Andrew Ouellette, contributor
Stand-up comedy can take place anywhere, and it often does. Outside the safe haven of comedy clubs, comedians are stuffed into casinos, restaurants and bars. Sometimes, a bar show can be the most horrific gig a comic has to endure. Now, don’t get me wrong, because a bar show can be great, but, does comedy necessarily belong there? Lately I’ve been wrestling with the question “Does this art form (one I hold in such high regard) belong in this drunken dump?” I’ve been pondering this after years and years of playing dive after dive. Simply put, the art of comedy doesn’t always get its due respect in some booze-drenched neighborhood haunt.
I suppose it’s also fair to question whether comedy is art at all. After all, if you go to any open mic, it’s saturated with rape jokes, topped off with a thick sprinkling of poopy and pee-pee references. That aside, I’ll go to bat for stand-up and say that I believe it is an art. Maybe it’s not Da Vinci, but it’s art, and not an easy one. The comedian’s words are chosen and arranged with intent; comedy is the inbred cousin of poetry. Their fluctuations hide meaning all on their own, the comedian’s voice can flow like music, like a singer… usually an underpaid and sexually-frustrated singer. The joke-teller is painting a picture, most often a character, with the weapons of innuendo, puns, and misdirection. The comedian must perform many tasks simultaneously: blocking, crowd reading, and dealing with check drops, all the while attempting to solicit a single-minded reaction from a group of strangers.
Now, if you still don’t think stand-up comedy is an art, then obviously I’m not going to change your mind. You will continue to think of it as the equivalent to karaoke. Don’t worry; I find most people’s passions to be tedious, and I often feign interest for the sake of civility. However, this isn’t a live performance; you’re only reading this. So feel free to tune out if you think comedy is… a joke. (See what I did there? Hahaha.. ha… he he… *clears throat*) Grab yourself a nice glass of orange juice and go take a shit. Really, it’s fine. Go ahead. Go.
You still here? Okay, then you’re opened-minded enough to entertain the idea that dick jokes can be art. To reiterate: does comedy belong in a bar or does it deserve the respect of a stage designed specifically for the art form? A comedy club is a place that MAY contain fans who are more educated on comedy. Live performance, which hinges so much on an attentive audience, deserves to be performed in a place where hecklers are policed, and are not allowed to answer their cell phones mid-show. Comedy clubs may have an overpriced menu and a two-drink minimum, but at least the jokes don’t echo into a soundscape of registers binging, phones ringing, and hormone-fueled chatter.
Sadly, being an artist doesn’t keep my phone on. Far away from the art gallery comedy club, I step onto a poorly constructed stage under a shoplight. I exist as a spectacle before philistines who are soaking their brooding minds in something piss colored and carbonated. In the background pool balls clink and a football game flashes across a muted television. I take my amplified paint brush, with my canvas resting on the stool, and…. Voila! The motherfucking Mona Lisa of poopy and pee-pee references. I’m an artist regardless of where I stand. Comedy is the art of survival.