Much to the detriment of my day, I spent the morning reading the news. I can not believe the fever pitch the Kathy Griffin story is reaching.
It occurred to me that I might be in a unique position to comment on it. Not only have I been (and ostensibly still am) a stand-up comic, I am a bad stand-up comic and this is a moment when bad comedy need someone to speak for it. You can not have good comedy without bad comedy.
When people learn that I did stand up for eight years in NYC, they will often say something like “Man, I wish I could do stand-up.” I always say the same thing. “You can! It is super easy. All you do is get on stage and talk for a while. Anyone can do it. Almost no one can do it well.” For a long time, I tried it, and I did it. After all is said and done I am not sure if I EVER did it well (I am only a bit modest here, I had my moments). But God knows I tried. (He also knows a lot of my jokes were about him so I didn’t get much help there).
The thing that kept me going all those years, even when I could recognize that I was not as funny as I had hoped I’d be, was the fact that many of my heroes also started off not that funny. Have you watched early Louis CK stand up? It is bizarre, offensive and often ends in punchlines that make you scratch your head more than laugh. He spent years, decades developing an almost Dadaistic performance piece style of comedy that kept him languishing in obscurity. It was only in the last decade that we have seen him find his stride and become one of the greatest comedic voices, not only of our generation but comedy in general. Can you imagine if, during those years of struggle, one of his failed absurdist offensive jokes had received a reception like the one experienced by Katie Rich?
When the SNL writer tweeted about Baron Trump being the country’s first homeschool shooter, the world came crashing down on her. She basically received the warm up treatment for Kathy Griffin. She was bullied, threatened then fired (suspended indefinitely) all because of a joke, that if you understand comedic writing, is a great joke. Maybe offensive. Maybe over a line. But the economy of words and effortless compounding of a compound word are commendable. The notion that a President’s kid is off limits is news to me. I remember jokes about every single presidential spawn since I’ve been alive. So why did this promising young writer get the first degree from America? (https://www.aol.com/…/snl-writer-deletes-tweet-sa…/21659857/)
In the past decade of American history, we have jumped from one comedian to another, crucifying careers and taking pounds of flesh for jokes we feel overstepped. From Sarah Silverman offending the largest population on the planet to Michael Richards losing his cool and career all in one moment to Daniel Tosh’s impromptu joke called rape rally, bad jokes have become serious liabilities. A fact that Kathy Griffin is experiencing like a hot poker in the tuchus right this moment.
Kathy Griffin seems like the only thing that Trump and liberals can agree on. Her severed head joke was almost prophetic for her own demise. Her tattered and bloody career is being held up to the masses as an example, that there is now a line in the sand that no comedian can cross. And if you do, this will happen to you. Some supporters of this idea might think that they are helping comedy become better by making this a point of sticking. They think that by punishing this ill executed (ha) joke, they are cleansing comedy of its offensive dross and unfunny impurities.
If you want to continue to have great comics like Louis CK, Patrice O’ Niel, Sarah Silverman, Bill Burr and Dave Chappelle, real pillars of comedic talent, you need to put up with Kurt Metzger ranting about rape victims on Facebook and Stephen Colbert calling Donald Trump’s mouth Putin’s cock holster. If feeling safe is the same thing as feeling comfortable to you, expect to feel unsafe at a comedy show. You will have to hear offensive impressions, poorly written one-liners, and stereotypes that belittle every grouping of humans imaginable. You don’t have to reward them. You can withhold your laughs, you can complain to management, you can heckle (please don’t heckle), but you can’t stop it. Nor would you want to.
Kathy Griffin has never been one of my favorite comedians, and I don’t think her joke was particularly skillful, insightful or even funny. But if you want to continue to experience the insight, wonder and joy that really great humor makes you feel, you need to let me and Kelly be failures once in a while. You need to let us cross the line without fear of career/life ending repercussions. Comedians need to be free to do comedy badly if you ever want to see it done well.