I’ve been fascinated by stand-up comedy for a very long time. As a tweener (a label that didn’t yet exist in the early 70’s), I’d repeatedly listen to George Carlin’s first album, “Take-offs and Put-ons.” I was familiar with the acts of the most prominent comedians of the time, intuitively felt their POVs, and even tried to write jokes tailored for some of them. But because the fax machine had not yet been invented, I was never able to get them to Johnny Carson.
With a mix of existential dread and some seemingly happy moments, I see the world from many angles at once, always attempting to make a salient point or a dirty joke, or best of all, a combination of the two. As a teenager, I saw how artists like Carlin and Richard Pryor could do this. And despite my best efforts to be serious, I have always peppered my speech with premises and punchlines. A natural comedic cadence was there, and I sought consciously to hone it. Humor is a skill I utilized to keep myself emotionally afloat, and also to make other people feel good, which, in turn, enhanced my own sense of well-being. I don’t think I would have given myself permission to be such a consistent wiseass, though, had my life not been touched with early tragedy and sadness. Loss can be turned into a gift.
And so it is with great interest that I observe the many individuals flooding the field of stand up comedy over the past half dozen years. They reveal the trauma of their lives in their acts, and and as a result we are watching a never-ending soap opera with a million characters in its lineup, many of whom are quite compelling.
Social media has done a great deal to encourage the flood. I’ve always felt there’s room on the stage for everyone; all acts have something to offer. But with this glut of talent, it’s hard to see the special trees within the forest. It’s like a big, rich porterhouse steak of potential out there, with concentrations of the especially gifted marbled throughout, and those are the tastiest morsels to which most people are drawn. I’d like to think that I’m somewhere in those lush streaks, maybe in the gristle, and that I’m going to enjoy the journey without worrying too much about my fat intake.