Thursday, April 30, 2009

Razing Heckles

Creative heckling is a dead art, assuming it ever lived. It probably didn't. I'm sure that in more literate times, someone's comeback to a stupid joke or bad premise might transcend the material that inspired it, but that's conjecture. In my experience, most heckling comes from drunken idiot mouths, no more intelligent than skin blistering from a flame. It's part of the reason why comics are so nasty and cynical. It's one of the main reasons why I quit stand up long ago.

From what friends who still perform tell me, club audiences are getting dumber and cruder with each passing year. This naturally affects the comics, who must adjust their acts to survive the road while trying to get the attention of someone with serious connections. It's why you'll never see another Richard Pryor, Andy Kaufman, George Carlin, Steve Martin, Bill Hicks, Steven Wright, or Barry Crimmins, who in "When Stand Up Stood Out" demolishes a few assholes in the crowd. Barry wasn't included in "Heckler," a look at how carpers in clubs and online are supposedly ruining creativity and originality, reducing everything to the lowest means of expression. I suspect that Barry would've been less self-pitying than most of those featured, but then, Barry's not your average comedian. You wouldn't confuse him for Jamie Kennedy, who is the prime focus in "Heckler."

Kennedy, whom I always confuse for Seth Green, spends most of "Heckler" confronting his critics who are legion. Seems that a lot of people find Kennedy's comedy and films to be awful and unfunny, which is hard to disagree with, as anyone who's seen "Malibu's Most Wanted" can attest. Kennedy can't wrap his mind around this, looking confused and hurt with each strike at his persona. Kennedy appears to believe that he's better than his critics say, and so tries to shame and embarrass them into admitting their hatred, hidden agendas, or lack of insight. It's amusing for awhile, then becomes redundant and tired.

We get it, Jamie. You think you're a funny guy. Fine. Why not proceed from that point and get on with your career, such as it is.

In between Kennedy's sob sessions comes a celebrity roll call of pain. Roseanne Barr, Bill Maher, Lewis Black, Andrew Dice Clay, Craig Ferguson, Dr. Drew Pinsky, Carrie Fisher, Larry Flynt, Howie Mandel, George Lucas, Joel Schumacher, Henry Winkler, Rob Zombie, Pauly Shore, Jewel -- all have angry complaints about hecklers and "uncredentialed" critics who blog or otherwise write for an online audience. It seems that short of Pauline Kael, Stanley Kauffmann, or James Agee, these and numerous other celebs should not be appraised, at least not negatively.

I'm sympathetic to that reasoning. The amount of semi-literate online opinions is staggering, predictable in a culture that peddles celebrity over science, invasions of personal lives over contemplation and study. What do these celebs expect in the current environment? Especially when many of them insist on "being out there" to enhance their fame and bank accounts?

At times, their pain seems sincere. Tom Green's story of his rise to MTV cult status before getting trashed rings true. Joe Mantegna fairly simmers with violent revenge fantasies, which feel real, though Mantegna has said the same shit in so many films it's tough to really know. The funniest bitching comes from Christopher Hitchens, who bemoans character assassination in others while keeping a straight face. For me, the reaction from Scott Thompson, not the Kid In The Hall but the prop comic Carrot Top, was the most heartfelt. Here's a clip where Kennedy talks to Thompson about Carrot Top's joke status among critics and other comics:

Carrot Top's "Chairman Of The Board" is pretty atrocious, but hardly the worst comedy I've seen. In fact, I don't have anything against Thompson's prop routine, an updated version of Rip Taylor's act. Sometimes he can be quite clever and inventive, though he leans heavily on cheap visual puns. But then, so did Tex Avery and on occasion Ernie Kovacs. Not a bad tradition to honor, to the degree that you can. Certainly nothing to heckle about.