A small personal anecdote before rolling along….
I am performing in “UC Follies”, our annual college “Review” (written and directed that year by Lorne Michaels, which got my career started, an overshadowing story, so I am putting it in brackets.)
We are deeply mired in the “Technical Rehearsal” prior to the “Opening”, a notoriously grueling affair, trudging long through the night, and into the following A.M.
Our progress is tortoise-ial. (I heard one turtle telling his buddy, “Let’s go.”) There is one “professional” involved in this torture, the… – I don’t know what he was but he worked directly for the theater. The man is cruelly apoplectic at our glacial “progress”, every delay evoking a stream of invective, cursing and personal diminishment.
Finally, it is well past midnight. Everybody’s exhausted. And there is a work-halting mess-up with the equipment.
The “professional” immediately blows his top. “Amateurs!’’ “Idiots!” “Doesn’t anyone here know what they’re doing!?!?!
A stunned and humiliated silence paralyzes the venue.
Suddenly, a “calming” responder steps into the void. In a tone of Oliver Hardy-like forbearance, I reply, with accompanying hand gestures,
“We are doing… the best… we can.”
The entire theater goes wild. (And the guy never bothered us again.)
Without thinking or planning, I had defused the tension, saving the day for my downtrodden people.
That is one thing comedy is for.
The idea for “What Comedy Is For?” came to me after extensive stewing over comedian Dave Chappelle’s putting his massive talent behind decimating “Political Correctness” for an entire Netflix-produced concert.
To me, that was hunting mice with a machine gun. As in,
“Big ‘Fire Power’ – small prey.”
I then imagined Dave’s reaction to my well-meaning “You can do better with your wonderful gift” observation. You know how great it feels, having a terrible nightmare, and then waking up, happy you are protectively okay?
Boy, was Dave mad in that dream!
And you know what? – he was right to be mad. And I’m not just saying that to soothe a situation that never actually took place.
It’s Chappelle’s “comedy gift.” He can use it however he wants.
As can we all. (Including the “unfunny.” That’s how wide-open this is.)
As a tool, comedy itself serves numerous purposes. You can use comedy to attack. You can use comedy to deflect. You can use comedy to inform. You can use comedy to delight. You can use comedy to survive. (SEE: “Jewish History.” Any period you’d like.)
Nobody owns comedy, so there aren’t any rules. You just “go for it”, consequences be damned. (Including the consequence of saying the wrong thing and ending your career, so okay, Dave, I do get what you’re driving at.)
Symptomatically, perceived comedy behaviors are not equally healthy. In Nancy McWilliams’s Psychoanalytic Diagnosis (brought to me attention by another person in the house), the “Spectrum of Comedy” runs from a person who can’t stop making jokes (“… a feature of hypomanic personality… found at the borderline level of severity…”) to laughing at your own foibles and idiosyncrasies, which “… has been considered a core element of mental health.” Exemplified by someone who admits being unable to spell “ideosyncracies” without assistance. Wow! I just blew it again!”
Hey, how mentally “healthy” am I?
The issue of “What Is Comedy For?” remained percolating my mind as I watched Jerry Seinfeld “chauffeur” comic-buddy Steve Harvey in Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. (I know, “percolating.” It was an accident.)
In the context of remembering a comedy club they had both worked in called The Cellar – whose “signature kindness” was offering free hummus to the performers after finishing their “sets” – Jerry’s mind fluidly jumped to visiting a dying comedian friend in the hospital, before a scheduled “gig” at The Cellar.
During the visit, the sick person coughed up something hideous, and embarrassing, because there was “company.” Responding to the patient’s apologies for the unfortunate incident, Jerry casually replied.
“That’s okay. It put me in the mood for the hummus.”
For that glimmering “recess”, the convulsed patient forgot he was dying.
Conclusion: Comedy is for whatever you want it to be.
But most importantly,
It’s for that.
It's somebody's birthday today, but I can't say who it is, which probably tells you who it is.
Happy Birthday, is all I can say.
Plus, how lucky am I.