Sitting Down for Standup

I watched live standup comedy last night. I’ve never been to standup before, though I’ve watched many clips on cable. A long, long time ago, I saw a comedy duo, Skiles and Henderson, do a very socially-palatable routine about sheep or something while opening for The Carpenters at Merriweather Post Pavilion. A decade later I watched some poor schlump open for a rock band in some small Georgetown club. The crowd wanted music not comedy; he tried to reach us, but walked off after someone threw something.

When Things Unseen posted on Facebook that they were hosting a standup night at the Church-in-the-Middle-of-the-Block (Chitmob) I answered Maybe. I never know when I’ll be in town, but I like supporting the alternative theatre group. As it turned out we were at Chitmob in the morning for a memorial service, so going back to watch the Chasing the Coffin Comedy Tour seemed like weird irony.

A few weeks before Things Unseen had presented The Weir – an Irish play. They also served plastic cups of Guinness and Harp and got good crowds. But my wife was annoyed by the constant utterance of fookin by the male characters. I thought it was funny that the men said fookin this and fookin that but apologized for saying bollocks in front of the young woman. I don’t cuss a lot, but my Dad was a sailor, so I’m not easily shocked. But I try not to cuss around the wife.

I also avoid cussing and talking about sex at work. I sit near a younger, married woman, and we get along, but I try not to be the sort of guy that makes women feel uncomfortable. I’ve written three posts, Cyber-Abuse, More Cyber Abuse and Even More Cyber Abuse of Women about hostility towards women online. But I do enjoy jokes, and sexual jokes don’t shock me either.

So we, and my stepson Eric, went to watch the show. My wife told us she would leave if it got too raunchy, and during his intro, John Dick Winters warned us that the language would be dirty. My wife lasted longer than I expected. The first guy was a bit of a sad sack comic while the second guy had more of a manic bitchy voice, and was very funny while insulting just about anything one might consider sacred. I liked his string of holocaust puns. The third guy was too much for her. His approach was to shock with bizarre assertions about eating babies and such, so she went downstairs. John Dick Winters returned to close the show and she may have found some of his material too much as well – hard to say.

Eric and I groaned a bit but like the mostly young crowd, we laughed a lot. I found myself wondering what I would say if they had an open mike. I thought of Gilbert Gottfried getting in all sorts of trouble for tsunami jokes, and all the debates about what is funny, what crosses the lines, when is too soon, etc. Clearly I can’t go to work and repeat this material to everyone, but in an evening club atmosphere, lubricated with BYOB, I did enjoy most of the jokes.

This morning I read Technology’s Man Problem in which tech developer Elissa Shevinsky took offense to her business collaborator’s amusement at Titstare:

“… things got worse. The next day, Pax Dickinson, who was her business partner in a start-up called Glimpse Labs, as well as the chief technology officer of the news site Business Insider, took to Twitter to defend the Titstare pair against accusations of misogyny. “It is not misogyny to tell a sexist joke, or to fail to take a woman seriously, or to enjoy boobies,” he wrote.”

Shevinsky quit Glimpse, but Dickinson later publicly apologized and they reconciled. Good for them, but what is the place of humor? Some comics unabashedly assert they should be able to make fun of anything. Others say you should be able to be funny without resorting to gutter language.

My own feeling is that comedy is a release for both the comic and the crowd. The comedian tries to shake us a bit; we agree to be shaken up. Maybe he won’t be funny, maybe he’ll go too far, but it is a risk worth taking and an experiment worth performing. These four guys were from a radically different background than me, and we probably disagree about some big life issues, but I still found them entertaining. Does that always translate to the world outside that room? Probably not, and with today’s ubiquitous cameras that becomes a problem, but when you sit down in that room you tacitly agree to follow the comic’s lead.

Update: Coincidentally, my coworker took her parents to see Jeanne Robertson – former beauty queen and now Christian humorist – last weekend.

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