Friday, December 8, 2017
Looking For Laughs 1: Positioning
I found out recently that I am a comedy nerd. I did not know this.
I have two sources for this information:
Martin Short's autobiography I Must Say! and the sort-of oral history of the intersecting of life and comedy, Judd Apatow's Sick In the Head, a book that knocked me on my philosophical ass.
To give you an idea of how Judd's a student of the game (and Conan, to his credit, is no slouch himself):
Not only did I not know I was one of these "nerds", I didn't know they existed...
You see, the "comedy nerd" is a person that doesn't just dig humor, but kind of studies it. As a young teen, my stack of stand-up albums rivaled that of my music (and that's saying something). I recorded shit like HBO's Young Comedians Special, Saturday Night Live, and the burgeoning Late Night with David Letterman, for repeat viewings. I memorized some comedian's routines and was caught out by my sister Pam (though it was 20 years later) for repeating them. (I never said the material was original, Sis.)
As referenced by others in those books I mentioned, I stayed up late after SNL to catch SCTV (before anyone knew what the hell it was), one-off things like Twilight Theatre, and inhaled stand-up specials wherever I could find them. I memorized the words and actions of fictional characters like Short's Ed Grimley, The Young Ones, and the members of Spinal Tap. I was the only kid I knew doing this, but didn't think anything of it until it was mentioned by Short and Apatow in their books....
This epiphany coincided with the remembrance of a revelatory Apatow scene from his masterful and underappreciated Freaks and Geeks:
I was that kid.
Now, mind you, I missed the boat on Garry Shandling, but you get the drift. I had been a young kid who had spent much time alone (or with the tube) for varying reasons. Foremost, I sought out various comedy stylings because they often grabbed me when the moments came.
Yes, I have laughed that hard at stand up.
Yes, I have spit out soda at some of the better moments of SNL or SCTV.
Laughter was and is a healing balm, and whether or not I knew I needed it as a kid, I firmly remember looking all over TV for it long before and after cable was an option for sources.
Going forward however, as I became a teen with a job and some spare cash, I started buying comedy albums and it reigned supreme along with my love of rock and roll as a major pastime.
I loved all types of comedy. From the often absurdly observational and frequently angry (like George Carlin), to people "who didn't work blue" like Bill Cosby or Steven Wright. I went back in time at record stores to get albums by those guys and many others, while picking up new material from young upstarts.
As a sidenote: I try not to hold tight to the Cosby thing because he's a monster, but before we all knew that fact, he was considered ground-breaking and hilarious. Sadly I must admit, the shit's just not as funny now. Kind of like how Ted Nugent's guitar-playing is nowhere near as good as it used to be.
As I've stated here, I love to laugh, but as I eventually broke out of my teens, I felt stand-up comedy also opened up avenues of different ways of thinking. Opinions began to form and my attitudes were challenged by people like Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor, Richard Lewis, Greg Giraldo and even some of the stage work of Robin Williams. Pontification and chortling combine rather well, really.
I hope this series I've put together will be enlightening, not only shining a light onto my mind's workings in relation to humor, but why I am the way I am. Even if that's not all that important to you, perhaps the history and relevance of great comedy will be.