Back when Richard Pryor passed away, I caught some flack because I used a variation of one of Pryor’s album titles as the title to my blog entry. Yeah, I used the dreaded “N” word. But, I didn’t use it with hate; I used it with what I perceived as admiration for the comic. And while that word is used innocuously by members of the African-American community in jest, camaraderie, and friendship; it still evokes feelings of hatred, abuse, and oppression when it is used by any other ethnic race.
I don’t use the word, but sometimes I wish that I could. Not because I want to berate or insult someone, but because it’s a word. A word like any other word in the English language and useful within certain context. As a writer, performer, and a schooled student of Journalism; I’m censored from the use of the word for fear of offending someone. But as a comic, I’m free to say any other vile, disgusting word I want, provided it’s funny to my audience. Nothing is off-limits; from describing noxious gases emanating from the human body, to describing body parts in sexual positions with animals.
So, you’ve probably seen actor, Michael Richards’ on-stage meltdown as he goes into a racial tirade against two African-American audience members watching his stand-up comedy routine. And you’ve probably seen his apology as it aired on Late Show with David Letterman. Michael lost it. His rant was hateful and unmerciful and most of all it was NOT FUNNY in context.
Many other comics termed “insult comics”, have used worse language, with more stereotypical racial slurs than Michael did; and they are invited to comedy clubs every night of the year. They play to mixed audiences, and they insult and berate EVERYONE; and no one leaves offended or makes allegations of racism. Why?
Because the audience knows the joke and knows the act. And the comics, in question, are Funny and their “anger” is the act. They do not step outside the act to display real anger.
Michael was a great character as “Kramer” on the Seinfeld show; and he probably has a great stand-up Comedy act. His fatal flaw is he stepped out of the character and into unbridled anger.
Joe Gandelman is a performing ventriloquist/comedian. Joe also writes a great political pundit blog called The Moderate Voice. Joe recently wrote about the Michael Richards episode and gives a thought-provoking perspective of the event and includes some historical video clips to make his points. I encourage you to go read it.
“Comedy clubs ain’t beanbags. They’re a no-holds-barred show business arena with no safety net for the person onstage. XXX language isn’t unusual and there are some audience members who like that kind of entertainment. Rage-filled rants aren’t new. Ot
Make sure you watch the Bill Hicks video, the Bill Clinton(yeah,that Bill Clinton) video and follow the link to the female comic handling a heckler.
Just make sure, you follow the ratings advice and the Not-Safe-For-Work warnings.