Is crowd work a crutch?

There's plenty of lame crowdwork guys who just shit on the crowd and do stupid jokes about how some guy in the crowd must be from Jersey or Revere or whatever nearby town is a convenient target. Yawn.

But when someone's a real master at crowdwork, I love it. It's fresh and in-the-moment. It's a way different vibe than someone who does 100% written material. It's how those unique moments happen that could only take place in that room at that time with that group of people. And that's part of the magic of standup.

Thinking about this after reading this conversation over at AST where Kent Haines wrote:

Hey, can we all discuss Jimmy [Dore]'s assertion from a couple episodes back that crowd work is a crutch? I think that's pretty off the mark. Especially because part of his point was that crowd work comics never get famous. That seems, to me, to be entirely beside the point of how artistically ambitious or lazy it is.

I love crowd work. It's exhilarating to watch, but more than that, it's one of the things that separates stand-up from other forms of comedy. Where else are the performers given the option to address the reality of what's going on in the room? And there's something so attractive about the idea that I just witnessed a joke that is based on what is happening right now. It makes me, as an audience member, feel like I saw something special.

Crowd work, like almost anything else in stand-up, can be a crutch. But that doesn't make it a crutch per se. To use a touchy example, a lot of comedians use political humor as a crutch, knowing that they will get a certain level of support from a crowd that agrees with them, even if his jokes aren't terribly clever. But I wouldn't say that political humor is somehow bad because some comics use it badly. Because then I wouldn't be able to enjoy jokes like "bleeding heart conservative," which killed me.

Whaddaya think?

Jimmy Dore responded:

Note to Ken,

Thanks for your thoughts on the crowd work. I think we actually agree, but let me clarify..... I also love crowd work. I am jut saying that the comedians who make it the only thing that they do are fooling themselves into thinking that their crowd work is special. IT is not. Most funny people who are funny on stage can do crowd work well, and do it when appropriate. Making it all you do is a mistake artistically, and bizness wise. I think if you re listen to what I was said on the podcast you will see that I love crowd work and think that the people that do it exclusively do it well.

But comedy is taking an idea and relating it to strangers in a way that resonates. Doing crowd work is way way way way way way way way way way way easier than it looks. and way way easier than crafting ideas and presenting them comedically to strangers.

Kent's answer:

Thanks for clarifying, Jimmy. I still disagree with some of it, but I think I see your point better now...I'm not going to say that [Jimmy] Pardo's making a mistake by doing an act full of crowd work. His crowd work is special. He doesn't just make fun of Joe Audience's job. He weaves threads of logic through an entire crowd, constantly connecting the dots between all the individual conversations he's started. His shows at Helium this fall were some of the most fun shows I've ever seen.

It's interesting to read Dore, a guy who I believe relies heavily on political material, take a stand against guys who do a lot of crowdwork. Nothing personal against Dore since I've never seen him live, but my least favorite kind of comedians are ones who do all political material. When someone gets on stage and starts lashing out at Bush, Palin, Cheney, Limbaugh, etc., that's when I really fade.

It's not 'cuz I'm some right-winger. I get it. I read the Times, I watch The Daily Show and Real Time, I live in NYC, I know exactly what's going on. And that's why the last thing I want from a comic that goes on stage is some kinda moral lecture disguised as comedy. It doesn't surprise me and it doesn't make me laugh. I get why others might dig it, but it's just not my thing. Personally, I'd much rather listen to a good crowdwork comic than one that tells me for the 5,000th time that Cheney is evil.


Mike Drucker said...

I somewhat disagree with your last point.

While bad political comedy is bad, so is bad any kind of comedy.

I think the problem is we see way too many political comedians who go, "The Right wants no healthcare. That's pretty lame."

As long as you can make a joke that's funny, I think the subject is fine.

It's sort of like how you really love Louis C.K., but he talks about his kids all the time. Yet he makes it much funnier than the average comedian who goes, "My ex-wife wants me to spend more time with my kids. Yeah. That's why I got divorced! Hey-yo!"

Essentially, Jimmy Dore and Kent Haines' thoughts on comedy fall into two camps. Kent's is "It's funny." Dore's is "It's funny but so what."

The problem is that they're viewing comedy from two different angles. Kent's view is a far more playful (but not necessarily better or worse) view that good crowd work is fun for the crowd and the comedian.

Jimmy Dore's view is more pragmatic that rarely (but not never) works on tape and is sort of an easy trick.

Both sides are right, really.

Mike Drucker said...

That was two different points I only half made.

Matt Ruby said...

"While bad political comedy is bad, so is bad any kind of comedy."

MD, my point is, for me, there's no such thing as good political standup comedy. Bill Maher might be best at it but I still find myself nodding way more than laughing. It's just not what I turn to standup comedy for.

soce said...

Unless they are being absolutely transcendent, I'm not a fan of comedians who do extensive audience interactions. It's fine when it's one or two sentences to establish an awkward pause, and then back to the material. Or even building and riffing off a bit that goes better than expected, improvising new material by feeling out how the crowd experiences it.

But unless it is done with care and dedication, it really falls flat. Even if it gets a lot of laughs.

I once went to a show at Eastville, and this guy was totally flagging when he started talking to someone up near the front. He then basically built up the rest of his set about this audience member's personal life.

Now the audience was digging it, and the particular man seemed to enjoy sharing his personal experiences with the crowd of strangers, but that left me thinking, "If that guy up front didn't have such an interesting story, you wouldn't have a set. You'd be nothing. Just a guy with some crappy jokes that weren't selling."

Also I get sick of being called a nerd, and my buddy who's in his 40s hates going to shows with me, because inevitably someone on stage always calls him an old man, which just makes him feel bad. We're trying to enjoy the show! Stop dissing us! Not that I'm so sensitive, but seriously I would like comedy shows to be funny and not painful. If you're going to call me a nerd, at least be creative about it and don't simply say, "Wow, you're wearing glasses. You must be employed. I hate you."

Crowd work is a lot like toilet humor. Sure it gets a powerful response, but often times it's way too easy. Anyone can go blue, but it takes a real professional to get people smiling and laughing with an entirely clean set.

Mo Diggs said...

I think Louis CK said it best when he said he prefers social comedy to political topical comedy. I'm more interested in comics who look at the big picture (poverty, racism, etc) than those who go after the Beltway bozos of the day (Palin, Sanford).

Of course even this topic can be a lightning rod for hack comedy too. To be blunt so can anything. Pick any topic and I can guarantee you that there are hack jokes. 80s references-check. Geek references-check. Ethnic jokes-check.

As Trafton Crandall once told me, there's no such thing as hack jokes, only hack comics.

Mo Diggs said...

Oh and good crowd work is good. Bad crowd work is bad. Class dismissed.

Unknown said...

First of all, I am very flattered that something I said started such an interesting discussion.

Secondly I think we all agree on this topic. Good comedy is good, bad comedy is bad no matter what the topic.

I pretty much think Mo hit it on the head when he said "pick a topic and I can guarantee you that there are hack jokes (about it)".

I find the that if a comedian is funny then whatever he chooses to talk about is usually going to be pretty funny.

I like to talk about things that interest me, sometimes they are controversial topics like religion, health care, gay marriage, the economic meltdown and, of course, sex.

I gravitate towards socially relevant material that is generally about sticking it to the man. I was always drawn to those kind of comics, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Bill HIcks, and the old Dennis MIller, ..those guys made me want to be a comdedian in the first place.

In the age of watered-down corporate news, I relish the role of a comedian and truth teller. To me there is nothing more exciting.

And I think we do our profession a disservice when we forget that comedians have a powerful and important role to play in shaping how we think about society and culture. Most recently I remember John Stewart's take down of the financial "news" network CNBC. The whole country was talking about it for at least a week if not more. That s the way I like to see my comedians "get r done"

SO I think we all agreee that watching someone rip on bill clinton or george bush for 45 minutes can get a little monotonous and unfunny, but the guy that does that probably isn't talented in the first place.

ANd when you say that you don't like "political comedy" because Bill Maher doesn't make you laugh, maybe it means you just don't like BIll Maher.

Does the Daily SHow really not make you laugh? Does this clip of Chris Rock bore you and not make you laugh?


Are you really watching him anxiously waiting for him to get to the dating material?

Anyway, those are my two cents, thanks to Matt for providing this forum for the discussion, I could talk about comedy all day.

p.s.I also noticed that you said that, even though you have never seen my comedy, it is your least favorite.

Well here is a little of it, and then if you still hate it, at least you will know what it is you are not liking.




Mike Drucker said...

I have to agree with Jimmy.

You might not like political comedy, but it's sort of a vast generalization to say that there's no good political comedy.

And while I'm not a huge Bill Hicks fan, I would say that almost all of George Carlin's material is socio-political in nature.

Even the "7 Words," maybe one of the few stand-up comedy bits to be so important as to go the Supreme Court is very political in nature.

Mike Drucker said...

Of course, comedy is subjective. Not everyone digs everything.

Didn't want to make it sound like I was pissing mightier than you.

Matt Ruby said...

Hey Jimmy, thanks for chiming in. I'm a big fan of your podcast and have posted about it before here. And I've seen clips of your standup before and I did just check out the clips you listed.

I think it's great that you gear your act to "sticking it to the man" material and relish the role of truth teller. And I agree the news media is doing a poor job these days and lots is sliding through the cracks. And I too think comedians can play an important role in shaping our culture.

But I'm gonna stick with my original view: Personally, I just don't dig political comedians. (And let's define that as comics who do over 50% material on politics.) That's just my opinion. I'm not saying others need to feel this way. Everyone else is welcome to enjoy what they enjoy. I'm just saying I see hundreds of comedians a year and the political comedians I see just don't make me laugh.

Maybe it's my own background. My dad is/was obsessed with politics and it's the main topic of conversation at our house. I majored in Political Science in college. I read the NY Times everyday. I listen to NPR. I watch The Daily Show (Since you asked: I enjoy it but it rarely makes me laugh out loud...then again neither does any other TV show). I listen to each episode of the Real Time podcast. I've listened to standup from Hicks, Carlin, Bruce, Maher, etc.

So maybe it's just overexposure to the topic. Maybe there's not a lot of surprise there for me. Maybe it's the extreme partisanship and grating tone of both sides that just turns me off (to me, Maddow/Olbermann are just as annoying to listen to as O'Reilly/Limbaugh).

Maybe it's the fact that a lot of political comics make the subject the majority of their act. You point to Chris Rock. My reaction to that: I'm fine with a comedian who does lots of topics bringing up occasional political material. (I do this too.) What puts me to sleep is when a comic makes the MAJORITY of his act about politics.

Why? Nearly every one I've seen has an obvious p.o.v. and you know exactly where they're going with every topic. They're just reciting the liberal party line and bringing out the same old targets (Cheney! Palin! Bush! They're all evil!) and the same old points and presenting me with the same old views I can get from any other liberal. And that makes me yawn.

Comedy is best when it's surprising. That's why I like when comics take a view you don't expect. Chris Rock talked about hating niggers and how liberals and conservatives both have a gang mentality. George Carlin talked about the oversized egos of environmentalists. I love those bits because they are not what you expect to hear. They're not about the party line. They're about nuance. They're about someone arguing a unique belief that is in line with their personal philosophy, regardless of whether it matches the talking points of liberal (or conservative) pundits.

Jimmy, I haven't seen enough of your standup to know if you do this or not. Any examples of you arguing a belief that's not in line with what other liberals think? Do you ever come out on the conservative side of an issue? If so, I'd be curious to see that.

As for this: "Good comedy is good, bad comedy." By definition, that's true. But that doesn't mean we all need to like anything that's "good." Certain genres of comedy have more appeal to certain people. I don't think a music fan needs to like good techno, good country, and good jazz music. Sometimes you just like what you like and that's it and that's fine.

Abbi Crutchfield said...

The original topic was crowd work serving as a crutch, and then it became crowd work vs. political comedy (which are not opposites; they're not even the same devices -- you're comparing a comedy technique vs. a style of comedy, like using a fan brush vs. Impressionism), and then it became bad political comedy vs. good political comedy. If I'm not wrong, I think we concluded by agreeing that among all the cancelled series on television, the one we want most to return is Hee-Haw.

Mike Drucker said...

Probably my fault for diverting the conversation earlier. Sorry!

I think your explanation does clear it up, though. I thought you meant any political material was awful.

I'd even go further: any comedian who just talks about one subject continually is boring.

So if it's just 60 minutes of "Married Life, OH BOY." Then it's boring. Or "Politics, OH BOY." Same thing.

Of course, this doesn't quite apply to a one-man show specifically about one issue / idea. But that's a different beast altogether. Obviously a show specifically themed about sex will be about sex, etc.

But you're definitely right - a continual stream of one subject in a regular show can be boring for an audience. It's like going to a concert and the band plays their one hit song eight times.

Hank Thompson said...

I personally enjoy political comedy a great deal but only if the comedian's first priority is being funny. If a comedian is using the stage as a soapbox just to spout off about politics, if there's even one whiff of a political agenda then I got no interest in that. No thanks.

Funny first, always. Jimmy (or "james" as he seems to want to go by) is an excellent example of a comedian who gracefully talks about political issues and socially relevant topics. I respect him for not shying away from politics in his routines, knowing full well that such material could rub people the wrong way.

Comedians are granted a unique license to be more honest and upfront than just about any other public speaker and it would be a shame if politics as a topic was taken off the table. (I know Ruby's not suggesting that; he just hates freedom) If anything we need more comedians speaking out, especially given the pall of ignorance and the virus of complacency that permeates society. Reality and truth have a hard time rising to the surface in the froth of what passes political discourse these days.

During the run up to the Iraq war, for instance, nobody spoke out except for a few brave comedians. Janeane Garafolo was very articulate in denouncing the coming invasion and she was maligned for it. Bill Maher got canned from ABC for a comment about how button pushing to launch a missile doesn’t take courage but flying a plane into a building does. The corporate media wanted (wants) nothing to do with anyone saying anything beyond the narrow confines of what are considered acceptable talking points. Phil Donahue’s show got cancelled for questioning the war despite its high ratings. Michael Moore got booed off the stage at the Oscar’s when he spoke out about the war during an acceptance speech, and that was by a crowd of loony left-wing Hollywood leebruls!

If I were a more educated man I’m sure I could come up with other examples from previous periods in history in which comedians were the only ones brave enough or crazy enough to say what needed to be said. And it sucks that it’s considered “brave” to speak your mind about something but the pressure of not falling into line can be so great that a virtue must be called upon to resist it.

It is an ongoing charge of being a comedian. Some choose to accept that responsibility and some don’t. I’m glad for those that do.

Back to the point (damnit I love talking about comedy!), Ruby indicates that the surprise factor of comedy is a diminished when the audience knows the performer’s p.o.v. and I agree with that. It’s hard to enjoy a punchline when you see it coming and when you feel like you’re being lectured to, which is why political comedians are few and far between. The good ones aren’t predictable, nor lecture-y. They deserve their success.

I admit to being part of the choir at times, but that doesn’t mean listening to political comedy can’t be fun or interesting. And it’s definitely a good thing when a comedian finds a twist or tackles a subject from unexpected angles. Obviously. But would I go see a comedian I knew was going to do 45 min of conservative jokes? No, I wouldn’t. Fuck those assholes.

(Future topic suggestion: Why are most comedians left-leaning? And why aren’t there more conservative comics? “Hey folks, dontcha hate taxes and blacks!?”)

One thing I absolutely love is not political comedy but politician comedy. It’s fucking hilarious when politicians make jokes. The jokes are always asinine and horrible but everyone in earshot laughs and laughs, and the politician beams with pride that he made a funny. “james” highlights this kind of stuff in his Pop and Politics show (which needs to be turned into a podcast!!!!). Powerful people must think they are the funniest bastards on the planet.

Ok, I’ve typed enough. Back to the factory.

Matt Ruby said...

Btw, I botched the quote in last paragraph of my last comment. It should say "Good comedy is good, bad comedy is bad."

Mo Diggs said...

First of all I am a fan of the podcast Jimmy Dore. Thanks for saying I hit the nail on the head. Please talk about comedy all day on this comment thread.

As for Matt Ruby's comment on genres I have to admit you made a good point with the music metaphor even though I myself like the best of every genre. Yes there is even the occasional smooth jazz song that soothes me when I go to the occasional therapist's visit.

Unknown said...


All your complaints seem to be complaints against bad comedy.

Yuo keep saying that political comedy is bad because it is predictable. But then you say you like carlin and others becuae they surprised you. So is it political comedy that bores you or predictable comedy? I'm guessing it is the predictable kind.

Why is it that when yuo see a comedian doing predictable jokes about dating you don;t say that you hate dating material? But when you see someone doing uninspired predictable political jokes you immediately say that you dont' like political comedy??????

You also make the point that you don't want to hear politcal comedy because you are already informed, you read the paper and watch tv.

That is as ridiculous as me saying "Hey, i have been dating all my life, I go on dates everyday, everybody in my family goes on dates all the time, and the last thing I need is some comedian lecturing me about dating."

No, I want a comedian to say something about dating in a funny way, and if he opens my brain a little so I see something in a different way than I did before than that is a bonus.

When louis CK talks about his kids, a topic which I find completely and utterly boring and so over done it is pathetic, I still find myself laughing my head off. YOu know why? Cuz louis ck is funny and says things in a funny way. You know, like a funny comedian does.

And I have to point out that you contradict yourself all over the place.

SO you do like when Chris rock talks about the war on terror. But not when bill Maher does it? Again. Maybe you just dont' like Bill Maher.

You say that you like geaorge carlin, and chirs rock, but you don't like political comedy, ..kind of like saying you like john pinette and ralphy may, but you hate fat jokes.

YOu really don't like what everybody doesn't like matt, bad comedy, and that as absolutely nothing to do with liberal and conservative or anything political.

Matt Ruby said...

Jimmy, you're right in that I dislike predictable comedians in all genres. And I too find Chris Rock's bits on dating or CK's bits on his kids hilarious even though you could argue those are tired topics.

But I come back to my original statement: The political comedians that I've seen don't make me laugh. I'm not talking about guys who have one political joke here or there. I'm talking about a comic who does the MAJORITY of his set on politics. (I don't consider Chris Rock a political comedian and I don't think most other people do either. Sure, he'll throw in a political bit. But it's not his whole act.)

Maybe you disagree with my definition. But I think there's a difference between guys who do an entire set on politics and Mike Birbigs doing his "Wiffle Ball Tony" routine in a set that's otherwise devoid of political material.

Anyway, I'm just telling you how I feel and what I like. Perhaps it is contradictory (maybe I'm a schizo) or maybe I'm just not explaining myself well.

Still, I'm curious: In your opinion, who are the current political comedians that are doing unpredictable material? Who is someone that spends the bulk of their act talking about politics and brings a fresh perspective, like CK does with his kids or Rock does with dating? Because all the ones I see are in the Maddow/Olbermann liberal talking points camp which I find extremely fatiguing and just not funny. If there's someone who's really killing it on politics these days, let me know. (No need to point to someone who has a great political bit but talks mostly about other stuff in their act. I yield on that. It's totally doable.)

Maybe political jokes are like dessert for me. I like a little bit in there. But if the entire meal is all dessert, I feel sick.

Or maybe the media landscape has changed so drastically in the past 10+ years that talking about politics just doesn't feel fresh since dozens of cable channels dissect every single aspect of political stories 24/7. Fwiw, I feel the same way about pop culture/celeb jokes. I simply don't want to hear anyone go on stage and discuss celebrities. I'm saturated on the topic.

myq said...

I'd say that Doug Stanhope is someone who might sometimes spend the majority of his set talking about political issues in a way that is unpredictable and awesome.

He might not always do it, but when there's shit going on, he's talking about it, and it's hilarious. His stuff about Palin when it was happening, his stuff about gay marriage and the military from Deadbeat Hero I think, he's done shitloads of stuff that I think would qualify as "political comedy" by your definition, though overall I don't know if anyone would call him a "political comedian." (And ultimately, what would such labels do? Possibly only cause people who "don't like political comedians" to turn off.)

It seems that the initial problem was that Matt said he "didn't like political comedy," which has surely been cleared up by now, by a redefining of terms and what he doesn't like.

In any event, I'm off to by a stopwatch so I can figure out who the political comedians are.


PS Ted Alexandro has been doing a lot of political stuff lately as well, also very funny.

PPS Stay tuned for my thoughts on crowdwork maybe.

myq said...

To answer the question of "is crowd work a crutch" (without simply agreeing that when it's good it's good, and when it's bad it's bad), I'll say this...

Yes, having the audience respond immensely to something in the moment, even more than pre-written material, can be great.
But it can also be a trick.

This isn't exactly about crowdwork for a second, but hopefully relevant enough--I enjoy starting my sets with callbacks to previous acts whenever possible and reasonable to do so. It's usually easy enough for me to figure out something to say, and I'll do it, and audiences will often react to it very strongly. And that's my goal, but certainly the amount of work that goes into crafting a joke that gets a similar large reaction, for me at least, is greater than the amount of thought I need to put into making that spontaneous moment happen. (I don't mean to sell myself short, or long. Whatever you're thinking, I feel that way too.)

Bringing it around to crowdwork, perhaps it is even more impressive to come up with something in the actual moment and say it, rather than coming up with it a few minutes before going on, having had at least SOME time to prepare a callback as described above, etc., but from the audience's perspective in my experience, that difference seems negligible.
Yes, audiences enjoy witnessing things that seem like they're happening in the moment, but sometimes people's written acts can create that exact sensation for them, or even for comedians who think they can spot the difference all the time.
(Certainly we're better at it, as exemplified by the other end of the spectrum in the Todd Barry joke where someone asks him if something was "set up," and that thing turns out to have been someone vomiting on his shoes... Which, if that's a true story, shows that not EVERYONE in the audience even appreciates a seemingly-clearly-in-the-moment response to that situation when it's happening.)

So in conclusion, good crowdwork is good, bad crowdwork. (I agree with Matt.)

More love,

PS I guess the real question is, what does Jimmy Dore think about Jimmy Pardo specifically?

PPS Sorry it took me so long to weigh in here, and if no one's thinking about this stuff anymore.
(I was in a car or something else no one should care about.)

Anonymous said...


That concentration camp joke is oooooooooold.

-Joke Police

Lisa Clarkson said...

Dore has been on record as being a fan of Pardo, he's been a guest on C&EE. They specifically said they weren't talking about Pardo there.

John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman do great work that is entirely political on "The Bugle", and in their solo standup.

Matt, if you think Rachel Maddow is the equivalent of Rush Limbaugh, then I find it difficult to believe that you are as tuned in to current events and politics as you claim to be.

Matt Ruby said...

"Matt, if you think Rachel Maddow is the equivalent of Rush Limbaugh, then I find it difficult to believe that you are as tuned in to current events and politics as you claim to be."

Lisa, I do find them to be extremely similar. The complete one-sidedness, the condescending tone, the strict adherence to party line talking points, the refusal to empathize with the other side in any way, the blustery tone, the grating delivery, the way anyone who disagrees is classified as a moron, etc.

Sure, one's liberal and one's conservative. But they're just two sides of the same coin. And that childish brand of extreme partisanship is, in many ways, responsible for the lame political discourse we see in the media these days.

myq said...

"Dore has been on record as being a fan of Pardo... They specifically said they weren't talking about Pardo there."

Great, then doesn't that answer the question of whether crowdwork is a crutch, from the perspective of the person who brought up the issue to begin with?

If you look at someone who's great at crowdwork like Pardo, and agree that his comedy is good and the crowdwork is in no way a crutch, then case closed, it can be done, and it doesn't have to be (even though there are people who might use it as such, but that's them, and not the crowdwork that is the problem).

PS "Such" rhymes with "crutch."

Unknown said...

Hey Matt, this (and you) was talked about on Comedy and Everything else today.


Matt Ruby said...

Thanks Luke. Posted this here:

Hey, my name got brought up on the most recent episode of one of my favorite podcasts: Comedy and Everything Else #53 (from 1:21:00 to 1:35:22 in). Unfortunately, it's about how I'm "kinda confused" with my take on political comedy.

I don't feel confused so let me try to boil it down one more time. This is what turns me off: A comedian who's like "I'm a liberal (or conservative) and the other side is dumb and my whole act will be devoted to showing you why that's so." I've seen guys like these and they don't make me laugh. Others can feel free to disagree. That's what I was trying to say.

OK, just wanted to get that out upfront.

Actually, I think the podcast's hosts (Jimmy Dore, Todd Glass, Stefane Zamorano) did a pretty fair job of reading my views and trying to see where I'm coming from. They're right that my explanations thus far were a bit muddled. A couple of reasons for that: For one thing, how you define "politics" and a "political comedian" is a big gray area. And also, I'm trying not to single people out by name. This would be easier if I just could say, "I've seen X, Y, and Z and I think they're not funny." But that's kinda lame to do so I'm trying to avoid that. (Part of why I felt ok discussing Jimmy's role in this is that I've never seen his act and know him solely via the podcast. He might not even fit into the category I'm talking about. Or he might be so hilarious he completely changes my mind on all this.)

Todd and Jimmy hacked away at me a bit so let me respond. Jimmy asks how I would define "political" and wonders if these things qualify as political topics: the war on terror, gay marriage, and health care. Yes, they totally do. And if someone was like, "The next comic going up is going to talk about the war on terror and health care and gay marriage..." I'd be predisposed to not liking that comic. If that makes me some kind of idiot, so be it. Could this comic wow me and turn me around? Sure, it's possible. But, in my experience, someone who confines themselves to discussing topics like these usually has a certain mindset/approach/delivery that I'm not a big fan of.

Perhaps my real problem is with the idea that someone would label themselves as a "political comedian." I don't like the idea of defining your act by just one thing. Jimmy mentions Carlin and Rock a lot to back up his case yet I don't think either of them would ever say, "I'm a political comedian." Just like I don't think you'd hear CK say, "I'm a parenting comedian." These guys all talk about a huge range of topics, not just things like the war on terror, gay marriage, and health care.

One more thing...during the previous discussions at this site, I think it's worth noting how many times I use the phrase "for me." I'm not making blanket statements that everyone should feel the same way. For example, Jimmy really emphasized the way I said, "There's no such thing as good political standup comedy." But what I wrote is: "For me, there's no such thing as good political standup comedy." Big difference between those two statements.

Anyway, fun discussion. And I look forward to seeing Jimmy live sometime and realizing how wrong I am about all this!

FYI, here's the original discussion: "Is crowd work a crutch?" You can leave any comments there.

P.S. The only time I got offended during the discussion: When Jimmy accused me of being from Long Island!? Easy with that. I live in Brooklyn.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with Matt on political comedy. I dont want to get involved because my examples are specific and it may hurt my relationships with people. But - I find political humor to be mostly pandering. There are shows like Laughing Liberally that is blatantly people just going to a show to agree with someone. Comedy is 75% if not more about surprise and how are you going to make a proper twist in a political joke?
Examples please.

However I do love comedians when they are having fun and doing what they want to be doing. So I can't fault them. It's just kind of agenda-y and I agree with you. I just think Laughing Liberally is an awful idea for a show. That's not a comedy show that's just a meeting.

Lisa Clarkson said...

He quoted you correctly, including the "for me", in the podcast.

Anonymous said...

So the guy above hates Laughing Liberally because it's a themed show?

Not to be a dick about it, but if his theory that political comedy is boring because comedy is 75% surprise, then I don't want to see any comedians twice.

I don't want to see Louis C.K. more than once because he might bitch about his children some more, and comedy is 75% surprise. I won't be surprised.

If I see a comedian once, I might get a good idea of his range and that will spoil any surprise his jokes could potentially have for me.


Matt Ruby said...

Lisa, you're right. Jimmy did say "for me." But then he also repeated the rest of the sentence without the "for me" which, in my opinion, changes the context of the statement. That's what I meant.

Overall though, I think Jimmy did a fair job of reading my words. Just think it's important to note I'm talking about my opinion, not something that should be a comedy rule across the board.

Mike Drucker said...

I feel kind of bad I started this whole thread on politics.

It really is a matter of taste.

Matt's right in that 100% of anything's boring.

But it's also taste. So 100% of political comedy is less boring to me than it is to Matt because it's not his cup of tea.

Just like 100% of observational is more boring to me than most people because I'm not very big on everyday observational.

But to each his own.

We don't all like the same music, we're not going to all like the same jokes.

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