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.
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.
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.