Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The "Hopefully" Ugly Face of Comedy

I've recently had people start pointing out to me that I'm losing my hair.  And by "people" I mean complete strangers.  Some people would be offended or disheartened by these comments, but I take them as a good sign for my stand-up comedy career.  While most people (especially those in the entertainment business) would suffer a career setback with the loss of their looks, I am fortunate to work in the only industry where it helps to be homely.
Ryan Wingfield  There's a reason why attractive people don't do stand-up comedy.  And it's not because it's so easy to get work on "The Bachelorette".  The truth is no one wants to laugh at someone who is good looking.  Not because what they said isn't funny, but because it doesn't sound funny coming out of a good looking face.

When you think about comedy, almost all jokes are about you laughing at someone's expense.  Either you are laughing at yourself, laughing at a third party (a person in a story), or laughing at the person who is telling the joke.  A good comic will mix all three types into their set, but because people can only laugh at themselves for so long before getting pissed, and because comics can only make fun of other people for so long before people start thinking of them as a jerk, the wide majority of jokes you will hear on stage involve the comic making fun of themselves. 

Self deprecating jokes are the safest jokes you can tell.  People are always comfortable laughing at someone who asked for it.  Hence the first joke 90% of comics make is a rip on them self, most often their appearance.  This is why fat comics have so many jokes about being fat, short comics joke about being short, and ugly people talk about their looks. 

I've often argued that nothing bad can ever happen to a stand-up comic because all it does is give them more material that they can use on stage.  Gaining weigh, getting older, and losing your hair are all fodder for new jokes.  The problem with attractive people is if they don't suffer from these flaws they can't joke about them without sounding like they are either bragging or lying. 

Think of several famous comedian.  George Carlin, Robin Williams, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, or Jay Leno.  None of them may qualify as ugos, but they're definitely not on any sexiest celebs list.  The same is true for female comics such as Phyllis Diller, Rosanne, and even Ellen DeGeneres (sorry every lesbian ever, but it's true).

Comics who hit it big are a lot more likely to be extremely goofy looking.  Just look at the success of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour.  Larry the Cable Guy is probably the best example of a comic who has exaggerated his bad looks for self deprecating humor.  (I'm sure it was a lot easier then writing good jokes.)

The truth is it is easier to laugh at someone who you think is below your status then it is to laugh at someone who is above your status.  This same psychology is why the best comedy rooms are when the comic is not on a raised stage (where the audience is below them looking up), but when the audience is in theater seats (looking down at the comic).

I also believe this is one of the reasons why women have a hard time succeeding in comedy.  If the female comic is even slightly good looking the women in the audience feel threatened and automatically dislike her, and the men in the audience stop listening to what she's saying and start imagining her naked.  If the woman is gay or unattractive (such as Ellen or Rosanne) both of those "distractions" are removed and the female comic can succeed on her own merit.  Obviously there are exceptions to the rule, but I would estimate 90% or more of successful female comics fall into one of the two categories.

Does any of this mean that good looking people can't do stand-up?  Of course not.  It does mean that they do have a natural handicap while less attractive people have a natural advantage.  It's almost an exact reverse of any other job. 

So I don't mourn the loss of my hair (or as I call it the "growing of my forehead").  Instead I embrace the inevitable decline of my looks and the expansion of my waist.  If all goes as planned I'll hit it big just about the time that I'm too ugly for any groupies. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Why Fish Doesn't Count as Meat

An Irishman walks into a bar.  The bartender says "Hi!  Can I get you a Guinness?"

"No thanks," says the Irishman.  "I gave up beer for Lent."

"Well then I guess you'll want a whiskey", says the bartender.

"Yes," says the Irishman.  "Make it a double."

This is one of those jokes that's funny because it's true.  This month the season of Lent kicked of.  It's a period of observance and sacrifice that most Christian faiths follow as a lead-in to Easter.  For those who don't go to church very often it means you should look at a calendar, because one of the two church services of the year that you attend is coming up soon.t

For Catholics, like myself, Lent is a time of the year when we amp up our Catholic guilt to 11.  Most "good" Catholics increase their charity work and at the same time try to "give up" a vice.  For example this year the Pope gave up being the Pope.  The day before Lent begins is called Fat Tuesday, better known as Mardi Gras.  It's supposed to be a day when holy people could eat, drink, and get their fill of vices before having to give them up.  My guess is most of the people throwing beads in New Orleans aren't going to church the next day.

Unfortunately some slightly less than good Catholics, like myself, sometimes replace an old vice with a new one.  (See the joke above)  What someone gives up is unique to each person, but the church does make some blanket reservations for the entire congregation.  The most well known of which is no meat on Fridays. 

Those who were alive during WWII may remember that Catholics used to abstain from eating meat on every Friday during the year.  It's probably one or the reason sales of Mac N Cheese were so strong in Boston.  In the 60's the Pope decided that meatless Fridays was too hard for most people and decided to reduce the meat restriction to Friday's during Lent.  Hence modern Catholics like myself only have to remember 6 days of the year that we aren't supposed to eat meat.  Most of us remember this about halfway through eating a cheeseburger.

One of the interesting exemptions to the "no meat on Friday" rule is fish.  While beef, pork, poultry, lamb, and all other land creatures are forbidden, Catholics are allowed to eat as much fish as we want.  Many people might ask why fish doesn't count as meat.  These people might also be Catholics.  My entire life I've asked why fish isn't meat and I've never gotten an answer.  From what I've learned there is no answer.  All I've ever been told is "it just doesn't count as meat."

Someone told me once that they thought fish doesn't count because it's the only animal that Jesus ever ate in the bible. I'm no biblical scholar, but I don't ever remember Jesus talking about being a fish vegetarian.

My best guess is since most of the apostles were fishermen before they began hanging out with Jesus that they pushed for the exemption to help their fellow co-workers.  For those of you who think I'm being blasphemous I want to point out that I'm a professional comedian and if you're a good Christian then you'll forgive me.