Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Since you asked the

Since you asked, the long version:

The new season of “American Idol” started last night. Can you believe how awful some of the singers are? Folks, here is a tip, if, every time you sing, people look like they are about to spit out something horribly unpleasant tasting? Don’t go on “American Idol.”

A so-so joke aside, there is no way I can stand to watch the beginning of “American Idol.”

Fans of the show love this time when the bad singers appear but I can’t take it. Maybe I’m more sensitive than I look, feel or write, but it kills me to see these people get their feelings hurt and their dreams killed at the same time, no matter how ridiculously bad they are. The fact is they clearly think they are good. And probably someone who loves them agrees with them. That is too much delusion, denial and heartbreak for me to enjoy.

One day, at a shopping mall near me, they held an open call for young girls who aspired to be models. Oh my word, my heart actually broke to the point where I thought I could cry. Some of these poor little things were so not ever going to be a model. In college, I knew a guy who was a national print model. He was discovered, as I think most models are. It’s like a great football player, if you are good enough, the NFL will find you.

My mother, to the day she died, could not tell the story – that the rest of the family loves to tell - of how she entered her beloved childhood Collie, Copper, in a dog show. My Mom was so excited, she knew Copper would win because she knew, with all of her ten-year-old heart, that Copper was not only the most beautiful Collie ever, but The most beautiful dog in the entire world. But to play it safe, she gave Cooper a bath, and brushed her for an hour and trained her on the leash for many more. In fairness, Copper did get third place . . . out of the three Collies that were entered.

My Mom wept openly for a week.

(Sometimes, when we told to story, to get a reaction out of Mom, we said Copper got third and there were only two Collies entered. Mom got very upset with that abuse of the truth for the mere purpose of alleged humor)

Most people go through life without taking a big chance. It takes guts to put yourself on the line, especially in public. The timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat, as Teddy Roosevelt called them, are satisfied to sit back and criticize others like hell. It actually makes them feel good to tear others down. Believe me, I know because I have been hammered by a critic or critics as both a stand up comedian and a comedy writer and it hurts like you cannot believe, no matter how much of a jerk they are. What they are basically saying is, excuse me, but that thing you are pouring your guts, life and heart into? It really sucks.

But, despite the fact that they may be humorless jerks, critics can also be dead-on right. (See: Simon Cowell) A lot of the time performers stink.

When you are bombing on stage, people do not respond well. The nice people get embarrassed for you, which is a little thing called pity, and the not-so-nice people actually get angry that you are wasting their precious time.

One thing I have noticed about the harsher comedy critics is that, either when criticizing me or criticizing an actual big-time, famous comedian, the meanest, angriest critics of comedy all have one thing in common: they personally have absolutely no sense of humor at all. Zero. (Roger Ebert is a good example)

You have to have actually once been funny to know how it is done and these brutal critics clearly have never been funny in their lives. One rather humorless woman I know informed me matter-of-factly that Jerry Seinfeld was not at all funny. It took all I could not to say, “Actually, yes Seinfeld is funny, you, having the sense of humor of a carp, are just incapable of grasping it.”

When I was a kid, we had this shriveled-up leaf of a man living nearby who was the widower of my great Aunt Kaffy, so that made him a designated Christmas guest. This poor old guy, Uncle Gene, was so dry, and so humorless and so boring that we had to tag team visiting with him. As soon as someone came into the living room, that was your chance to bail out with your life.

Poor old Uncle Gene would drone on and on and on and on and finally, just before you were about to slit your wrists, he would hit you with his punch line and he expected you to laugh hysterically, which you would fake as best you could. But if you tried to tell Uncle Gene a joke, no matter how funny it was, he would glare at you like you had thrown up on his clip-on bow tie.

Uncle Gene was a particularly harsh critic of comedy.

One time, on a dead night at a comedy club, it was going pretty bad because it was a small crowd, so I had the brain storm to wing it with all new untried material - a big mistake unless your first name is Richard and your last name is Pryor, which, given the recent circumstances, I hope it isn’t - and I got flushed and literally started choking. By choking I mean choking, you could hear my voice tightening up. It was awful. When I got off the stage I could feel myself go into mild shock, bombing is that much of an emotionally upsetting trauma to the soul.

In all due modesty, I must defend myself and say I have killed (in comedy kill is good) way more than I have bombed, but, nonetheless, make no mistake, I have bombed.

That same night I bombed so badly, a patron actually went to the trouble of coming up to me, she introduced herself, and then she calmly detailed, in no uncertain terms, why she thought I was so awful and should get out of comedy. What a nice person. I’m sure that, when she dies, that she won’t be tortured forever in the seventh circle of hell.

The other great reaction I got was one night I had a bad set. It’s a long story, but my thoughts and heart were just not into it and, boy, did it show. But the comedian after me killed. The comedian who killed and I were talking in the lobby and an older man came up to him and started raving about how funny he was, how clever he was, how great the material was, how he couldn’t believe he wasn’t on HBO right now. Then the nice older man turned to me and said;

“Oh, hi there” and walked away.

Some would-be comedians, like the bad singers, are so deluded they not only don’t think they bomb, they think that they are killing as they are bombing. You don’t feel sorry for them because they don’t feel bad themselves.

But then they don’t have a snippy little bitter Brit named Simon detailing just how awful they are in front of the entire world.

But that William Hung character? He really sucked.