Friday, April 8, 2011

Unusually Common

To many people it seems I have a very interesting life.  I grew up in Alaska, have worked on television and radio, and now travel the country (and sometimes the world) performing stand-up comedy for crowds of hundreds.  Not many people can say they live that kind of life, but compared to my fellow comedians I am more boring than wonder bread with mayonaise. 
This was recently pointed out to me by a fellow comic who I was traveling with on the road.  She is a lesbian who has lived with numerous partners in recent years and comes from a family filled largely with very conservative republicans who don't think highly of her lifestyle.  She lives paycheck to paycheck and is involved with numerous theater and television projects as a modern day artisan.  Her story is considered very typical in the comedy industry. 
As a general rule comedians aren't stable people.  Most of us have experienced great trauma in our lives which we have been able to channel into productivity from comedy.  One of the greatest examples of this is Christopher Titus.  His act centers around his highly dysfunctional family and includes topics such as custody battles, mental illness, family suicides, heart attacks, domestic abuse, and his dead judgmental father.  Watching Titus on stage is almost like watching someone vent to a psychologist (the psychologist being the audience).  Amazingly Titus does it in such a humorous way you almost don't notice that he's using the stage as his own version of therapy. 
Almost every comic does this in some way on stage.  One of the best reasons for doing it is that it makes your material original and nearly impossible for another comic to steal your material.  After all it would be really hard for me to jokes about being an overweight lesbian with a smokers cough.
The problem with this is when a comic ONLY talks about their personal issues.  I can't tell you how many times I've seen a fat comic do nothing but fat jokes, or a gay comic talk only about being gay, or a black comic who talks about nothing but his Puerto Rican girlfriend.  Sure it's really funny for the first 15 minutes, but very hard to maintain for a full show. 
This is why I find it hard to talk about myself and my family on stage.  When you're a straight white athletic male from a functional middle upper class christian family there's not a lot that people care about.  On top of that I also don't drink excessively, nor do I smoke, do drugs, or cheat on my wife.  In other words Wonder bread with mayonnaise.