and doing much damage to themselves in the process.

Well, I suspect that was almost certainly not the plan when Cheech and Chong began their careers. They were just out to have a ball making fun of a world they knew and loved.

But now at least one of the pair is proselytizing for the drug. Which suggests to me that he's grown little.
<![CDATA[Comics seen as social commentators more than entertainers]]>Sat, 04 Apr 2015 05:44:57 GMThttp://www.comedysatire.com/blog/comics-seen-as-social-commentators-more-than-entertainersI wrote recently about how so many comedians lean left, and think that they will be changing the world with their jokes. This tendency has a lot to do with performers' inherent psychological qualities, as well as the beliefs of various industry power brokers who like to see their prejudices confirmed in the acts they promote.

Then there's the media. Most journalists tend to lean left also and therefore interpret the work of comics in that vein. These days, critics and hacks writing about comedy almost never seem to be happy to judge a comedian's act mainly on whether it was funny or not. In fact, that aspect of the show in question sometimes gets completely ignored. They seem to be far more obsessed with whether it's right-on and worthy enough for them.

And if they're not passing judgement on this criterion, they're at pains to place the comedian's material in a political context. Since standups tend to draw very much from their own personal experiences in developing their acts most of the show reviews and comedian profile articles you read these days are seen through the prism of social justice issues.

If you're a young comic who wants to succeed then it's pretty obvious what kind of show and approach to marketing it is going to get you the most positive publicity. Ideally, you should write material about about some trending social issue with the stated aim of "raising awareness" of it. Then seek out the support of political groups and organizations with similar goals. Works like a charm every time!

The show Bully by comedian Mick Neven seems to be a case in point. Now it sounds like quite an interesting and unusual show with a deeply personal genesis. Basically, Neven bullied a kid back in school and long felt guilty about this until he finally apologized to his victim and resolved the issue with him to a great degree. But he still feels remorse about this issue. And this has motivated his desire to convey an anti-bullying message via the show.

I don't doubt the guy's sincerity. And it may well be an excellent show. But if you read this article about it you'll see that the writer Suzanne Carbone focuses almost entirely on its social and political relevance. Neven himself appears to have courted that interpretation assiduously.

Nowhere in the article is there any mention of the show's laugh-creating ability, or its entertainment value in general. That seems kind of odd given that the show is part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Now, I know it's not meant to be a review. But that's kind of my point. It's been profiled because it fits neatly into the world view of the social justice-obsessed leftist. If you're a comic who aims to be funny over all things and puts most of his time and energy into achieving that goal, and doesn't court the kind of analysis described above, then you miss out on heaps of mostly free, almost invariably positive media coverage. And that usually means a comparatively lower profile in the industry.

No wonder so many of today's most well known comedians are more right-on than they are funny!
<![CDATA[Trevor Noah is just a comic. He can't change the world]]>Fri, 03 Apr 2015 06:27:18 GMThttp://www.comedysatire.com/blog/trevor-noah-is-just-a-comic-he-cant-change-the-worldIt's pretty clear that standup comedy is dominated by left-wing, liberal types. There are a whole bunch of reasons for this tendency, including the fact that this kind of person is attracted to this mode of expression in the first place. It's an inherently youthful, energetic medium, after all. It's brash, in your face, irreverent by its very nature. 

Also, while the Left has ceded much ground in the culture wars the arts generally have remained a stronghold for them. And they are absolutely determined to keep it that way. So, if you're a comic who isn't PC then the powers that be will be extremely hostile to you -- even if they aren't actually up-front about it -- and you'll find it very hard to progress in the industry.

This cultural bias is pretty obvious. You see evidence of it all the time. One notable example was the furore over those shockingly politically incorrect tweets of Trevor Noah.

The Daily Show itself is about as relentlessly left-liberal as it's possible to be. There are absolutely no surprises there. Actually, I think it's long taken itself too seriously -- and its viewers do too. Really, it's more of an ongoing political campaign against American conservatism masquerading as entertainment -- a leftist jihad with jokes!

Selection of Noah as the show's new host was politically correct to start with. He's bi-racial South African who's known for his progressive politics. There's no way he got there on merit alone. And I'll bet there are many far more accomplished American comics -- also of the Left -- who are livid about this. 

Then there was the scandalous development of those sexist and anti-semitic tweets that came to light recently. The fact that so many people were so upset about them reveals the intensity and inflexibility of their expectations of him. Their attitude was that given his new role, and the fact that he's a member of a racial minority, he must be against bigotry in all its forms, and his jokes would always reflect this.

Wrong. He's just a young guy who likes the spotlight, and enjoys making people laugh. He's driven by ego far more than his desire to change the world for the better. That makes him like pretty much any entertainer who ever lived, in my opinion. 

I think too many people forget that -- including comedians themselves. Nothing they do will ever have much of an impact on the world. This is not the case with politicians. They may be a lot less entertaining and charismatic. But they definitely get a lot more done -- for good or ill.

Basically, if you want to change the world through your comedy you've chosen the wrong profession. And if you're an audience member who looks to comics to be their political leaders you're sure to be seriously disappointed sooner or later.