Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud was famously known to have said,
“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”
Meaning that sometimes a thing is what it is, rather than a symbolic representation of the male organ of reproduction and the elimination of fluids. I’m just guessing here, but since Freud believed that symbolic substitution was symptomatically important, there’s a likelihood that he said this, not as an admonition against going overboard in the “interpretation” department, but in response to the question, “Hey, Siggy, how come you’re always smoking a cigar? Eh?”
But this is simply conjecture. I do know this for a certainty.
Anyway, this hopefully diverting introduction is offered as the setup for a confession based on an illumination that came to me concerning a recent blog post, wherein, I began to realize, a number of days after the fact, that I had, albeit unconsciously, used one specific arena as a substitute for another, in an effort to cover up an embarrassing personal deficiency (though not so embarrassing that I am not willing to expose it to public scrutiny today.)
Okay, so here we go.
I spoke recently about how I was so far behind in my understanding of and aptitude for the continuing avalanche of technological gadgets and gizmos that it wasn’t even funny. (Well, maybe a little funny.) The question is, was I, in fact, talking about gadgets and gizmos, or were they, in reality, a symbolic placeholder for something considerably more serious?
I was talking about gadgets and gizmos.
And something considerably more serious.
(Bam! I offer up an “either-or” and I hit you with both barrels. Throw some water on me! I am on fiah!)
And what was my falling behind in my understanding of and aptitude for the continuing avalanche of technological gadgets and gizmos actually a symbolic substitute for?
It was a substitute for my falling behind in comedy.
Oooh. Yeah, I know. We are in deep water today!
There’s a line from the movie Funny Bones (1995) where a comedian father, in a moment of lacerating honesty, informs his considerably less talented son, “Some people have ‘funny bones’ and some people don’t. You don’t.”
I’m pretty sure I have ‘funny bones.’ This natural proclivity drew me to comedy at an early age, studying – well not literally “studying” but at least captivated by – the comedians I saw on TV, primarily on the Ed Sullivan Show: Bill Cosby, Jackie Mason, Bob Newhart, Shelly Berman, Alan King, Jack E. Leonard, Myron Cohen, Stiller and Meara, Sam Levenson (“I dropped the Thanksgiving turkey on the floor. Momma said, ‘Sammy, pick up the turkey and put it on the platter. Then take it back to the kitchen, and bring out the ‘other’ turkey.”), Senor Wences, “Mr. Pastry”, and many, many others.
Today, I know barely any current comedians at all. Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld are the dominant ones who come to mind. With Lewis Black, maybe a rung down the ladder. You will notice that none of them is under forty.
I know that, like music, comedy is now highly fractionalized. (For the record, I am also behind in music, and I have been for some time. For twenty years or more, I had the same three cassettes-replaced-by-CD’s playing in my car – Carole King’s Tapestry, James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James and Cat Stevens’ Tea For the Tillerman. I can’t recall buying much popular music after that era. (Though I did purchase a boxed set of calming Chinese music, a CD of which I am listening to at this very moment. And it’s working!)
But that’s music. And I don’t do music. I do comedy. And in that chosen area of interest (and previous employment), from where I’m standing (actually sitting), I can’t even see comedy anymore. It has advanced so far ahead.
Earlo: “Wait up, comedy! Wait up!”
(Excuse me for throwing a little melodrama in there. Nearly thirteen hundred posts, I just thought it was time.)
In the Dec. 24-31 issue of the New Yorker, the magazine’s TV critic Emily Nussbaum discusses “niche comedy”, referencing comedy performers both on cable and on the Internet such as W. Kamau Bell, Hannibal Buress, Eric Andre and Maria Bamford. Most Dominant Common Denominator: I have never heard of any of them.
In past times, I’d have known them all, and I did, from “Lord Buckley” to Soupy Sales. And back again.
I admit I don’t know where a lot of the smaller TV channels are – thus intersecting my technological deficiencies with my comedic retro-osity – but, setting that pathetic reality aside, it seems like, comedically, I have been falling down on the job.
One sour grapesish disclaimer about fragmented comedy, and it doesn’t come from me, it comes from Chris Rock. In Vanity Fair’s recent, worth buying and keeping “Special All-Star Comedy Issue” guest edited by Judd Apatow, Chris Rock compares the current comics with the comedians of the past, finding the current crop of an inferior caliber because,
“What we have now is black comics that only work black crowds, gay comics that do only gay crowds and southern comics who only work down South, and so on with Asians, Latinos, midgets, etc. The previous generation’s comics were better because they had to make everybody laugh.”
Though I have not sampled both groups anywhere close to equally, I would have to agree with Chris Rock. And I believe it’s a loss for the country. Aside from the professionalism displayed by a comedian who can make “everybody laugh”, I think there is something valuable about comedy we can all appreciate together.
One can argue that, since both words start with “com”, that both “comedy” and “community” evolve from the same etymological root. (Though that second “m” throws the issue into serious dispute.) Where everything else in our culture is fractionalized – most seriously our politics – wouldn’t it be – is it too much to say – “healing” for us all to find funny – and as a result laugh at – the same jokes, at least sometimes?
Sorry, that was a “side track.” I just wanted to demonstrate that I wasn’t entirely linear, and therefore open to the possibility that there is some current comedy out there I’d be able to follow and enjoy. Which brings me to a personal request, not for money, though if you have any extra, I can always find it a home.
Some of you have read this blog for a while. You’re familiar with my comedic preferences and proclivities. What I’d like from you are suggestions – and simple and clear directions – to places I can go – TV or the Internet – where I can sample your recommendations for the best of what’s going on comedically today.
I promise – over time, if there are a lot of them, or relatively quickly if there aren’t – I will give your suggestions a look.
Today marks the fifth anniversary of this blog. We appreciate your patronage.