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10 Things in Stand-Up Comedy That Should Be Retired

Posted: 09/06/2012 5:06 pm

In my monthly or so examination of comedy I have decided after hearing certain things too much that it might make sense to retire them. In full disclosure, I did many of the things listed early in my career so this is less judgmental and more aspirational; a hope that we might forge ahead with a better, less hacky, less annoying comedy future (sorry I got swept up in the Democratic National Convention rhetoric last night). So, without anymore preamble here is the list of 10 things I would like to see retired from comedy by 2013 (wishful thinking):

1. Tyrone. In the last 40 years black people have gone from Negroes to Afro-Americans to African-Americans to socialists (if you are a Tea Party member looking to vent your racist rage in a socially and politically acceptable way), but the standard name for a non-black comedian to reveal a black person punchline remains Tyrone. It is time to evolve beyond this. Perhaps Terrell or Daequon could seize the mantle for 2012 (or at least for 2002). Or when in doubt just add a D' in front of a name and hope for the best. But let's retire Tyrone, or at least petition the NAACP to have a funeral for it.

2. The White Guy Voice. The white guy voice is a time honored device of degradation for minority comics to demean white guys. It has been done for a long time (and for me, my favorite spin on it is Dave Chappelle's, which sounds less corny and more super serious), but it is time to go. I made this decision when watching a high profile Latino comic's' Rosetta Stone Spanish lesson, posing as a comedy special on HBO. His special consisted of four things in equal parts: Spanish phrases, telling the difference between Latino families and white families, staring bug-eyed while rubbing the lapel of his suit jacket and doing a white voice circa 1977 comedy. Enough is enough -- it is time for a new spin on this one. Retire the old one.

3. "Where my ____ at?" I have heard this line for cheap crowd applause so much that "Give it up for the troops" thinks it is hack. This is the way to usually shoehorn crowd work in to supplement a joke that is not strong enough or organically arising on its own. Work on your bit and tell the crowd what is happening -- stop asking them and if you are going to ask them a question, at least phrase it differently than every hack emcee across the country trying to sound like they have an ounce of hip hop credibility (hip hop no longer has credibility -- see Ice Cube's Coors commercials and 50 Cent's $500 million Vitamin Water deal).

4. Weed jokes. A close relative of No. 3 and in my humble opinion, the best reason to legalize marijuana. Sure drug violence at the Mexican border might be reduced and it makes little sense to criminalize marijuana at this point, but all I care about is destroying weed-based stand up comedy. I remember when I started comedy it felt like any joke about marijuana got huge laughs (I don't smoke so I don't make the jokes). But I feel like there may be a little more exhaustion from these jokes because "Where my weed smokers at?" (a double violation/double retiree) don't seem to rile up crowds as much anymore. The point is smoking marijuana is commonplace, barely criminalized anymore and has been beaten to death by comedians. Let's move on to heroin material.

5. "Too soon?" I know this one will be tough for a lot of people to let go so I will make a deal. Too soon still gets some laughs when properly applied (Gary Gulman's bit about a gunpowder Abe Lincoln scratch n sniff sticker comes to mind), but I would estimate, based on absolutely no scientific data other than my gut instinct, that 90 percent of jokes that end with a "too soon?" tag are actually written with the too soon in mind. So instead of relying on the strength of the joke, the so-so joke is in place to facilitate a "too soon."

6. "Interweb(s)" I believe I first heard this in an early George W. Bush parody, but I could be wrong. But not much has gone from new to hack quicker. It was funny once upon a time. We no longer live in that world, so let's stop saying it.

7. Male vs. Female Funny Debate. I have engaged this topic with nuanced vigor to no avail. So I am here to say that I will finally admit that men and women are equally funny and equally capable of being funny. In exchange for this bold concession on my part I would just like all the people who have always supported this idea to admit that there is not a shred of tangible evidence proving the veracity of this statement. Great! So I guess we can stick a fork in this one.

8. Instruments, Puppets & Unruly Beards -- The Unholy Trinity of Props. If you play an instrument or play with puppets as the centerpiece or sole focus of your stand-up comedy then you are not a stand up comedian and should perform at middle schools and theaters, but not at stand up comedy clubs. And thanks to Zach Galifianakis, the unruly beard has become a new prop in stand up comedy. I do not know if lumberjacking (working title for a porn) is still a thriving profession in America or if The Lorax' hard work paid off, but stand up comedy has shot way past it in terms of becoming the most facial hairy profession. Now a beard, unlike instruments and puppets does not disqualify a comedian. However, in a profession that is a safe haven (or used to be) for free speech the proliferation of facial hair is telling. Beards and mustaches are often considered hallmarks of someone with something to hide. But if comedy is supposed to be raw honesty, then all these bearded folks must have something to hide, possibly something besides a lack of punchlines. Get the Gillette and get to writing!

9. The "clubs and colleges" intro. Even when true this intro no longer sounds honest, especially when the emcee has just done it for seven consecutive anonymous comedians. Instead use one of two options -- 1) get a credit or 2) be proud of your anonymity -- When I did open mics at a taco restaurant named Maui Taco I had myself introduced a few times as "You may have seen this guy performing in the basement of a taco restaurant." And then when I had performed at clubs and a college I was angry at being introduced as "clubs and colleges." I had earned that one college and it was being diluted by a false quantity of one to infinity number of colleges. Next time up I was introduced as "clubs and a college." These are just some of your options, but let's ditch the "clubs and colleges" for good.

10. Stand Up Comedy Classes. I understand that times are tough and that some veteran comedians can offer some good advice on crafting material and (more importantly in my opinion) ways to guide a fledgling career. But funny cannot really be taught. It is a cliche and worth repeating, so if you are a young comedian and you are looking for guidance on approaching a career or work-shopping material, perhaps you can find value in a class. But for every legit one there are scores of frauds so I would throw the legit baby out with the illegitimate bath water of stand up comedy classes.

OK, there it is. I look forward to many of these things being inducted into the Comedy Hall of Shame in five years when they become eligible after retirement.

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