Thinking like a comic: Fran Lebowitz, Steve Albini, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, etc.

Loved the Fran Lebowitz documentary that Scorcese did. Watching it, I kept thinking that she has the mind of a standup. For example, her thoughts on the gay rights movement:

Who are now the squarest people on earth? Who are the only ones left who want to get married and join the military? Homosexuals.

After I heard that, I thought, "How has that never been a standup premise before?" So ripe for the stage. And her thoughts on race also sound like they could be the premise for a great (Chris Rock?) bit:

The way to approach it, I think, is not to ask, "What would it be like to be black?" but to seriously consider what it is like to be white. That's something white people almost never think about. And what it is like to be white is not to say, "We have to level the playing field," but to acknowledge that not only do white people own the playing field but they have so designated this plot of land as a playing field to begin with. White people are the playing field. The advantage of being white is so extreme, so overwhelming, so immense, that to use the word "advantage" at all is misleading since it implies a kind of parity that simply does not exist.

It is now common -- and I use the word "common" in its every sense -- to see interviews with up-and-coming young movie stars whose parents or even grandparents were themselves movie stars. And when the interviewer asks, "Did you find it an advantage to be the child of a major motion-picture star?" the answer is invariably "Well, it gets you in the door, but after that you've got to perform, you're on your own." This is ludicrous. Getting in the door is pretty much the entire game, especially in movie acting, which is, after all, hardly a profession notable for its rigor. That's how advantageous it is to be white. It's as though all white people were the children of movie stars. Everyone gets in the door and then all you have to do is perform at this relatively minimal level.

Additionally, children of movie stars, like white people, have at -- or actually in -- their fingertips an advantage that is genetic. Because they are literally the progeny of movie stars they look specifically like the movie stars who have preceded them, their parents; they don't have to convince us that they can be movie stars. We take them instantly at face value. Full face value. They look like their parents, whom we already know to be movie stars. White people look like their parents, whom we already know to be in charge. This is what white people look like -- other white people. The owners. The people in charge. That's the advantage of being white. And that's the game. So by the time the white person sees the black person standing next to him at what he thinks is the starting line, the black person should be exhausted from his long and arduous trek to the beginning.

Speaking of an "everybody else has got it wrong" attitude, someone sent me this Steve Albini interview for Gothamist. It's got a great rant on NYC "artists":

New York is such a monolith that it’s pointless to have an opinion about it. It’s like bitching about the weather. It certainly won’t accomplish anything and it certainly won’t make you feel better about what you didn’t like. New York has a couple of characteristics that are undeniable and one of those is that it’s a magnet for assholes who couldn’t get any attention at home and decided that the problem wasn’t that they weren’t interesting but that there were all these squares around them in Dubuque or whatever and they need to go to some big cosmopolitan city like New York where people will appreciate them. So if you can imagine that scenario playing out within every city in North America and every one of those assholes with an opinion slightly outreaching his ability getting on a fucking Greyhound. You end up with a pretty good description of what’s annoying about New York is that it’s full of people whose self-image just ever-so-slightly outstrips their ability.

I studied painting under in college under Ed Paschke, who is dead now, he was a brilliant, brilliant educator...He described it as the “catch-all of runners up.” And I think that’s probably what annoys me about New York when I’m annoyed by it. Whatever they’re doing at the moment, that’s not really them, in their minds. Like, I’m working in this bookstore but I’m not a bookstore clerk, I’m a writer. Or like, I’m working in the restaurant but I’m not a waiter, I’m an actor. There are all these people who are not the thing that they are doing at the moment and therefore feel demeaned by every second of their existence. And the chip on New York’s shoulder is the thing that keeps everything on the ground there. It’s the massive weight that causes all of the gravity that happens in New York.

Ouch. Btw, Albini's The Problem With Music (from the early 90s) is a classic among bands and music biz types. Though it's a bit dated now, I'd still recommend it for anyone who works (or wants to work) in the entertainment biz.

And speaking of being inspired by non-comedians, some famous authors who have stellar Twitter feeds: Kurt Vonnegut, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and HL Mencken. Neat to see how timeless their stuff is.


2 Comment(s)

Anonymous john niles said...

Vonnegut + Twitter = exceptionally. cool. Nice work!

Tart News Satire

10/25/11, 2:09 PM  
Blogger Mo Diggs said...

"Genocides are like snowflakes." INDEED!

10/25/11, 2:40 PM