Harder than stand-up 

Thumbing through NUVO, a local Indianapolis “alternative” paper while awaiting a pizza, I stumbled across the following article by Marc D. Allan on this season of NBC’s Last Comic Standing (A&E, May 21-28):

“Despite the shocking lack of laughs it offers on a weekly basis, Last Comic Standing remains one of TV’s most entertaining reality competitions by being the anti-American Idol.”

“The comics, most of them either amateurs or struggling newcomers, don’t get to perform professional material, like Idol contestants do. They must get on stage with their own jokes and try to impress. In the process, they consistently prove that nothing in show business is tougher than standup comedy.

“You probably know a lot of people who are funny — either cutting, self-deprecating, quick-witted, whatever. But how many of them could get in front of an audience for even one minute and get laughs with jokes they wrote themselves?”

My initial reaction was one of anger, immediately calling my wife and remarking, “What kind of idiots are they letting review comedy? Is he really calling these comedians ‘newcomers’? The majority of past season finalists had been doing comedy for at least a decade, if not longer.

“What in the world does ‘professional’ material mean?” I continued, ignoring my wife’s polite sighs of disinterest. “Whose material does he think they are going to be doing? Even if Mr. Allan [I tend to get very polite when annoyed] hasn’t caught onto the fact the majority of these ‘contestants’ are professionals themselves, what would be the point of a comedy competition where you did someone else’s material?”

In the middle of my third cigarette, I realized Marc Allan wasn’t the idiot, I was.

What Mr. Allan was doing was writing from the perspective of an outsider, or, more succinctly, your average comedy viewer/comedy club patron. The same people that have remarked to me post-show, “Really, you write all your own material?” I used to regard that remark as idiotic, but now, through the prism of Mr. Allan’s article, I can see that this comment is probably completely relevant and I’m the moron for taking offense.

I went into comedy with the (apparently) misguided notion that it was a “writing-based” business, that what mattered most were the jokes, regardless of who told them. I can see now that nothing could be further from the truth. Though this article seemed to sum everything up, the signs have been there for years; most notably watching Dustin “Screech” Diamond sell out a club to only return a week later to see a much better, yet unknown comedian play to one-third full crowds.

I realize comedy, much like music or any other art form, is subjective and that what I believe to be a well-written joke may not be seen in the same light by another person. That said, the problem isn’t varied taste, it’s considering comedy an art form at all. If Mr. Allan’s article proves anything, it’s that writing, which is the sole artsy part of stand-up comedy, has become irrelevant. The article tears apart most of the jokes (and rightfully so), but asserts it’s OK to write bad jokes because “nothing is harder than stand-up comedy.”

If Marc Allan truly has the appreciation for joke writing he asserts he does, why not write an article centered around someone who writes jokes and writes them well? Would it not be more beneficial to the local audience to read about someone doing something “hard” well and locally than read about them doing it poorly on TV?

There is something “hard[er] than stand-up comedy.” It’s getting someone to come out and review it.

Jeremy Essig
St. Louis, Mo.

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