I can’t think of any art form that gets less publicity than standup comedy. For example, today I open up my local paper’s weekend section and on the front cover is some transgender person who’s doing a one-man play at a women’s fringe fest. I’m not someone who thinks transgendered people are freaks, so don’t label this as some type of bigotry on my part. I’m not even going to take on the issue of if you are having an event called Divafest celebrating women’s plays, why do you promote a chick who grew up with a dick? Here is my problem.
It’s called fringe because only a small percentage of the public is interested. Sparsely attended artistic endeavors like symphonies, opera, and off-broadway plays, get lots of press because the people who work in the media are on-board. I had over 500 people see me perform last week, but I was invisible to the local media. I’ve toured the country for 2 decades, I’ve written for TV shows and even a book, and I’ve had 3 well-received blogs. Outside of some radio appearances, I might as well have been putting on a junior high play. For some reason, most standup comedy is considered to be low-culture by media hipsters. I’m not going to say that there aren’t hacks out there, but even the hackiest professional comics can do something superior to most fringefests; you know–be entertaining. I have my share of dick jokes, but I also tackle the economy, the war in Afghanistan, and growing up in a dysfunctional home. Now if I took out most of the laughs and added a bunch of pretentious dialogue, I could make my own one-man play, but I instead am most interested in getting more than 75 people to see my show each year.
On this subject, let me offer up that despite being liberal on most social issues, I think it is ridiculous that we spend any tax dollars on the National Endowment of the Arts. Just like how I don’t like so much of my tax dollars being wasted in Afghanistan, I don’t like my money going to some dude who has a bullwhip hanging out of his ass. (Now where is my political party?) The NEA never gives any money to starving standups, just starving artists. I would argue that George Carlin has done more for making people think than any guy painting on a canvas. Who is to know how many more Carlin’s were out there that quit because they couldn’t make a living at standup? I’m all for artists finding a benefactor to help keep them going, but that sugar daddy shouldn’t be the Federal Government.
I’m proud of the profession I’m in and I get tired of how it’s treated as some type of art form which works for the lowest common denominator. I’m off my soapbox now, as I’m busy 52 weeks a year entertaining the masses, not 1 weekend being witty for a few elitists.
Postnote: I never wanted to be a comedian growing up, I wanted to be a columnist. I studied journalism in college. I don’t throw media elite around lightly. Where I think it rears it’s most elitist head though is in the art sections of newspapers. I totally get why that it is the case, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.