I know Stan Laurel was sad.
Undercutting my point before I even begin.
But he was different kind of sad.
Stan Laurel was comedically sad.
Using his feigned sadness to generate laughter.
Which is different from the sadness generated by certain comedians today.
A sadness based on the utter hopelessness of human existence.
Which I thought was the condition comedy was basically trying to relieve.
Maybe times have just changed. To the point where comedy is simply reality with a “You might as well laugh” tag on it. With the tacit corollary, “Because what else are you going to do?”
I read an article about comedian Erica Rhodes. I read the whole thing – and it was quite long – because I did comedy myself at one time and I wanted to check out how things were going.
Near the end of the article, I encountered a line that struck deep in my “What the heck is going on?” area.
Journalist Jeffrey Fleischman’s extended profile – which gave off the sense that if he wrote it right, he might get her to go out with him – capsulized Erica’s comedic approach, saying it treaded “the fine line between despair and hilarity.”
I had no idea that’s what we were supposed to be shooting for. Of course, my favorite film comedies are The Court Jester, The Three Amigos, and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Where they unequivocally weren’t.
But as I said, maybe times have just changed.
Before commencing this effort, I checked a few clips of Erica Rhodes performing in various comedy clubs, collected on YouTube. The first thing I noticed is that Erica Rhodes has a distinctively high voice. (She defuses that early, saying, “This is my voice.”)
The problem I had with her voice was that, depending on the venue’s amplification system, sometimes I could hear what she was saying and sometimes I couldn’t. (Leaving me wondering whether she ever came offstage after an inaudible “set”, thinking she bombed when it was really the microphone.)
The other thing I noticed about Erica Rhodes is when she reached for a curse word, she said, “Shoot!” Which I found eminently endearing. I have considered writing sympathetically about the substantial cohort of people who must endure words and pictures that genuinely offend them and can do nothing about that because “That’s just where we’re at, so get over it.” I am not sure which non-conservative would be brave enough to explor that countercultural predicament. It is apparently not me.
Getting to her material, which, for her mother, seeing her perform for the first time, was the one tiny little thing she had trouble with.
I generally liked it.
But I’m not her mother.
There is an audacious “darkness” to Erica’s material that appeals to me, along with her ability to originally notice such things, and the courage to make that her act.
The now mid-thirties Erica asks if any people in the audience are in their twenties, and when they boisterously acknowledge their presence, she says, the twenties are a good time,
“… but I don’t relate to it anymore, ‘cause I’m like, ‘You guys are so cute, because you still think you matter. Like the rest of your life is just this really long journey where you find out you matter less and less and less every day, and then, you die.”
It is quite possible that one generation’s comedian is another generation’s “someone you want to get away from at a party.” In one Erica Rhodes YouTube clip, she said the word “die” and the word “dead” in a span of three minutes and twenty-four seconds.
No wonder I liked her. Though my list of “film favorites” reveals a stylistic ambivalence. It could be I like both. A balancing menu of poison and pie.
I just think something is “off” in Erica’s relentless conceptualization.
I understand the idea of making others as miserable as you are.
I’m just not sure that's comedy.
(Unless times have just changed.)