Jerry Seinfeld, of course, just may be the most well-respected comedian of the last 25 years. Respected among his peers which, I have alluded to, is the highest form of praise a comic can receive.
He is a ‘clean’ comic, that rarest of comedians. Jim Gaffigan and Brian Regan are among the few comics who can hold that revered title. It takes a special skill to craft material that can be appreciated by all ages. These are observational comics, a bit of a throwback, in terms of style. This is the comedy I grew up on, and which informed my writing, and drawing.
Comics these days, I find, mine their own personal stories for material, as Pryor did, back in the day. (Patton, Maron, Robin Williams, Jen Kirkman, even Gaffigan, in his latest special, and many more) Often, a painful, but funny narrative can emerge through workshopping material at clubs etc, seeing what works, what can be emphasized for humorous effect. The end product may not be as polished and tight, but therein lies the organic nature of this style of comedy – it is no less valid than the ‘old timey’ observational style.
Happy days! Jerry is coming to Vancouver this October – I am taking my mother. (my wife and I went years back) She is such a fan that she STILL quotes lines and scenes from the show. I took my wife last time he visited here a few years back, and he did NOT disappoint.
Here is a stand-up comic we saw the other night. Jen Kirkman is a favourite of mine, her style being of an acerbic quality (not for everyone), with a less joke-based set, but more of a narrative-based one, culled from her life. Like quite a few performers and comics, she has a podcast that enables a listener an opportunity to get into the head of the performer which is never not a cool thing. There are certain people whose brains are a wonder, and it is fascinating to hear reality distilled through their filters. One thing, though. Never refer to her as a female comedian (at least within earshot or on social media). Or a (gag) comedienne. She likes to be referred to as a comedian/comic who just happens to be female. If you want to go the extra mile, and have a lot of spare time, a stand-up comic who identifies as female. There is a lot of things that bother her, in fact, and it is the anger that is the engine of her bits and act.
One of her more famed bits is how she gained 40 lbs after getting married (now divorced). Her friends told her that it was normal to gain weight after marriage. She was ‘settling in’, or ‘you’re nesting’. She retorted with, ‘Oh great, I thought that it was because I was sitting in front of the TV every night eating a brick of cheese like a sandwich.’ (she is very candid about her bouts with depression)
I don’t think that I have written extensively about one of my passions, stand-up comedy. Comics/cartoons and stand-up comics have always been a through-line in my life, since I was a teen. I remember listening to material from Robert Klein, Steve Martin, George Carlin, Pryor, Cosby (favourite of my dad’s), Newhart, Dangerfield, Woody Allen, Lily Tomlin, Eddie Murphy, et al. I would typically listen on FM radio late at night. Or on LPs. Those were my guys.
In the late 70’s, early 80’s, babysitting (can’t believe families were actually desperate enough to seek MY childcare skills: early to bed, so I could get on the boob tube, was my mantra) to the wee hours, I would get to witness the brilliance of Saturday Night Live. There was no way on God’s green earth I was going to be allowed to watch THAT at home. And we didn’t have cable, since the show was on the American feeds. We had CBC, CTV, and KVOS out of Bellingham. We had a manual antenna on the roof controlled by a gizmo straight of a 1950s sci-fi movie.
I try to take in as many comics as possible but given that we are out here on the ‘Wet Coast’, the picking can be far and few between, especially the big names. I took my son to see Jim Gaffigan earlier this year. We both think he is hilarious, and he is one of few comics performing today whose material is mostly clean. Brian Regan is another big name whose material is not only funny but devoid of expletives. We (my wife and I) have been lucky enough to see Newhart, Seinfeld, and Todd Glass (not so clean) in recent years.
There is something quite extraordinary and courageous about a performer walking on the stage and trying to make us laugh. It is a position fraught with peril, to say the least. To make a blanket statement, it takes a certain kind of strength (or masochism) to get back on that stage again and again (esp after bombing). It is a drug for many of them, like the ‘inside drugs’ that compel some to leap off buildings and bridges with ‘chutes, I suppose.
I am not positive that I might be able to pull off such a counter intuitive move, as performing in front of an audience who is there with the unspoken demand: make us laugh. I was a class clown in school, which is an early indicator (of failure in life?) of a possible stand-up comedy career. Of course, it did not pan out that way (thank the great cosmic muffin for that).
And though you did not ask, here are a few more comics (living or passed on), who I think are brilliant: CK, Marc Maron, Bill Burr, Patton, Birbiglia, Robin Williams, Hedberg, Bamford, Norm MacDonald, Sarah Silverman, and of course Rodney! Believe me when I say that I have left out a few.