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Saturday, August 04, 2012

Tig Notaro Has Cancer

…and Kira Hesser remembers where she was when she heard the news. Watching Notaro do a set.
While telling us anecdotes from these personal tragedies, all along the way, she assured the audience 'it’s okay, I’m going to be okay.' At one part, when she reached a dark place wherein most of the audience could not find the will to laugh, she said 'maybe I’ll just go back to telling jokes about bees. Should I do that?'
Read Hesser's post here.

Hesser wasn't the only one impressed with Notaro's set.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Daniel Tosh Told an Offensive Joke about Rape

Daniel Tosh has made people laugh about murder. He's made people laugh about slavery. He's made people laugh about bear mauling. Even right after all those people watched a video of a bear mauling.

In order to get those people to laugh at the attack, he didn't have to convince them that being mauled by a bear is OK. And he didn't have to convince them that they should be happy that someone got mauled by a bear. To make them laugh, first he had to convince them that altho life is full of pain and fear and there's always a risk of damage and trauma, right at that moment no-one was being stalked by a bear. And he had to be pretty sure that they knew that a round of laughter was not going to conjure two she-bears out of the woods.

Then without that fear, all it took is a little wordplay on race issues, an ironic lack of sympathy, or better yet, some misplaced sympathy—for instance, feeling sorry for the bear when someone defending the woman throws a bottle—and the audience could both laugh at the ridiculousness of the comments, and not be happy that the lady was attacked.

The bear attack was the focus of one of Tosh's "Video Breakdown" segments on his show. After having been attacked by a polar bear, a Russian woman stumbles away in her underwear, pants around her ankles. The first joke Tosh offers up: "See, when you dress like that, ladies, you're asking to be attacked."

That opinion probably sounds familiar. It has become the symbol of blaming the victim. It's the callous and accusatory scolding that too many women have heard after having been raped. This is just a guess, but I believe Tosh uses that line knowing that it sounds harsh, and knowing that the person who says that line seriously, is an asshole. I'm guessing that Tosh also believes that being that type of asshole verges on the immoral dismissal of a woman's suffering.

But here's the important difference: it's the serious, earnest use of that line. The ironic use of that line is by definition, saying it without believing it. And that's what comedians do all the time. Either by exaggerating their views, or by contradicting their views, comedians are pretty much always saying things they don't believe.

But they can still make people angry. Because sometimes people believe either 1) that the ironic statement is sincere, or 2) that even the ironic expression of an idea gives comfort support and power to people who hold that idea earnestly.

And one of those was the thinking that led a Laugh Factory audience member to walk out of a show angrily, and write a blogpost about Daniel Tosh's act. She reports the experience as "terrifying and threatening" and she ultimately judges his jokes as "violent". I can't disagree with her experience. The same way that someone who laughed can claim it's funny, she can claim it was scary. It's almost always stupid to tell someone that they're not feeling what they say they're feeling.

And as for claiming that she was threatened… I would ask her, with honest interest, what she felt the threat was. It's one thing to think you're in danger, and another to actually be in danger, but there's very little space, when you're dealing with a person face to face, between reassuring them to make them feel secure, and simply dismissing their fear and disrespecting the honesty of how they've experienced something.

In this case, the audience member claims that Tosh made very generalizing, declarative statements about rape jokes always being funny. She stresses that he was insistent on this point, and that he also claimed that rape itself is hilarious I'm willing to bet that Tosh thinks some rape jokes are stupid, poorly constructed, simple, obvious, and contrived. Any blanket statement about every conceivable rape joke being funny is fairly considered a purposely ridiculous opinion. And the statement that aside from jokes about it, rape itself is hilarious: are we really to believe that Daniel Tosh finds the act of rape amusing? I don't believe that about him.

She writes that she disagreed with Tosh's supposed opinions by yelling Actually, rape jokes are never funny! It's completely within her rights to share that opinion. Even tho she's not on stage, and no one attended the show expecting to hear from her, I'll go a little farther than supporting her right. I'm going to agree with the importance of sharing her opinion. She claims that
sitting there and saying nothing, or leaving quietly, would have been against my values as a person and as a woman.
I disagree with her claim that Tosh was telling her how she should feel about something as profound and damaging as rape, because I believe that Tosh's jokes are not statements of his belief: they're performances. But because of how she understood the statements, I repeat that it was an honest and important decision she made to disagree at that moment. To reach out in the most honest way she could was important to her sense of self, to her integrity. And if she was hurt by the response, what else could she do but what she did? She left.

And altho I don't think Tosh's reaction (if it was as she reports it) was an important one for him to make (nor was it the only option he had) I believe—just as I do about his other jokes—that it was a valid and acceptable performance. So while I believe she felt threatened, I also believe that if someone had even started walking towards her or had thrown an ice-cube at her, Tosh would've called them out and told them to stop. Call me naïve, but I do believe it. And I'm not going to simply accept jokes about cruelty as direct evidence of a comedian's cruel character.

The problems with communication begin when this becomes a matter of sides, and the two usually unopposed forces, sympathy, and levity, are pitted against each other. I refuse to agree to someone else's stricture that if I feel bad for a person, I can't laugh at a joke that makes light of their experience. Or that if I find a joke about some evil funny, I can't possibly sympathize with someone hurt by that evil.

Often, people who are upset about a joke will criticize any defense that focuses on the character of the performer rather than the effect of the act. It's a little weird to say that defending character is irrelevant, when much of the criticism focuses on motivation and character. So then, what of those criticisms that say something like 'I'm sure so-and-so is a good person, but there is a dangerous result of these types of jokes'?

When the discussion goes there, we're heading into claims about what fear a person should feel at the ability of other people to balance the two values of sympathy and levity. Does making a joke about evil—or laughing, or not expressing outrage about a joke about evil—make that evil stronger? And if the joke is the supposed admiration for that evil?

Some critics of Tosh's reported jokes are focusing on the effect this has. Some have been as specific and direct enough to claim that joking like this about rape makes it seem acceptable. Nobody seems to care that jokes and glib statements about murder are going to make murder seem acceptable. There was no outcry that all the cannibalism jokes of several weeks ago were going to hurt the cannibalism statistics. Some people didn't like the jokes, but it wasn't out of fear of some effect on society. Why not?

Rape falls into a window of evil behaviors that are cruel enough to be clearly wrong and beyond discussion for almost everyone, but are somehow still being negotiated. We could probably put child-abuse, wife-battering, bigotry, and a few other things on the list. And so we get statements, like this one from the @mountain_goats twitter feed
to compare those jokes with "I'm gonna kill you!" jokes is inane. 1 in 5 of the people you know isn't likely to get killed.
It appeals to a sense of risk and personal interest. It's a very attractive argument: An already too common problem, becomes even more likely because of these jokes. So how common does murder have to be before we decide the jokes are too much of a risk? No jokes about accidental shootings? How many people have to be killed on the highway before we get upset at jokes about reckless driving?

But does a performance like Tosh's really make rape more common? Even if we accept the claim that someone might be convinced by a joke to care less about rape, it's a huge jump to say that culture is equally lulled into thinking that 'no' means whatever. Or that joking about rape means not caring about rape. This goes back to the argument of necessary opposition: the belief that vigilance for a value will be destroyed by humor.

When comedy begins to concern itself with reaching the absolute moral certainty of being obviously satirical and impossible to mistake for an earnest statement, it isn't as good. Some of the most precise, thoughtful, intricate, and beautifully constructed jokes have offended and misled audiences. Ridiculous statements can be seen as both hilarious and completely wrong. And often they're even more hilarious when they're structured and presented as almost indistinguishable from honest statements of belief.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Adam Carolla Is Funny Enough for a Guy

Adam Carolla has been fawning over cars and bandsaws and the wisdom of football coaches for years, and the first thing that makes some people roll their eyes is a tired old comment about women not being as funny as men.

Image from

If you look at my Twitter feed, you'll see that I've made a few jokes about his comments, and I seem to be jumping on the backlash bandwagon. Hell, I'm even writing a post about it. But in my defense, I'm just an attention whore, trying to get a few RTs and the approval of a few female comics with 100X the followers I have.

I'll admit that's a big part of why I'm picking this moment to talk about Carolla and his ideas.

Because he's not dangerous all of a sudden. He's not nudging America towards misogyny and insensitivity. He did take a dig at a few comedians, but he did it only a few seconds after he said he thinks Kathy Griffin is a "super-funny chick". If anything he said could make me mad, that would be it.

Why does this recent interview matter? Why do we care that he said "The reason why you know more funny dudes than funny chicks is that dudes are funnier than chicks"?

It's a banal and shortsighted argument, even when the dude making it tries to sound smart, like Christopher Hitchens tried. So my reaction to Carolla's statement is really the same as my reaction when listening to him say that anyone who drives a Honda C-RV has given up on life. Or when he gets moist talking about how great sports are because "toughness and tenacity is something that you should hope your child has, versus, o— you know, a— a gift for music or math equations. You want a kid that's fucking tough. You want a kid that's not a pussy."* I roll my eyes and recognize the holes in the argument pretty much immediately.

I disagree with anyone who says that he shouldn't have a show, or he should lose his audience, or that he should apologize. I'm not even sure that he really believes the claim he's making. He's been performing for a long time now. And he's been trying all sorts of things to be funny. This might be ironic. It might not be. He might be doing his own version of the World Inter-Gender Championship. Or he might be as dumb about this as the interview suggests. He's clearly not dumb about getting attention just as his book is coming out.

The sticker price is the same whether you love him or hate him or don't care but decide to buy it anyway.

Whatever he really thinks, these statements are ready-made straw man arguments. I like seeing them out there, because all I have to do is quote them, and a lot of people will immediately recognize their stupidity.

*This quote is taken from the May 9, 2012 episode of Pete Holmes' You Made It Weird Podcast.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Today, We Are All Eaten

No one thought that cannibalism was going to become a problem. At least not a problem that we were going to have to deal with ideologically. I was probably being naïve, but I always figured that eating humans was clearly enough discouraged and recognized as not reflecting American values. So when you come across three stories in one week about cannibalism, maybe it's time to step back and remind folks that, 'Hey— we don't do that here.' Because if we don't stop this now, it could get out of hand.

What? That's not necessary? No one thinks it's OK? It'll never be OK? And you think it's ridiculous to get serious making sure people know cannibalism is wrong?

But what if denying cannibalism is the new cannibalism?

I wonder if it would be funny to make a satirical public service announcement against cannibalism. Andy Samberg made one (watch it here), but I think we can do better. First, it can be better by being funnier. I don't want to be critical, because Samberg's was pretty funny. That explains some of the laughs it got. But it wasn't funny enough. Offensive jokes have to be super funny, or else they're offensive. Trust me.

Also, we have to make sure that we know what our point is. Dylan Gadino reminds us that in addition to being funny, "cringe acts" need a "purpose". It also helps if the performer offers "valuable commentary" like George Carlin always did. You know how all jokes work better with commentary.

Just to be safe, let's make sure the commentary is explicitly stated. In these cannibalistic times it's not enough to let commentary remain merely implicit in the comedic material. So just to be clear, our humorous PSA should probably have a disclaimer either at the bottom of the screen, or it should provide a link to a sensitively worded treatise on how our willingness to make a joke about cannibalism is in no way an endorsement of cannibalism, and is in no way an argument for greater acceptance of cannibalism nor should it be taken as agreement with cannibalist acts or statements.

The direct and non-ironic commentary must accompany the Escheresque irony of a situation in which an argument might be misunderstood as an endorsement of cannibalist ideas, even tho the argument ostensibly condemns cannibalism. That confusion is understandable, because making light of a serious situation can too easily be seen as indifference to someone's suffering. And now that cannibals are on the loose, sensitivity to the suffering of others is more important than ever.

Maybe we can explain that unlike Samberg's obviously ignorant PSA, our fake PSA about cannibalism is carefully satirizing the ease and self-assurance of a lot of celebrities when they take obvious sides in ridiculous debates. We should come up with some statement about how PSAs are sometimes just lame PR strategies, with celebrities even cheaply promoting their latest PSA on late-night talk shows. Let's make it clear that we're also satirizing how PSAs so often clumsily combine heartfelt messages about important and somber issues with schlocky jokes, bad writing, stiff acting, and rough editing.

But most importantly, we need the commentary to explain just how much we're against cannibalism. We need to remind people that we still think cannibalism is very bad. Because bad writing is just kinda bad for comedy. But no good joke has ever worked by being insensitive and insincere.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Audio: Interview with Mitch Hedberg

Adam Cayton-Holland has posted the audio, from 2004, of a phone interview he did with Mitch Hedberg. Hedberg was on the road, driving to Louisiana Tech for a show.

The full audio is embedded here, but head over to Cayton-Holland's page to read his comments on Hedberg and the interview.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Kyle Kinane Claims He Was Stiffed by Sioux Falls, SD Booker


Kyle Kinane is putting out a public service announcement.

A few follow-up tweets fill in some details of the story:

He confirmed that the fellow he refers to looks like this

He confirmed that Abrahamson is "the same guy that stiffed JD Povorose," (as identified by @kfleminem).

He reported (we can gather) that the amount was $1,183.00 (plus the amount of Kinane's hotel stay).

Abrahamson's side of the story is nowhere to be found. In fact, his online presence is pretty minimal. A Facebook account under his name has been removed (screenshot of the cached page). His MySpace page is available only to friends. The only YouTube videos to show up with his name were posted by "mrstandup1978", who promised "I will be posting my sets as I get them…" but whose account has been deleted.

It's not clear that all those missing links are Abrahamson, but he is looking a lot like a baboon right now.


Kinane has posted the following statement on his webpage:

IMPORTANT MESSAGE TO TOURING COMICS: Avoid working for Sioux Falls booker Brian Eugene Abrahamson at all costs. He will not pay. He is not a sad-sack down on his luck as he’d like you to believe. From what I’ve discovered after the fact, he books people with the promise of a set amount but has no intention of paying them the agreed flat fee. I was lucky that I wasn’t relying on the promised guaranteed amount for my bills, but others haven’t been so lucky. Brian Eugene Abrahamson needs to be ousted from booking comedy shows and the best way I know how is to take to public forums.

Feel free to repost this in any comic forums you utilize to warn others that you WILL NOT BE PAID if you work for Brian Eugene Abrahamson. Or give me the names of any viable comic forums and I will be happy to contact them myself.

Abrahamson has deactivated his Facebook and Twitter accounts, as he’s done in the past when comics have rallied against him for the same reason. He will terminate any means of communication until the trouble blows over, then resurface to book more comics not aware of his scam. It is my intention to make sure that doesn’t happen again. As I’ve said, put the word out that Brian Eugene Abrahamson doesn’t pay his comics the amount they’ve agreed upon, therefore he has no business working in a promotional capacity. To clarify, he works independently and is not affiliated with any clubs in the area of Sioux Falls. As a matter of fact, he is banned from his hometown club, to the best of my knowledge. So if that says anything…

Thanks for listening. Spread the word if you are a comic and understand that if you manipulate someone and mess with their source of income, it shouldn’t be tolerated.

Kyle Kinane

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Jim Tavaré, Victim of Identity Theft


In the 3rd season of Wings† Jim Tavaré played a comedian who steals Helen Chapel's comedy thunder by doing a stand-up act with the same gimmick she is hoping will make her stand out: playing a large stringed instrument.

Now, Tavaré is making sure everyone knows that there's a comic out there, named Sid Bowfin, who's trying to steal more than his thunder: Tavaré believes he's stealing the entire act.

Tavare has been working hard to shine an accusing light on the would-be doppelgänger. He's been on Twitter asking for help from Robin Ince, Bob Saget, Peter Serafinowicz, Bryan Callen, Neal Brennan, Stephen Fry, the people at Punchline Magazine and others.

See, the important difference here, is that while both Tavaré (left)
and Bowfin (right) are checking their mics, Bowfin has updated
the material by using a wireless mic. Tavaré never though of that. 

The similarities pretty feasibly go beyond mere coincidences. Both wear white tie and tails on stage, use a member of the viol family as a prop, sport a slick scalp, have similar websites (Tavaré's page, Bowfin's page), speak with a British accent (that might be coincidence), and even work with some similar extended premises on stage.

Here's a video of Tavaré doing a bit about a malfunctioning mic and keyboard.

And here is Sid Bowfin doing his own take on the technical troubles.

It might be worth noting that one of Tavaré's early jokes was "Good evening. My name is Jim, I'm going to play you music spanning several centuries. Hope you've got the time."

And his admirer says on stage: "Ladies and gentlemen, hello, my name is Sid Bowfin, and I'm here to play you some classical music for the next four hours! Are you excited? You should get out more."

Use this information as you will.

UPDATE: A comment has been posted under the name "Sid Bowfin" over at Punchline Magazine's article about this story. The article is a reprint of Tavaré's letter to Punchline, wherein he makes his case.

Bowfin's entire response to the accusations are as follows:

You’re right, I can’t deny it any longer I have stolen my entire act from you, which probably explains why it’s so bad. This whole article is like an argument between two prostitutes over who caught herpes first, there are no winners here and the losers are the comedy loving public who have now had their conciousness [sic] infected with our comedy STIs.

If this is the real "Bowfin", what we have here is a petty pickpocket complaining that there wasn't enough money in the wallet he stole, and concluding 'this makes us both look bad.'

† Episode 18: Take My Life, Please — 27 February 1992