Monday, June 7, 2010

The Project Resumes

"You a civilian?"

For a moment I felt thrown into an Army dream. Get back in uniform. You're not through serving. Civilian life is the dream, soldier.

I stared back, raised my eyebrows.

"Are you a comic, I mean."


The guy seemed confused, almost offended.

"Did you perform?"

"About two hours ago."

"And you're still here? You're not a real comic. Real comics never stay to watch the other acts."

I shrugged my shoulders. I wanted to say that I believe in comedy solidarity, that I would want a few peers to remain to watch me grind. But this was his set. So I smiled, leaned back and waited for him to get on with it.

His was an arrogant vibe. He spoke disdainfully of the college kids he apparently entertains, but his material was wafer thin, more anger than premise. I thought, fuck, if this guy can get campus gigs, what's my problem?

Thankfully, this was near the end of the show. The parade of pissed off white guys wrestling with serious self-esteem issues made my head throb. I know that comics are largely maladjusted, and lord knows I have my demons. But most of these acts were closer to primal scream therapy than twisting reality for laughs. I may have to revise this solidarity thing.

What do young white American men have to be angry about? Many of these gigs are comedy versions of sports radio, where self-pitying Caucasians moan about political correctness, how they are cheated, stifled and denied their rightful place at life's table. "Is this what it's come to?" a wild-haired comic screamed at me last night. "Is this how my life ends!"

I felt like replying, that's up to you, pal. The economy blows, the political system's fixed, the empire is dying, but you still have white skin privilege. I've cleaned toilets alongside poor Hondurans who never complained about their status. They worked hard and played hard. They lived their lives because they had no choice. That you go on stage to bitch about your shitty white life is pretty insulting, and not in the funny Don Rickles sense, either.

Who wants to watch comics degrade themselves, telling the audience that they're fools for sitting through it? I've lost count of how many comedians preface a joke with "This isn't very good," and when it bombs add, "Yeah, I knew that sucked." It's like a singer saying "This next song is pretty bad, but I'm gonna sing it anyway." Unless it's part of a larger concept commenting on cheap entertainment, I don't see the aesthetic point to this.

So much anxiety and dread going nowhere. It's either that, or neutering your act to fit those corporate slots still available. Where this leaves me I've no clue, but we'll see what transpires. Here's my set from the Ten Eleven on Ave. C, about 90% of which was improvised. There are some rough patches, but overall not bad, especially after a long lay-off. The other comics preferred sitting in the back, afraid to be skewered perhaps. Given their howling pain, you'd think they'd feel deserving of abuse.