>A phone call from a booking agent yesterday told me that the Stand-Up Comedy industry continues it’s downward spiral into absolute absurdity. Two more comedy clubs that I regularly work have now decided that they’d rather focus on “Clean Comedy”, and will be censoring comedians who come through. From now on, all acts must refrain from using what immature (yet somehow fully-grown) adults have labeled “F-bombs”, and no overtly “blue” comedy will be tolerated.
2009 fast approaches, and I feel as if the industry in which I work is moving backwards in time. As if old Doc Brown crammed Comedy Club owners into his Delorian and took them back to the 1950s, the goody-two-shoes-types are once again running rampant over entertainers and trying to tell grown adults what they want to hear.
I toured 49 weeks on the road last year, traveling to 38 states and 5 Canadian provinces. I can tell you first-hand that the average comedy club audience does not want a watered-down, sanitized, or censored comedy show. In fact, I’ve been amazed at the fact that many crowds have caused me to push my otherwise PG-13 show straight into R-rated territory, made clear by their overzealous reaction to the dirtiest jokes and tepid reaction to the same routines when cleaned-up for certain situations. Hands down, the more “adult” the show, the better the response from the crowd…and that includes when I was simply witness to other comedians performances and not just my own experiences onstage.
Yet I’m amazed to find more and more comedy clubs censoring the comedians who work there. That’s exactly what it is, by the way: censorship. To call it anything else is an insult to both the performer and the audience. It’s a decision made by nothing but a combination of ignorance and arrogance, by the way. It assumes that a comedian (you know, the guy who actually has to perform in front of said audience) doesn’t know what audiences want or in some way needs someone else to tell him how he should do the act he wrote for himself to perform. I rarely hear musicians tell stories about how concert promoters insist they change up their chord patterns, yet I always have non-comics telling me exactly how I should be writing my act.
The first thing people need to know about comedians is this: We don’t set out to fail. It’s not dinner theatre, nor is it a tragic one-man show being performed to teary-eyed crowds on Broadway. It’s stand-up comedy. The intention is for the audience to actually like the guy onstage and, in turn, laugh at what he has to say. The comedian is looking to entertain, not anger, the audience. If you’re paying a guy to be a comedian, you should trust that he’s in it to succeed. He’s going to try and give the audience what it wants. Chances are, he’s going to figure out what works without you having to tell him.
The worst part of censoring comedians, however, is that it’s an insult to the audience. It’s one person (or a handful of people) making a decision for hundreds of others. I can tell you without hesitation that if I asked the average comedy club audience if they prefer an “Adult” or a “Clean” show, the “Adult” show wins every time. Sure, there will always be a few in each crowd that hate vulgar language and dirty jokes. But do you really want your entertainment decided upon by the minority? Believe it or not, many comedy clubs make decisions just like that.
See, no one is louder than the guy who complains. And no one complains more than the uptight audience member who is easily offended. I’ve had thousands of people slap me on the back and tell me how hilarious it was when I ranted for 10 minutes about masturbation. But one person who hated one phallic joke I told once tried to get me fired from a comedy club and even wanted me thrown out of the hotel in which I was staying…all because he hated a joke about a penis. The fifty people who like you shake your hand; the one person who hates you screams, makes phone calls, and writes letters. Guess who the comedy club winds up paying the most attention to?
No one is forcing “dirty” jokes upon anyone. If you’re a patron of a comedy club, you’re not an innocent victim. You paid a cover charge, bought the two-drink minimum, and sat in a chair that faced a lighted stage. I’ve got news for you: you’re guilty. You have every right to get up and leave, but when you expect your view to speak for the crowd, you’re trampling all over what’s supposed to be so great about comedy in the first place.
It’s been over forty years since Lenny Bruce was arrested for obscenity simply because he was doing “dirty” humor. It has been thirty years since George Carlin was arrested for the “Seven Words You Don’t Say on Television”. It’s also been that long since Richard Pryor broke taboos about what a comedian can say to an audience. It’s been twenty years since Sam Kinison did it again, in his own way, and made young people just like me re-think how we looked at stand-up comedy.
Now it’s almost 2009, and we’re forgetting the lessons taught to us by some of the biggest legends in comedy. Think of the most revered names in comedy over the last twenty years. The list of comedians who dared to use adult language and talk about adult situations far outnumbers the list of clean comics who played it safe, every single time. So, why are grown adults now allowing a vocal minority of buzzkills ruin the party?
Keep in mind that there are plenty of places to find clean stand-up comedy. I know many comedians who do church shows just so they can deliver a show that is free of adult language, even if they aren’t religious shows. Every year, companies shell out thousands of dollars to “Corporate Comics”, guys who do clean private shows for office functions. The average comedy club has plenty of “Clean Weeks”, where the comedian advertised is brought in for just that reason. Best of all, you can catch clean comedians right now, for free, on your television set in your very own home.
But comedy clubs should be left alone. They are the one place where grown adults can still go, have an alcoholic beverage (maybe even a smoke, depending on where you live), get away from the kids, and listen to one adult speak like an adult to a roomful of adults about things that are adult in nature. If you wanted to be spoken to as if you’re a child, or wanted your stand-up comedy to be watered-down, non-offensive, and completely void of anything taboo…why did you come to a comedy club? You could have found that almost anywhere else.
I understand that we all have different tastes and opinions, and not everyone wants to hear penis jokes and sexual humor for an hour. But the rest of the world is dominated by rules that restrict just that. For those who want to escape censorship, political correctness, sexual repression, and the onslaught of a child-obsessed society, let us have the comedy clubs. Stop trying to decide what’s best for everyone else, because everyone else never asked.
In closing, I’ll point out that this article has be completely void of expletives and adult humor. That was on purpose. I’m just trying to show that I know that there is a time and place for all types of humor, no matter the point I am trying to make on this subject. So, with my point now clearly made, I will quote my idol, George Carlin, when I say “Shit, Piss, Cock, Cunt, Fuck, Motherfucker, and Tits”.
Have a nice day.