Saturday, March 10, 2007

beta commedia

My Philosophy 3101 fails me now as I search in vain for who noted that laughter signifies the death of an emotion. And I'm not sure what's so funny about a job that places me outside of a comedy club every night for the past week, assembling a script for a slew of unknown comics talking about such staples as how white people walk, masturbating in the shower, taking a dump, Bar Mitzvahs, O.J., vaginas, beating children, smoking weed, fat chicks. The halls here are lined with photos of the famous ones: Chappelle, Seinfeld, Lewis Black, Sarah Silverman. Me, I get to meet that one guy who appeared on Seinfeld, selling Jerry a van, despite protests that Jerry's "not a van guy." He then digs a hole in Central Park and cries in it. Such is comedy.

Making people laugh is a grim task, buoying the drunken masses in the face of senseless life. When uncomfortable, a kneejerk reaction to fend off disquiet, social awkwardness, the ever-encroaching silence, is to make 'em laugh. Tonight, watching Lewis Black, I realize that while topics rarely change (bodily functions, the President), what sets the brilliant ones apart is tone, timing. Certain words get emphasis, jokes are spaced to resound through the faux-smoke of the comedy club setting for greatest effect, Black's voice --smoky as brisket-- is his instrument.

During the jazz age, music and comedy hewed closer together. Not sure what the wedge was between the two crafts, perhaps music's tackling of serious topics, emo howls, and not seeing what was side-splitting about such cry-baby shit. Listening to a late-period Joe Tex record the other day, he reminds me less of James Brown, more of Redd Foxx, but both were on the chitlin circuit. Musicians and comedians performed in the same clubs; emphasised the shared craft of ostinatos and improvisation on a familiar themes/ topics; smoked and shot similar substances. Aside from rare events like David Cross opening for the Strokes or this upcoming SXSW clusterfuck, these twains rarely tangle now, despite a mutual appreciation of swapped discs on tour buses. The show's writer likes it that way. He tells me of opening up for the Charlie Daniels Band in the deep south. Nothing goes over better than a Jew from Jew York.

Speaking of Jews, I finally found a copy of Lenny Bruce's How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, a book I hadn't seen in ages. In high school, I bought some tee shirt with Lenny's visage on it, spewing a stream of asterisk-denoted filth and for whatever reason, felt a sympathy for the man. Aside from routines like "How to Relax Your Colored Friends at Parties" ("That Bojangles, CHRIST, could he tapdance!") or a junkie movie producer who greenlights a project about the well-adjusted narcotics user and his family, I know little about Lenny's material, consumed instead with the biography that shades his humor, that anticipates certain doom, that suicidal dance through moral minefields (Christ, could Lenny tapdance) that finally caught up with him. At a Sonic Youth in-store, I had the band sign the shirt, effectively ruining said garment.

Every comic that walks in here has to be "on," and it must exact a great psychic toll to always have a response. At least it feels that way until someone stumbles in on the verge of tears, having just heard that a comic friend of hers committed suicide. We scramble to google this unknown name, realize we recognize the face. At least until a bullet was put through it in selfish despair. No matter how we want to halt the whole procession, to mourn, we're laughing a few hours later about a 12-foot Animatronic Jesus and buttfucking, our diaphragms clenched. And so passes another emotion.