During my tenure at KTLA, the morning news people wanted me to go over to one of the comedy clubs in Hollywood, get some training on how to do standup, and then go on stage with my “act” while our cameras rolled. I said no, not because I didn’t think it might not be an interesting experience, but because the thought of doing standup comedy terrified me.
A famous actress once told me how much she admired those of us who did live tv news, because, she explained, we had to talk off the tops of our heads, with no script and no room for mistakes. That said, doing standup comedy has to be one of the most frightening things I can think of. Standing out there under the lights all by yourself with the obligation of making people laugh is to me way scarier than doing live tv news. And increasingly, it’s becoming next to impossible due to the ever-expanding universe of political correctness.
In this current environment one wrong word or distasteful act can be a career ending mistake. For some, there are no second chances, even after an apology for something that was done years ago. What Al Franken did was dated, and not totally unexpected for someone who had been a cast member of Saturday Night Live. Nevertheless, he was treated like a felon and cast out from his job in the United States Senate, for the act of making someone of the opposite sex feel uncomfortable – before he had become a senator. The overreaction to Franken’s transgression will surely go down as a mistake made by a party caught up in the fever and fury of PC reform.
In the 60’s, Foster Brooks was one of the funniest comedians out there. His portrayal of a sloppy drunk wouldn’t stand a chance today. He would in fact, probably be barred from the studios as his act is no longer acceptable territory. Alcoholism is a medical condition, of course, and as such it isn’t something to be taken lightly. And yet, the more responsible we are, the more seriously we take ourselves and the more PC we become, the less we have to laugh about, making a comedian’s job far more difficult.
Is there some point at which losing our ability to laugh at ourselves will yield a negative return? Might evolution eventually take us to a place where humor has been transformed into something some of us will no longer be able to recognize? And those who do recognize this “new comedy” as being funny will have no idea what real comedy was? That it was something that actually caused people to laugh out loud?
Are we at a point where we all need to lighten up just a little? Even the suggestion sounds politically incorrect, so maybe we’re there.
A tv producer friend used to tell me, “There isn’t anything you can say that won’t gore somebody’s ox.” I think he may have been right and maybe we’re simply dealing with it? Perhaps evolution is carrying us all forward to a place of necessary increased sophistication with no offense taken and fewer laughs heard? I really have no idea, but I do feel sympathy for today’s comics, who are being forced to deal with whole generations who apparently feel entitled to be in a “safe place” where they are showered with love and acceptance and nothing else. Certainly no criticism, no matter how constructive. Every little snowflake is perfect unto itself.
I’m sure you’re wondering whom the actress was. Truth is, I can’t remember. After more than 40 years in the biz, these things are bound to happen.