Humorous entertainment, particularly stand-up comedy, is supposed to make us laugh.
Satire is supposed to make us think. George Carlin rarely satirized his own personal failings, but he is fondly remembered by many Americans because he satirized many problems of USA society. Sometimes, at his best, he was able to distill important wisdom into quotable form.
That is the kind of gadfly philosophy that Westerners have been celebrating since Plato started praising Socrates.
I don’t think modern Western society has many people who can be called humorists. I think modern society has a lot of extremely angry people, who try to deal with their anger by pretending to do satire. Unfortunately, nearly all of them suck at satire, which means that on top of all their other problems, they are frustrated failures, and modern society hates failures.
This post is going to examine the introspective, unhappy lives of people who are held up as exemplary “comedians,” even though most of them are failed satirists and few of them manage to satirize themselves. What motivates “comedians” to do stand-up or musical comedy?
Let’s look at several famous comedians, most of whom are dead:
George Carlin: famous for being shocking, had several run-ins with military law during his USA warfighter service. Thought-provoking for routines like “The American Dream (You Have To Be Asleep To Believe It)” and rather boring for his profanity. However, his “Seven Dirty Words” was socially revolutionary (in an Alinskyan sense)
when it came out, but very boring later. He sometimes lapsed into sheer poetry, stringing together pretty words that were neither profane nor very wise. As a comedian, Carlin gave the impression of being experienced and wise; one must wonder what he was like as a fresh-faced young soldier. Carlin apparently suffered from genuine poverty in youth, which probably contributed to his cynical criticism of the political realities of the world. Carlin appeared to be motivated by self-righteous, post-Christian indignation, untinged by humanist sentimentality. Carlin apparently had no emotions other than anger; his emotional range seems to have been very limited. This probably kept him from committing suicide.
Robin Williams: in his youth, a physically fit mime. Later, an actor and comedian. Williams was apparently an ordinary, foolish, sentimental man. His self-disclosures were jejune: he often felt lust, he was sentimental at the birth of his son, he was scared when he was pulled over by police.
Perhaps because he felt many different emotions, Williams was very talented as an actor. He portray characters who said mildly funny things; he could portray characters in mildly amusing situations. He apparently had nothing truthful and insightful to say, but he could spin fantasies and fictional stories. Williams no doubt suffered horrible emotional pain during his life, but it seems to have been personal and emotional. Robin Williams took a big, stupid risk by being emotional, and feeling a range of emotions. That intense emotional range gave him some victories, but it also motivated him to kill himself. His suicide was probably provoked by his horrible wife and her alimony. A less emotional man would never have gotten married, or even fallen in love.
Steven Wright: Nothing factual about Wright’s life can be inferred from his comedy. His cerebral jokes required considerable attention; he delivered jokes slowly, which was just as well, because an inattentive audience might have missed a rapid-fire joke. His jokes were logical and verbal. Most of his jokes involved a small amount of fictional story-telling, somewhat like “word problems” in math. He crafted a few amusing fictional stories of
improbable or impossible misadventures. He had his fifteen minutes of fame, he dabbled in some serious philosophical fiction about Civil War veterans doubting the existence of God, and tried to make a comeback decades later. Wright strikes me as a much more serious and intelligent thinker than Carlin, but probably Wright will be forgotten long before Carlin, because Wright thought about thinking, and Carlin thought about society. Judging from his stage persona, Wright had no emotions other than intellectual curiosity. On some level, Wright must have wanted attention from other humans, because all humans want attention from other humans, but Wright always seemed to direct that attention to his abstract thoughts, not to his personal emotions.
Sam Kinison: In his youth, a firebrand Protestant preacher. In his prime, he was seduced by various hedonistic pleasures. A thoughtful theologian, Kinison rejected the Christian doctrines of his youth, but appeared to be a sincere humanist striving to avoid dishonesty and pious fraud. Kinison’s hellfire-and-brimstone preaching survived in his loud, stentorian, cofrontational-shouting style of humor. Kinison died before his time in a car accident that was apparently not his fault. He appeared to be motivated by self-righteous, post-Christian humanist indignation.
Bill Hicks: Apparently a heavy drug-user and talented mystic. Hicks delivered rapid-fire, high-energy sermons about his mystical insights. Evidently, Hicks was spiritually immature; he had a stupidly sentimental hatred of Christian orthodoxy, apparently inspired by youthful rebellion against his stupid, superficially Christian parents. If you have no toleration for “New Age” thinking and drug-fueled speculation, you will not be able to tolerate Hicks’ claims. Hicks died young of cancer. He appeared to be motivated by self-righteous, post-Christian humanist indignation.
Eddie Murphy: Boisterously unfunny extrovert. Murphy was a mediocre black actor whose schtick relied heavily on mocking white people. Often mistaken for a comedian. Some talent as an actor in absurd roles, e.g. Gumby.
Richard Pryor: An actual black man who told actual jokes. His life was typical and boring, but his jokes about his life were entertaining.
Chris Rock: A verbally fluent stand-up comedian, noteworthy for his confrontational, politically incorrect criticism of the subset of lower-class black people who behave badly.
Bill Murray: A creative, intelligent man who used a fair number of drugs in his youth, Murray was a extroverted clown. His personal delivery of jokes commanded the audience’s attention, and his personal expressions gave additional verve to mediocre jokes. He also was capable of abstaining from clowning in his remake of the classic _The Razor’s Edge_. Technically speaking, Murray is apparently still alive, but he avoids the spotlight, so people rarely hear of him.
All of the above (with the exception of Eddie Murphy) can claim to be intellectually provocative. They are recognized by many, and they are admired by some. Most of them gave some autobiographical anecdotes in order to make jokes about them. Many of the mentioned humorists are incidentally very competent musicians, but they don’t even brag about it, because they apparently regard it as a fundamental skill.
We can contrast these famous celebrities with a male YouTube non-celebrity, and some female comedians.
One modern, non-celebrity entertainer is highly self-deprecating. His schtick is that he plays video games because he has no girlfriend, no friends, no social life, and little ability to function as an adult in modern society. No doubt he is exagerating, but at least he doesn’t come across as conceited. Regardless of whether he is a dysfunctional manchild, the dysfunctionality of modern men is a hugely dangerous problem for modern Western society, so this guy is approaching some kind of socially relevant satire.
Readers, I give you the AverageBater:
(He’s not even a “master” bater, he’s only “average,” ha ha, O God, how far has the West fallen?)
This man keeps us watching because he is telling us useful things about something we actually care about, namely video games. Along the way, he makes little jokes to keep things interesting, and that makes the video more pleasant than many boring videos.
This man is not beloved and admired and respected. This man just told some jokes to maintain the pacing while he ran us through some useful information about video games. This man does not expect us to respect him just because he told some jokes. This man does not expect us to care about his autobiography. We know that he has played this particular video game, and that’s about as much as we know about his life. He probably doesn’t expect to make any money, but possibly YouTube might send him a check if he makes lots of popular videos. This man is not very intellectually provocative, unless he is trying to get us to criticize ourselves for being geeky manchildren who play video games.
A much more professional and polished series of informative/humorous videos is available from Smosh, but they are a professional comedy troupe with professional levels of production support. They are competing in a different league than an amateur YouTuber. Apparently because two dozen people work to produce each five-minute joke session, the narrator is not really the star of the show; the video games are the real star of the show.
(I was flabbergasted to discover the Hollywood put the two main troupe members
in an actual movie:
On the one hand, it’s probably better than most Hollywood movies. On the other hand, I’m afraid they will become as stupid as most Hollywood people.)
Now let us consider two sets of female comedians:
Garfunkel and Oates are highly creative and original. They seem to be primarily skilled in music, but obviously all their music appears to be satirical. They satirize female stupidity, sexual dishonesty, and the social status of pregnant women. They appear to be obsessed with sex, but then again, many theatrical people are.
Now let us consider some women who ripped off Garfunkel and Oates:
These women did not come up with an original composition. They are very good at imitating someone else’s creative work. They are very good at injecting autobiographical reminiscences about how cruelly their audiences treated them. Unlike Richard Pryor, they are not good at taking the boring circumstances of their lives and making entertaining jokes.
These women strike me as tremendously conceited. Their jokes seem to belie the attitude that they are intensely desired by all men. Their song includes the throwaway line “you should be in pageants,” apparently indicating that everyone tells them that they should be competing in beauty pageants. That manages to annoy me twice: once, because it is vain boasting, and again, because it is whining complaint.
Their tagline is that they “make videos in an attempt to be liked,” (which might be intended as a pun on youtube “likes”) and their moniker is a pun on the attention-grabbing marquee wording “Live Nude Girls.”
These women want attention, and they get it, but they want more than that. They want respect, professional standing, and paychecks. They are probably not going to get any of those. If they really wanted to make people laugh and get paid for it, they are probably smart enough to make lots of YouTube videos and get advertising money. It appears that they are NOT doing that, which leads me to suspect that they would rather be self-righteous than well-paid. (There’s nothing wrong with being self-righteous. Most people are. There’s also nothing wrong with hating self-righteous people.)
Humans love attention. If it were easy to get public attention, most people would do it most of the time.
People who go into show business are asking for a very big pay-off – public attention – and on top of that, they expect to be paid enough so that they can pay their rent and grocery bills.
The moral of the story is: if you want to be a comedian, feel free to stand up in front of a crowd and tell jokes. Understand that your primary payment is the attention of the crowd, and you get paid in advance, even if you’re not funny. Therefore, as an aspiring comedian, chances are high that you’ve already been rewarded more richly than you deserved.
[And to turn the criticism upon myself, I should note that this blog is a self-righteous attempt to get attention from humans, and the attention of my readers is my Holy Grail. I’ll try not to bore you.]