Friday, August 31, 2018

"Anything For A Laugh"

In one of his most celebrated silent movie stunts, the falling side of house topples in the direction of comedian Buster Keaton, finally landing, not on him, but – due to strategic positioning – around him, an unharmed Buster Keaton, standing in the frame of an unflattening window.

This classic sequence triggers an explosive outpouring of laughter.



An awestruck reaction to a brilliantly executed “comedy bit.”

And, perhaps – adds this chronicler – the amazement that anyone would deliberately risk life and limb… 

Simply to get a laugh.

The thought came to me recently, concerning the lengths – and probably widths as well, though that is less widely popularized – that a comedian will go to, to get an audience to respond.

“We got a rise out of ‘em thattime, didn’t we, Jocko?”

“Getting a rise out of ‘em.” The comedian’s insistent objective. Leading me to ponder what exactly that might require of the comedian.  Remembering that comedians are people too.  Notwithstanding the memorable line from The Producers,

“Oh yeah?  Have you ever eaten with one?”

Before proposing an abbreviated list of “How far will you go in pursuit of a laugh?” allow me to add in the middle, or shortly before that, I am not sure how long this will go – the most important consideration in this investigative arena.

Which, it appears to me, is not a consideration at all, as defined as a conscious decision by the comedian concerning what they will or will not be willing to say.

It is more an innate personal characteristic, reflected in their type of performance onstage.

To the question, “How can he say that?’ – or, in the Buster Keaton example, “How can he do that? – (which, of course, also includes “she”, Amy Schumer), the studied response to that question – at least studied by yours truly – is, 

Because they can.

And it apparently does not bother them a bit.

It seems to me that different people have varying proclivities – depending out how you perceive it – for being totally outrageous or, from the other end of the telescope – having no governing “monitor” on when to judiciously “keep it inside.”  

It depends entirely on the individual.
It occurred to me that comedians not only say things regular people don’t think about.  They also say things regular people may think about but make a conscious decision not to share.  (Or to become comedians at all, for that matter.)   
Since there are some people who may think things but would prefer surrogate others to proclaim them onstage, appreciating comedians becomes a matter of individual taste.  Some live vicariously through the “let it all hang out” comedians; others prefer comedians who share things, but not allthings.  Leaving, still other others with nobody to laugh at besides Jerry Seinfeld, who shares virtually nothing, besides the things he has noticed.


Three examples in the exploratorial context of “How can they say that?”:

“Insult” comedians.  (“How can they say that about strangers?”)

“Bedroom Activities” comedians.  (“How can they say that in public?”)

And “Self-Deprecating” comedians.  (“How can they say that about themselves?”)

And there you have it. Three categories of what in “polite society” – if that actually exists anymore – would call “unsavory utterances” – are, for comedians, their habitual stock-in-trade.   

And they are totally comfortable trodding that terrain.

The majority of current comedians show a minimal aversion to saying questionable things.  If you asked them, “Aren’t you embarrassed?” they’d go, “About what?”  (Larry David, anyone?)

And because they can do what the rest of us can’t or choose notdo, like the Caughnawaga Indians, who have the natural facility to walk the “high steel” of skyscraper construction sites with no accompanying fear of falling,

Comedian who can say anything make a very comfortable living.

Pondering this issue, a related thought came to mind, concerning the question of, “Is that really them?”  But I shall save that for next time.

(It means nothing to you – nor should it – but it feels great to know I have something to write about next time.  The pressure’s off… till I think, “Is that really that good?”)
Reminder:  Ken Levine's podcast interview with me is now available for listening.  You can hear it by going to Ken's blog, and pressing the gold star.  There are a couple of others ways of getting to it but I no longer remember what they are.

I hope you enjoy it.


1 comment:

FFS said...

Enjoyed the pod cast. Oddly, my first reaction was that your voice didn’t sound like I thought it would. I guess that is similar to having heard someone’s voice before seeing them and they don’t look like the way you imagined.