Ay dios mio! Lately, there's been more melodrama in stand up comedy than a telenovela and, sadly, 100 percent less attractive people (seriously, like every nun on Spanish soap operas is an undercover Sofia Vergara). And all the drama makes me feel like I'm strapped down to a chair a la Alex from Clockwork Orange and forced to watch this on an endless loop:
Recently, articles, podcasts and interviews have been tracking and analyzing stand up comedy's every move. Even the New York Times got in the mix by having writer Jason Zinoman, who may have written like five sentences about me once (#MeanToBrag), cover stand up and its nuisances like preparing a late night set for shows like Conan. This positive attention means more exposure for comics. However, when comics air their dirty laundry, that also gets attention and the in-fighting can look like the kind you'd find on The Jerry Springer Show. Hence the melodrama.
For instance, one of my all-time favorite comics, the hilarious Bill Burr, launched into a NSFW six minute crunkalicious and intentionally over-the-top rant on his weekly Monday Morning Podcast a month ago about alt comics versus club comics and Huffington Post, Laughspin, Splitsider, to name a few, picked up the clip. Take a listen:
It's a funny, angry, opinionated diatribe that spread like wildfire in the stand up scene. Some alt comics claimed Burr was being a bitter bully from the old guard, unwilling to accept change, while some club comics co-signed with Burr like he was applying for a FHA loan. And here we are a month later, still talking about it. Or, in the case of the New York Times, writing about it. Andrew Clark wrote an op-ed called "How the Comedy Nerds Took Over", using the the Burr clip as a jumping point to write about the differences between the factions.
Alt comics (David Cross, Marc Maron, Janeane Garofolo being the pioneers) started out as a reaction to the stereotypical hack comedy that was saturating clubs, so they took their quirky, offbeat, acts to supportive environments like lounges, theaters and rock venues. At its best, alt comedy can be challenging, surprising and innovative. And at its worst, alt comics think that being awkward.com/FAQS is a substitution for punchlines. As for club comics, which includes great like Burr, Rock, and Louis C.K. (sorry, alt scene, no matter how much you try, he is not alt), they cut their teeth in clubs, toughed it out on the road, where they could face unruly audiences and had to defend themselves 300-style:
This unruliness is a key difference that Burr sees between alt comics and club comics. Not being tested on a regular basis makes alt comics less capable of handling difficult situations and as a result, alt comics demand the tough edges of stand up comedy to be dulled down for their sake.
As Clark writes, "What truly seemed to irk Burr was that comedy nerds had it too easy. "It's like stand-up comedy while wearing training wheels," he said, "and you never take them off."
Yes, that's certainly true. However, I think the even bigger problem is that no one agrees on what exactly comedy is and everyone is certain that their style is the style for stand up. But Burr isn't the only one asserting himself. I've heard some alt comics asserting their own ideals and thumbing their nose at club acts. So let's stop with the bully talk. We don't need an "It's Gets Better" video from Dan Savage to make the comedy nerds feel better. Their hurt feelings over Burr's rant will subside with a new episode of Community to jizz over. (Can we admit the show ain't all that?)
What needs to be addressed is that comedy is clearly in the midst of an identity crisis like Britney Spears in her song I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman aka "I kinda wanna get my fucky fuck on, but like, mah parents will prob gets mad and stuffs." In all seriousness, with the alt scene becoming a bigger presence and club acts not going anywhere, people are focusing on how comedy is presented rather than paying attention to the content. So while, I agree with a lot of Burr's rant, the bottom line is that he most respects and enjoys comics who came up like him. Who had similar struggles to him. And if you have not, he views you as part of the problem. Is this right? Is this wrong? And more importantly, does it even matter? As 90s dance club artist CeCe Peniston sang, "I Win, You Win, We Lose."
Point is, if comics spend all their time and energy fighting over who's right, they're going to miss out on what's right. And what's right is being funny, something that people forget is completely subjective. And it strikes me as interesting that we allow for comedy to be subjective, but not the path for getting to the funny. There's not one kind of funny, one kind of comedy in the world and there's isn't one blueprint for getting there. And as much as Burr worries about comedy being defanged because some comics are taking non-traditional paths, it won't be. There will always be Summer's Eves who go to shows and act a damn fool and alt comics, sooner or later, will learn how to "supersoak those hos" the way club acts do. Is that right? Nicki Minaj spells it "hoes." But Nicki also dresses like an Anime character on drugs.
I understand there will always be posses in stand up comedy; it's only human nature. But at a certain point, this back and forth will no longer be a fruitful discussion, but just about each side proclaiming why they are better than the other. Guess what? No one outside of the people arguing actually cares. The comedy umbrella-ella-ella-ay-ay-ay, encompasses all styles: the Andy Kaufmans, the Chris Rocks, the Joan Rivers are all brilliant and they never really gave a crap about anything except being funny. In their own way. So maybe that's what comedy is. It's each comics' expression of the way they view the world and themselves. So Bloods (Alt) & Crips (Club) squash the beef and stop killing each other aka stop angry-typing on comment boards in caps lock. Let's not forget that we're all nerds and weirdos, which is why we got into comedy in the first place. Quit trying to mythologize yourself and those who resemble your ideals and get out there and just be funny. Be funny and you will never be denied whether you're alt or clubby.
Follow Phoebe Robinson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PRobinsonComedy