Is Anything Off-Limits In Comedy?
This will be somewhat brief, because I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone with a pulse, how wrong and disgusting this story is. I don’t need to expound upon it too much.
The Los Angeles based comedian, Damienne Merlina was personally attacked, bullied and insulted – called out by first and last name – during the Comedy Central special of comedian, Ari Shaffir. I won’t go into detail of what happened as you can watch Damienne’s brief video to see the clip and her personal response:
I know both of these comedians. I’m not close friends with either one, but I will say of Damienne, that she is a kind and friendly woman of integrity. People like her. I’ve never heard of a reason to talk shit about her, so… hmmmm. WTF?
Stand up comedy (and the world, at large) has always been an old boys’ club and even with so women rising to the top ranks of the comedy elite right now, there seems to be a current trend in comedy that I like to call “douche bag humor”. It is popular with the 30 and under crowd and is it misogynistic and mean-spirited. It lacks satire or artistic vision. Seems to me, around the early 2000s, since the Jackass movies came out, it has gotten worse and worse. Our youth culture idolizes it and the entertainment industry perpetuates it and whores it out for money.
Which brings me to the age old question, “Is any topic off-limits in comedy?” This question gets thrown around so often and people who argue both for and against it are often neglecting an important element of this debate. Not just the what, but the how.
I say no. No topic is off-limits when it comes to comedy. You can talk about a person missing a limb, you can talk about a person who is mentally challenged, you can talk about a person who is any kind of minority – but the laugh had better not come at their expense. Never the butt. That’s one of the most basic and obvious rules of comedy. The exception to this is if you’re an “insult comedian” and then you’d better damn well understand your craft. It is a specific art form that is done well by a brilliant handful of people on the planet. If you’re not one of those people and you’re insulting people on stage under the guise of a JOKE, you’re not a comedian. You’re just a talentless, classless asshole.
Friday In A Sweltering Room With George
Today I did something that turned out fairly insane and I’m still trying to decide if it was worth it. I went to an open call for George Takei’s musical which is opening on Broadway in November. The play, “Allegiance” is based upon his family’s true story of being forced from their homes into the Japanese American internment camps during the war.
Today there was an open call, here in Los Angeles, for Asian American singers. This might not seem like a big deal, but for AA musical theater folks, it’s huge. We’re not seen in musicals very often so to have an entire cast of AA actors, singers and dancers is super cool.
I made an appointment with my voice teacher and prepared 16 bars from two contrasting songs, one a classic songbook number and the other a contemporary musical theater piece. I practiced and freaked out a little because I – like 99.9% of all breathing beings in SoCal – am having severe allergy issues right now with a sore throat, post-nasal drip, nagging cough and itchy eyes. This does not make for a great singing voice, but the show must go on.
Before I go any further, I should note that it has been years since I’ve attended any type of open call. Literally, probably over 10 years. Open calls are generally for desperate young actors with no experience, homeless people and American Idol contestants. But apparently this was the only way to be seen here in L.A. and it’s the show of a lifetime for a face like mine.
The open call started at 11am (the notice said not to show up any earlier than 10:30am for sign up) and went until 2pm which is when the dancers open call started. I got there around 11:25am and the waiting room was packed and sweltering. Eyeballing the crowd and knowing they were all going to sing 16-32 bars, I made a rough estimate of a two hour wait.
Well, almost two hours later, I was losing my voice from allergy coughing, I was starving, the room was even more sweltering and just as crowded. Looking around I knew there was no way we were all going to be seen and they have to give preference to AEA members, which I am not. Then they announced that normally they would just cut the waiting list off at some point and tell those of us who didn’t make it under 2pm to go home and too bad, so sad, sorry but not sorry. That’s not actually what they said, but that’s what typically would happen. But since they really wanted to see as many of us as they could they asked us to select EIGHT BARS to sing from of one of our songs, when we go in the room, don’t waste time introducing ourselves, just give your music to the accompanist and start singing and get out.
A roomful of black haired singers with furrowed brows, frantically started pawing through their sheet music, singing quietly to themselves, shaking their heads, asking each other questions. For those of you who aren’t musicians, let me break it down for you: eight bars of a song is like singing for 10-15 seconds. Uh, yeah. At this point, the dancers started showing up for their sign up and it was pretty obvious who was a singer and who was a dancer. Every actor in the room who thought they had a hot body suddenly realized, they really aren’t a dancer.
About 15 minutes after that announcement, I was put on deck. I did exactly as I was told; when the door opened, I went straight to the accompanist, gave her some quick instructions on where to start, took my place, starting singing, stopped singing, left the room. It was the most anti-climactic musical moment of my life.
I was 90% happy with my singing except my voice cracked a little on a high, sustained note.* Waiting in that loud, hot room with a dry cough really did me in a little. That was a note that typically would have been no problem for me, but I almost lost my voice to these allergies two nights ago. The rest was great, I ended strong, I think I conveyed some of the story of the song in EIGHT BARS and showed some character. Uh, I guess.
And then I left. Total, I spent two and a half hours waiting for my chance to sing those eight bars and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I mean, I know how I feel about my performance and I’m at peace with that, but I’m not sure if I’m completely glad that I went. I think I am. I guess if I hadn’t gone, I’d be wondering “what if” and that sucks.
I’m grateful that the session runners and the four folks in the audition room were all very nice and friendly. I’m glad that Aubrey’s dad was able to spend the day with her so I could go alone (I usually drag her to auditions with me) and that I forced her to finish her school work yesterday so we wouldn’t have to do any today. And I met a nice young actor/singer named Jane who was actually a fan of my comedy. I was so flattered that she knew who I was and even knew my material. I also bumped into my friend’s nephew, Scott Takeda, and he’s currently in a movie about BDSM! Everyone in the room was kind. I think Asian American actors are kind to one another in this city. We have to be. We still really need each other.
So it definitely wasn’t a day wasted, but it was time consumed, for sure. I can’t wait to find out who will work in the show. I hope I know some folks who get in. I’m quite certain I won’t be one of them, and that’s ok. It’s all about the journey, right (CLICHÉ!)? But yeah I’m glad I went.
*I was so hungry when I finally got to leave, so I drowned out the worry over that voice crack with a box of Kyochon Chicken Wings. You should try that next time something shitty happens. It really works.
Trick Or Treat! It's Sally Bowles!
A text exchange with a dad friend got me feeling all nostalgic about how fun it was when Aubrey didn’t care what she was for Halloween. I could dress her up like a little doll and she was adorable. By age 4 she started picking her own costume, but still picked really cute things.
This year, she wanted to be “Sally Bowles” from Cabaret and I had to put the kibosh on that. We settled on Zombie Wonder Woman and now she’s regretting her choice because she’s jealous of every other child in the Western World who will be dressed like something from Minecraft. Ugh. Why can’t she appreciate how baller Zombie Wonder Woman is?!
Here is a retrospective of Aubrey’s costumes before she wanted to be a drug addicted stripper for Halloween. Awwwwww.
Also, the peapod costume was a bonus costume in 2007. My mom bought it for her but I had already gotten the hot dog so she got to be two different food groups that year.