Monday, September 17, 2007

column 11; stand up

So my latest thing is stand up comedy. More specifically stand up comedians. And the bug has already bit me.

Whenever I get interested in something I try and figure out the best of it. Five years ago I decided to read more books. I'm almost through the classics now. Last year I decided that I'd try and develop a vocabulary of classic rock, and started collecting albums. Now I'm on to stand up.

When I finished my last paper for class what did I do? Watched stand up. I watched Izzard, Hicks, Cosby, Carlin, Bruce, and then took a break to watch 'Whose Line is it Anyway?' For me comedy is the way to relax. Not a way, the way. If the purpose of life, and I'm talking as a philosopher now, is to live ethically, and all ethics, from Aristotle onwards, are about happiness, then aren't we just saying that happiness is the ultimate end?

So let's pump those endorphins! Comedy is great because laughter is the best way to get endorphins. Chocolate is good too, but has side-effects. Sex also works, but for guys its not as good as Jeff Foxworthy or Richard Pryor, since, let's face it, an orgasm for guys doesn't last too long. For women, perhaps, sex is better than comedy, but I won't follow that train of thought any further, because I know where it leads, and I rather not deal with people offended by truth today.

So the more endorphins the better. Find a comedian of your choice whose stuff makes you laugh like crazy and watch it. It's probably on YouTube or Google Video, anyway. Laughing for an hour is better than calorie-smuggling candy bars or a minute of eruptive bliss. I occasionally have been known to try stand up. Never tremendously original or real gut-busters, I admit, but the experience is worth it, even if just one drunk thinks your funny.

In that same vein: I once taught a class to some 15-year-olds about science-fiction. I was working it from the angle that sci-fi was historically a genre for social commentary, which it has been. Think about some of the best titles of sci-fi: 1984, Brave New World, The Giver, Fahrenheit 451, The Time Machine, etc. All social commentary. Some isn't of course. But a good ammount is, and so we read it with an eye on what message they're trying to pass on to us.

Stand up is the same way, or has been since it got good. And stand up is a relatively modern phenomenon, you don't hear about Victorian stand up comedians, do you? Oh, sure, there were court jesters back in the day, but they had all sorts of talents. Not many today fall into that category. Maybe Steve Martin. But stand up really took off in the 1960's. That's pretty darn recent. And even if there were great stand up comedians before then we don't have recordings of them. A few audio recordings, but not even many of those.

When the pioneers, Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, those guys, when they started out they all of a sudden made stand up social commentary. And they made it irreverent. I hear those guys in George Carlin and Bill Hicks. Most stand up comedians I really enjoy stay universal. Jokes and bits about current movies are all well and good, but ten years from now won't be funny. So they pry into the human condition and find all the weird stuff about it. And exposing us to that weird stuff, we can't help but laugh and what is, after all, just a damn absurdist comedy where everyone makes up the lines as they go and tries to get some good chuckles out of it.

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