Comedy

Why Comedians Can Be Prophets, Too

Photo via Elisanth / Shutterstock.com

Photo via Elisanth / Shutterstock.com

We tend to feel like we really know them when they share so much through their various media. Marc Maron got choked up and started to cry at the end of his interview with Terry Gross. And it felt real. I’m not saying it wasn’t real, but we know only as much as he wants us to know. He has created an artifice of authenticity in his work that feels real enough to us to suggest real intimacy, and this is what we lack so profoundly in today’s culture.

We’re too busy, too scared, too incapable, or maybe all of the above, simply to sit down and have “real conversations” with friends and loved ones like the ones Marc has on his shows. We find something wildly cathartic about the outrage Jon Stewart expresses about current events, and about the depths of apparent vulnerability Louis C.K. offers in his comedy routine and in his T.V. show, Louie. Amy Schumer takes the teeth out of human sexuality by helping us laugh at it, robbing it of some of its power.

Charlie Hebdo: Comedy As an Act of Courage

phipatbig / Shutterstock.com

phipatbig / Shutterstock.com

I love Jon Stewart. I mean, like “maybe jump the fence” love him. His presence on The Daily Show has spoken to and with my generation through some of our most formative years.

And yes, he tells fart jokes (which I also love). And yes, he editorializes, (which is nearly ubiquitous in “legitimate news” streams anyway). But he also often names what people are thinking, feeling, or what they can’t even put into words.

And then he helps us laugh about it, and at ourselves.

On a recent episode of The Daily Show, however, he took a more sober tone when talking about the slaughter in the headquarters of the French satire magazine, Charlie Hebdo. One comment in particular that he made stuck with me, not because it was funny or witty. Rather, it pointed to something we all need to consider more seriously, I think.

'Dear White People:' A Satire of Injustice

A poster for 'Dear White People.' Image courtesy dearwhitepeoplemovie.com.

A poster for 'Dear White People.' Image courtesy dearwhitepeoplemovie.com.

It might be tempting for some viewers to see Dear White People as over-the-top. To see some of its characters as caricatures, or the offensive party that makes up its climax — with white students dressed in blackface — as unrealistic. But it’s not. For evidence, you only need to look as far as the credits, which show photos from similar events at other schools across the country. And when the president of Winchester claims that “racism is over in America,” it doesn’t sound too different from Bill O’Reilly’s similar claim on The Daily Show just last week.

Dear White People is clever, loving, angry satire. It’s a multi-faceted exploration of race in a time when such portrayals are needed, like peroxide on a deep cut. The film sometimes falters in its process, but delivers the goods when it matters most. The fact that it comes so stingingly close to reality is stunning. It’s funny. It’s sad.

Joan Rivers: Wicked Humor with a Jewish Touch

Joan Rivers in 2010. Photo courtesy David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons.

Joan Rivers in 2010. Photo courtesy David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons.

Joan Rivers, 81, the acid-tongued survivor of popular comedy and entertainment, died Sept. 4. Who could possibly find it funny?

Joan would have.

Humor, she said, was how she dealt with all life’s triumphs and defeats.

She once said, “I knew I was funny and I knew it was powerful” as early as 8 years old.

Born Joan Alexandra Molinsky in Brooklyn, the daughter of Russian immigrant Jews, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Barnard. (“My mother wanted M.D. to stand for Make Dollars.”)

But she couldn’t get a door opened to the stage until she started making the gatekeepers — the agents’ secretaries — laugh.

She worked her way up through New York comedy clubs, over into TV and finally, after seven auditions, onto a stand-up stint on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” By 1983, she was Carson’s regular guest host until a bitter feud over her competing TV endeavors brought their friendship to an end.

Rivers’ first marriage ended in divorce; her second ended in tragedy when her husband killed himself. Even so, she said, “I enjoy life when things are happening. I don’t care if it’s good things or bad things. That means you’re alive.”

 

New Comedic Documentary Explores Muslims in the U.S.

“The Muslims are Coming” tells the story of a group of comedians who take their

“The Muslims are Coming” tells the story of a group of comedians who take their show to the Bible Belt. Photo via show website.

Muslim stand-up comedy is nothing new. But what makes “The Muslims Are Coming” different is that it portrays what happens when a troupe of comedians performs before red state Americans in such places as Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Arizona, Utah and Idaho.

The documentary by Negin Farsad, an Iranian-American, and Dean Obeidallah, of Palestinian-Italian roots, opened in Chicago yesterday.

God Won’t Mind If We Laugh at Ourselves

Photo by Karen Tapia/Orange County Register.

Director and screenwriter, Tom Shadyac, right. Photo by Karen Tapia/Orange County Register.

“I find hypocrisy all over our lives – especially mine – and certainly in the church. … I think Jesus loves everybody. Everybody. The second we call somebody a ‘nonbeliever,’ we have put a wall up between us and them. They are all children of God.”

With a wink and a crazy-eyed smile, Shadyac was, ostensibly, calling the crowd on its own … uh … baloney.

“Forgive me, I’m personally a little tired – God’s not, but I am – of khaki-wearing, Docker-delivering, Christianity,” he said. “If you’re out there in Dockers or khakis: God loves you, but I’m still a work in progress.”

And, when given the chance, Shadyac gently corrected the tacit implication that Hollywood is Babylon.

“You know what I would say to the church, to you guys, if I had to? ‘Come on. Let’s stop it,’” the director began. “We have become so whitewashed that when I literally say the word ‘ass’ – which is actually in the anatomical dictionary – because we are so born of the Puritan fear [you freak out]. Guess what? God made the ass. He made the ass.

“You’ve just gotta get over that. I don’t believe the world is godless. Because if I believe in omnipresence and omniscience, and I take the Word at its word, that God is in EV-ERY-THING,” he said. “When another person is loving another person, God is all over their lives. I don’t need to judge them and to tell them where God is in or out or what words they need to say. That is not up to me.”

Sultans of Satire Aims to Bridge Gaps with Muslims, Arabs Through Comedy

LOS ANGELES — Unshaven and wearing a black hoodie and cap, Omar Elba looked out from the lectern, surrounded by a gold cross and organ pipes. "Moses, you are my nizzle fo' shizzle," said the Egyptian-born Muslim comedian, doing his best to channel Snoop Dogg.

It's a joke he's done before, but never in a church.

The unique setting of their performance inside Westwood Hills Congregational Church wasn't lost on any of the performers at the Sultans of Satire comedy show. Yet the sacred stage didn't keep them from swearing or talking about sex, although it inspired more jokes about growing up Jewish, Muslim, and Christian than one might typically hear during stand-up.

"I don't know whether to tell jokes or tell you my confessions," Elba said, opening up the show.

Why is it So Hard to Do Religion in Prime Time?

Photo by Karen Neal/ABC via Getty Images

Still from upcoming 'GCB' episode. Photo by Karen Neal/ABC via Getty Images

Many TV network executives, advertisers and producers would sell their souls to get the kind of audience God has. But giving religion a starring role in prime time? Not so much.

Religion, God and spirituality have made cameos across the dial from "The Sopranos" to "The Simpsons" -- though usually as a prop or walk-on role. But shows where religion is a central part of the premise are rare, and the ratings are generally far from heavenly.

Short of touchy-feely shows like "Touched By an Angel" or "Highway to Heaven," why is religion so radioactive in Hollywood?

This month, cable network TLC canceled "All-American Muslim" after only about 700,000 viewers watched the season finale of the reality show featuring Muslims in Dearborn, Mich.

Meanwhile, ABC's saucy new drama "GCB" -- think "Desperate Housewives" in choir robes -- that's based on Kim Gatlin's novel "Good Christian Bitches" has been panned by critics and called "anti-Christian" by Newt Gingrich. The "GCB" premiere on March 4 lost the coveted 18-49 demographic, but climbed back during its sophomore episode.

It's the Comedy, Stupid.

 Photo by Richard Foreman / ABC via Getty Images

A married couple on ABC's "GCB" attends a church-sponsored marriage workshop. Photo by Richard Foreman / ABC via Getty Images

Over the weekend, Newt Gingrich decided to wade into a minor cultural skirmish by claiming that the new ABC dramedy GCB is an attack on faith fueled by anti-Christian bias.

As Gingrich is, from my perspective at least, prone to flights of intellectual fancy, I was at first prone to roll my eyes and ignore his latest sojourn into the ridiculous. But upon further reflection, I thought it merited a response because his notion that a satire could be the latest cannon fodder in the alleged war on religion (which usually means “war on Christianity” to those who invoke it) speaks to a larger cultural conundrum: Christians and our sense of humor (or, rather, the lack thereof.)

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