Osama bin Laden's death has been terrorizing the news. From BBC to CNN to Fox, all I see is Osama Obsession. Even on the home front here at Huffington Post, while the Osama news is no longer taking the top tier of news worthy stories (thankfully HuffPo knows there is still other news to report), his ghostly face is still front and center with confirmation of his death and details of his compound. Like any good American, I was happy that we'd finally "got him," if only to bring closure to those still suffering from 9/11. However, like any good human, I felt conflicted rejoicing in a man's death, Osama or not. These contradictory feelings could only be washed away by the chemical high my brain creates as a result of laughter. So last night I headed to The Comedy Store on West Sunset Boulevard, to support a friend who is new to standup and to get high on my own, internal chemistry set.
The first three Thursdays of May, The Comedy Store in Hollywood is putting on Emerging Comics with Matt Taylor night, showcasing amateur comics as well as the occasional professional comic. While The Comedy Store does not take responsibility for the "quality" of the show, the professional comics they keep on the sidelines certainly help the audience morale. The Cinco de Mayo special guest was Bill Burr, an American comedian who grew up outside Boston, MA and who was practicing some new material. And though the Bahhstan accent slips in now and then, by no means does he sound like Jeremy Renner as James Coughlin in The Town. That is... until you piss him off.
See, in the middle of Thursday's eight p.m. show, Burr noticed a young man, front and center of the audience, videotaping him with a phone. And when confronting the young man, like any good comic, Burr let him have it with a few quick-witted and sharp-tongued verbal jabs, and finally requested -- in a demanding sort of way -- that the young man delete the video. The young man, still giggling from the onslaught of clever insults doled out by Burr, set the phone in his lap without deleting a thing. This was the point in the show where Burr's tone changed from funny haha comic guy to a guy whose livelihood is being toyed with by some jerk audience member that wants the most YouTube hits for a pirated Bill Burr video. Burr said at one point, "These are new jokes man, and you're gonna post that on YouTube and then they'll be old jokes," and the significance of his statement sat with me all night, and well through my morning coffee.
Places like The Comedy Store, Laugh Factory, and Improv have been safe havens for these talented and often self-deprecating live performance artists to try out new material before hitting the road. If that safe haven becomes threatened by YouTube-hits-hungry, front-and-center jerks like the one from Thursday evening, then what is the future of live performance art like standup? Where can these artists try on the many jokes that it takes to fuel a comedy tour? And what does that say about how we value those men and women brave (or crazy) enough to grace the stage just to make us laugh?
Bill Burr handled the situation with a juxtaposed delicacy and firmness that made it quite apparent this was not his first encounter with a man and his video phone. He let the audience know that it's a serious offense to videotape someone without their conveyed approval, while simultaneously eloquently working the idiocy and rudeness of front-and-center guy back into the routine. There were maybe three seconds where I thought Burr was going to get down off the stage and take the phone -- an act I would have stood and applauded - but like any brilliant comic, Bill Burr handled the incident with the deftness with which he delivered jokes. By the end of the act, I didn't want to punch video guy. I just wanted to shake my head and laugh at him.
So where does that leave live entertainment? Performers constantly on the look out for a crowd member's face lit up by a cell phone glow that makes him resemble what Burr called an Avatar? How do you impress upon a crowd the importance and difficulty in creating an "act?" This feels virtually impossible, especially if every member of that crowd is obsessed with creating the ultimate YouTube, Facebook or Twitter account. They aren't experiencing the show if they are tweeting live, and like Burr said, "Nobody gives a f*** about your status!"
The Buggles, and the very first video on MTV, proved, "Video killed the radio star." Don't let your documentarian obsession kill the live performance star.
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