Everyone, it seems, has had something to say about the content of this weekend’s White House Correspondents Dinner keynote comedienne's…whatever that thing was.
I don’t want to talk about what she actually said, but about one of the things I’ve noticed as a life-long comedy lover that is affecting comedy like every other aspect of free speech…the lack of taking personal responsibility for what we say and the responses to it.
I am not a professional comic by any means. I did think about getting into comedy for a short time, but after interviewing several comics and getting to know their lives and struggles, I realized it wasn’t the right life for me. I respect those who have worked to be successful, and still keep their personal lives together. Not an easy feat by any means.
Lately, I’ve noticed a change in the entertainment world, but it isn’t in the content.
Entertainment, specifically comedy, hasn’t gotten filthier or more lowbrow. There have always been freak shows and flatulists (Google it) among the intellectual discourse. There have always been insult comics, and those who think the F-Bomb is a punchline in itself. There is “offensive” content out there, but there have always been people offended by something. So what? I always tell people don’t go to a show, concert or movie before doing a little research on the content. If you don’t think you’ll like it, don’t waste your money and go on with your life. As long as they aren’t hurting animals or kids, hey, I give you my blessing to perform your wonderful or lousy act. Heck, dark humor is one of the best ways to deal with tragedy and hardship in some circumstances.
The one big difference in entertainment is in the "victim" attitude of many (not all) entertainers today. They forget every action has a reaction, and when it is not the reaction they want it might not be the fault of everyone else.
In short, if you are in the entertainment industry, know these two rules: Own up and own it. Know your audience.
If you make a movie, write a song, or utter a joke, written or ad-libbed, and people don’t like it, you, the entertainer are not the victim. You created something that others don’t like. That happens. Sorry, that doesn’t mean you can call all your critics racists, misogynists, uneducated lowlife troglodytes, backwood hicks or other insulting monikers you want to hurl in your frustration.
I am getting really tired of a director or comedian telling us how we should feel about their product. If a movie tanks, don’t go on every talk or news show you can to let people know why they are wrong, and not worthy of your creative vision. I will admit social media has made it easy for the “armchair critic” to be jerky just because they have a personal beef with the director or actor, or just because it’s fun to cause trouble. Even though these guys are out there among the legit critics, scolding your audience is a crappy move.
Handle criticism with class, and be appreciative of your audience, both those who loved your work, and those who remind you no one is perfect or above criticism.
I don’t watch events like Hollywood award shows (or media correspondent dinners), because it feels like I’m one of the peasants peeking in at a party to which I wasn’t invited. They swap awards and flattery back and forth, and write jokes for their own inner circle. That’s fine, but they shouldn’t by any means be surprised when those "watching at home" call them out for being the overpaid morons they are. Again, not all entertainers are this way, yet when you get around your peers you fall victim to groupthink and inside jokes.
You would think these groups know their audience, since when these groups take barbs at everyone they disagree with politically, they are successfully entertaining their own bubble. That is as it should be. However, when they decide to “graciously” invite the outside world in to see them, they better not be surprised they aren’t considered that funny or intelligent outside their peer group.
Remember sitting around with a group of friends and laughing hysterically at something one of you said or did, often at the expense of someone else? You can’t help but laugh to yourself every time you think about it. You decide to tell it to another group, and they say ”that isn’t funny at all…what’s wrong with you?” Then you politely say, "sorry," but think, "wow, that killed at dinner last night." Even as individuals you have to know your audience, much less those who make a living sharing their creative soul with strangers.
If you have the mike in front of you and an audience at attention, by all means say what you want. However, we as an audience have every right not to like it, and therefore not waste anymore time or money supporting your work.
I used to work at a comedy club, and I witnessed two types of comics: those who followed the two rules I mentioned, and those who didn’t.
The ones who did would take notes, hone and improve their act, yet not back down from their opinions. They would also take into consideration that some jokes just don’t play as well in Mississippi as they do in New York, and accept that. No one audience is any smarter than the other, just different. They ask themselves the classic "Will it play in Peoria" or anywhere else for that matter before taking a joke on the road.
The ones who didn’t follow those rules would clomp on stage after a show and blame the city, audience, club owner and even waitresses for their bad performance. The would mutter things like "These people are idiots, who don't recognize good comedy, and your town sucks!" It was the members of the first group I would see being invited on late night shows or on Comedy Central later, not of the second.
Unfortunately, that second group is taking over, and it is ruining entertainment. Some of the best comics throughout history have made a name for themselves making audiences unwitting victims of their humor and jokes, but when they turn around and claim “victimhood” themselves, it isn’t a good look, and it certainly isn’t entertaining.