I view stand up comedy as the firing lines of entertainment. It really is. You are right there for the re-action to whatever you say on stage. Other performers in other genres get nasty letters or ratings. When you’re a stand up – they are either laughing or they aren’t. You know instantly how they feel about something you just said.
So when you spend the week watching videos of human suffering. Wretched, outrageous, miserable, unnecessary suffering – let alone of your countrymen – but of your fellow human beings – of quite possibly your friends – it doesn’t matter because you still have a job to do. And your job is to go on stage and regardless of how you feel – make people laugh.
So I had a gig near Vegas this weekend. Before the show I was talking to the headliner about the hurricane. I started ranting about the incompetency of our government. Blah blah. I was all worked up. Angry. Two seconds later – the show started. A little flustered, I got on stage – did my material. They were laughing. I felt distracted. They didn’t notice.
Then I said that my family was from a little town in Louisiana. I felt a gasp from the crowd.
“It’s still there, don’t worry.” I said to re-assure them.
I said some of the stuff I wrote about on this blog last week. That this is the second Hurricane Katrina to threaten my family – my uncle married the first one. They laughed, this time a little tense. I did a joke about how cool New Orleans is as a city. Then I said that I wanted to go down there and help, but my only usable skill is what I am doing right now – making people laugh. “That’s how we heal – that’s how we know we’ll be okay – when we can laugh.” That got a bigger re-action.
Then I said, “The people of the gulf coast don’t want a moment of silence. They want a moment of a much fucking noise as you can make! Let them hear you!” The crowd went NUTS. Then I brought on the next comedian.
I got backstage and the headliner threw her arms around me. “You did good.” Go ahead and judge me if you’d like – I started crying. The enormity of it all suddenly hit me.
Then I sat down and watched the other comics address it in their own way as well.
What I realized is that I don’t get the luxury of not saying anything (ahem Democrats). I am PAID to say something – I can say anything I want – as long as its funny. There is a responsibility that goes with that. Sometimes you are obligated to talk about the elephant in the living room.
My humor is a personal survival technique. This weekend, stand up comedy became something that wasn’t about me – but about giving other people hope through that perspective.