Saturday, December 15, 2007
Comics always freak out when they feel like they haven't come up with something new in a while. I sure feel that right now. I have almost become split in two. The stage Joe riffs. There is rarely anymore written pieces. A few. At the start. Then, it's all "whats your name?"
Blogger Joe, plays with an idea or two. He rants away about the politics of the day and attempts to put into words what he really hopes other will recognize as the truth too. Right now, it's all so grim. I guess it is a little overwhelming. The news feels so overly processed to me lately. They are talking about torture in the same easy tones they tell you about tomorrows weather. Something wrong.
Conservatives constantly screamed that because of Clinton's blow job in the White House, they had to explain what oral sex was to their children because it was said on the news so much.
First off, you guys were the ones who told the news casters! If you didn't want to have to explain something you find disgusting to your kid's, then you shouldn't of spent millions of dollars and 4 years to find out he had one.
But now, with a President who ran on the slogan of restoring integrity to the Oval Office, we have to explain to kids what torture is.
You tell me what is more disgusting?
Once upon a time I asked a friend if he thought I had a "problem with pot?"
He didn't even pause. He just smiled and said, "People who don't have a problem with pot don't ask if they have a problem with pot."
Countries that have to ask what is torture and what is interrogation already have a very big problem.
Then, there are the attempts to "support the troops." Honestly, I know some very hardcore lefties out there, but I have never once heard anyone say anything negative about the troops. On the other hand, when ever the Democrats insinuate they will cut off funding for this war and bring the troops home, they are called American haters while their patriotism is questioned.
You tell me who has the troops best interest at heart. The people who sent them there with little or no plan, or the people who want this war of choice to end?
At Starbucks the other morning, I noticed a new sign at the counter. "Support our troops. Send them coffee."
I don't know about you, but if I was regularly waking up to 120 degree heat, wearing a minimum of 50 pounds worth of field equipment while being shot at by people, I don't know if coffee would be the first thing I would wish for.
How about a Popsicle? Maybe a snowcone or just a cup of ice.
They actually taped some of the first enhanced interrogations.
Were not talking about the directors cut of a DVD here, were talking about making people think their drowning to get information out of them. It's called Water Boarding. Sounds like a sport that stonners are into. Maybe that information saved American lives. Maybe. But this is the same administration that tried to make heroic posters out of Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman.
They lie about everything. It is their first natural response to any question.
Lie Lie Lie!
A judge specifically told the CIA, the NSA and the Bush White House not to destroy any evidence pertaining to mistreatment of prisoners being held in Cuba. They destroyed the tapes -you will love this-because the men were not questioned at the Naval base in Cuba. They were being held in a network of secret CIA run prisons in Europe.
It's a big game to them. You said only people held in Cuba.
It's such a kid's answer! It's like playing a game with your friends in the neighborhood. There is a safe zone, like the driveway. There are danger zones, like the row of hedges are lava. You can only walk on the grass to get to the secret place where you grab the flag.
Thats what there saying.
So as long as America doesn't torture on American soil, were not a country that engages in secret torture in secret prisons. It happens someplace else so were safe!
The people held in Guantanamo Naval base in Cuba, are classified as enemy combatants. This is a new term created by the Bush White House.
They have no right to look at the evidence against them.
They have no right to legal council and if they do get a lawyer, the Government tapes the conversation.
They have no right to a trial.
In other words, Bush is saying that these people can be picked up any where in the world and held indefinitely with no rights to a lawyer, a trial or knowledge of why they have been detained.
And were sending people to their death in Iraq for what reason now?
We can do all this to them because according to the way the CIA plays the game, Guantanamo is not American soil.
But it is!
Any American base is considered part of America.
Were the only country in the world who feels it necessary to change the rules on this.
Maybe we should make them sit in the middle of down town Baghdad and drink a big steaming cup of coffee. Oh wait, thats how we support our troops.
David Leggat, 55, was unable to raise the alarm after becoming stuck in the toilets at Kittybrewster and Woodside Bowling Club in Aberdeen. (I found this story on the BBC. You know these are English names)
Mr Leggat had no mobile phone or food, and used tap water for refreshment and for heat.
He was only released when cleaner Cathy Scollay arrived and heard his cries for help. She told BBC Scotland: "He said, 'I have been locked in for four days.'"
Mrs Scollay added: "I went in to work as normal and a voice shouted out. I could not take it in.
"The handle had broken. He was a bit shaky, and was as white as a sheet."
So many questions? How sad is it that no one even missed the guy?
"Hey, wheres David?"
"Last I saw him he was going to the bathroom."
Even worse, they clean the bathroom every four days!
Must be a delightful establishment.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Thats right, I said interpretive dance.
When the Booker called me about this gig I said yes right away. All you have to do, he explained, is sit on this panel and talk about transgressive language.
Sounds like easy money.
When I find the theater on the sprawling Standford campus, the performance has already begun.
Along with other late arrivals, I stand in the lobby watching the performance on one of the two giant flat screen TV's they have set up. All I know is that I am going to be the comic in this discussion group. When I get handed a program and see a group of people on stage dancing to music I cannot define, I started wonder what I had agreed too.
The last piece of the evening is titled, Jokes like that can get you killed.
It's a modern dance piece that explores sensitive subject matter from the perspective of an individual speaking a rarely spoken consensus. Thats what it says in the program anyway. What I saw and heard was this.
The lights came up on the stage and the first thing you heard was a girl moaning off the sound track of any porn. Projected behind the dancers was a giant set of legs that "walked" their way like scissors might walk from one side of the stage to the other. All the while, a group of dancers gyrated and moved in complex rhythms to the music. In other words, I didn't have a clue what was going on or how this explored transgressive language. That word kept coming up but truly I don't know how a dance, no matter how well executed, deals with that subject. Thats where the Audio & Visuals came in I suppose. The moaning porn girl began to be replaced with clips of comics telling profanity laced jokes and recent celebrities that were in the news for saying the N-word or using other such language. You know, Don Imus and his Nappy headed hoe's comment. Things like that.
Visually, it was kinda cool. The scissor legs were replaced with a montage of religious symbols and political figures. Their heads appeared on paper cut out bodies 30 feet above the dancers. All these images would float across the giant back drop of the stage as more and more people came out from the wings and danced. Over the soundtrack were audio clips of various comics doing bits. Bits, I might add that were now being used out of context to demonstrate how vulgar our culture had become.
Out of context, Dave Chappelles bit about fucking a monkey sounds dirty. Well, to be honest even in context it sounds dirty. But presented like this, in a theater with people who undoubtedly think of themselves as patrons of the finer arts, it was used as shock value.
There were clips of Bill Maher, Wanda Sykes and other famous comics. Just quick snippets of jokes set against the back drop of larger than life images, new age music and well toned dancers.
At this point, I found myself watching the performance and wondering what the hell I was doing there. I was fighting my urge to mock it. Thats not easy! But I couldn't help but think how much money and effort went into something that I bet no one really understood.
After the show, about 70 or so people gathered in a smaller theater. On stage, there were 5 chairs. The musician who did the soundtrack sat on one side of me and Robert, the guy who created the event, sat on the other side of me. I apologize for not remembering any other names, but we were also joined by a spoken word artist and a professor. Easily, I was the least educated person sitting on that stage. But as I listened to everyone speak about the context of meaning and how the n-word had been belched in our culture and that a voice is more important than what you are really saying, I wanted to role my eyes. At one point, the spoken word artist said he had more leeway from an audience to be didactic.
It was a dissection of the artistic piece we had all just watched and it was a discussion on what is and what is not socially acceptable speech. The thing is, and if anyone who was there reads this I apologize, it was all bullshit.
The issues of race and what can and what should not be said in public is a complex enough issue to deal with without adding another incomprehensible layer of "art" to it. Modern dance might not be the best venue to take on this subject matter. Thats just my thought. What do I know. I only use transgressive language every day in my art.
I nodded my head a lot and tried to look interested. A lot of the time, I really just felt like everyone was using large vocabulary words to out do the last person. A sort of intellectual version of yo mama jokes.
I don't know that I am qualified to speak on the issues of racism and the black community, but there I was on stage with a professor who wrote a book and a guy being paid by a world renowned college to dream up dances about relevant issues in our culture.
The more he explained the piece to the audience, the less I thought I understood it. When the professor spoke about the white washing of the word nigger in everyday language, I was totally lost. Eventually, Robert turned to me and simply said, As a comic, whats your perspective?
I said I didn't get it but some of the dancers were hot.
That got a laugh.
I think it got a laugh because most of the people didn't get it either. But it was fun. I mostly spoke about language being an imprecise tool. How crowds have a hard time telling the difference between a comic using a word for shock value and a comic using a shocking word to make fun of the ignorance behind such words.
To me, thats the giant blind spot with liberals that prevents them from truly understanding some things. Sometimes you have to use the hurtful words in order to make fun of them. But the second they hear such words, they shut down. They don't listen to the word in the context it is being used in, they only register the bad word being spoken.
Irony, sarcasm and satire are just not comedic tools a lot of crowds understand anymore.
It also struck me as yet one more reason why liberals cant get anything done. All this discussion about a dance that was meant to shed light on something that even it's creator was having a difficult time explaining all seemed silly to me. In the desire to be polite with everyone, the conversation first gets unnaturally warped by side stepping anything that might offend anyone. Then, it gets pushed further from what the real topic is by the sound of intellectuals enjoying their voices.
I don't mean to sound harsh and yes, I do have some class issues around anyone creating socially minded art in a college for money. If the point is to start a discussion on language and it's effects on society, then I guess mission accomplished. But if 5 guys had not sat down with each other and talked about transgressive language in art and culture, I never would of watched that dance and thought thats what it was about. I don't know. People dancing while a girl moans off a porn soundtrack seems shocking for shocking sake. Not to shed light on anything. Using clips of comics doing bits seems unfair to me too. Unfair because I doubt the clips were paid for and unfair because after all the discussion about putting things in their own context, these clips were clearly not in their proper context.
I would not stand up during a modern dance performance and presume they would be receptive to my comedy.
Agenda driven art drives me crazy. It's never that good. The art, becomes second to the meaning. But when Robert spoke about the piece, he said he didn't like being preached to from the stage. Maybe so, but your original intention has been so buried under so much other meaning that whatever it is you wanted this to be about requires an hour long discussion with the audience after the performance. I think that means it fails on the meaning part. Artistically, I am not in a position to judge the dancing. It looked great! Visually the whole thing was cool, but it was less about the dancing I think and more about being a really cool multi media presentation. I don't know. I know that I sometimes take my comedy way to serious for my own good too. Thats what I think happened here. Nothing bad or wrong, just seems that people with a grant from a college who take everything way too seriously used the artistic skills they had to comment on an art they know nothing of. I think thats what bothered me about the whole thing. When ever they talked about the "piece" they would say how difficult it was to hear some of the shocking words and material.
On the drive home I thought of at least a hundred other things I wish I said. I wish I had brought up Lenny Bruce, the great great grandfather of modern stand-up comedy as we know it. He died a martyr for wanting to talk about the real issues of the day in the way real people talked. Real people swear. Real people use shit & fuck as adjectives. Real people flocked to his shows when the establishment rightful saw him as a challenge to all that 1950's conformity he showed us was hypocrisy.
I thought Mark Twain. When his books, Huckleberry fin and Tom Sawyer came out, they were greeted with critical disdain. He broke an unspoken rule by writing dialogue as people actually spoke it back then. Writing anything required that the author use that overly flowery and dramatic style of the day. He broke with convention and as a result his books became hugely popular.
Lenny Bruce and mark Twain didn't call attention to themselves by saying, hey look what I am doing! I am using transgressive language to show how it erodes society and the meaning behind everything we say. No. They just told what they heard in a matter of fact way. And people got it.
I am going to write Standford and ask if they have ever had a stand-up comic as an artist in residence. What the hell. if a comedy club will pay me to tell jokes why wont a college pay me to explain them? Apparently thats what we need these days, explanations.