Posts by DianeVacca:
By Diane Vacca, ComedyBeat | The last time ComedyBeat visited Veronica Osorio, she was performing a monologue at UCB. Back then in February, she incorporated her neck brace into her skit, joking about her personal tragedy, a near-fatal accident that severely damaged many of her body parts.
Everything is copy, another comedian famously said. Like Nora Ephron, Osorio heals herself and her audience with laughter, the best and perhaps the only rational response to life’s ineluctable tragedies. Ignoring a lingering wrist cast, Osorio sends up Martha Stewart and all the ladies who “make their own things for no good reason.”
As Kate in “Kate’s Craft Corner,” Osorio stars in a deliberately gawky series of instructional videos. She demonstrates how to make creative innovations like “Pants for Plants,” a “Nose Cosy” and “Salt Shakers” (for sugar). The videos themselves, with awkward jump cuts, non sequitors and Osorio’s manic enthusiasm are deliberately amateurish. And funny.
By Diane Vacca, ComedyBeat | “To those who were offended by Seth MacFarlane” Kevin Gisi attempts to level the playing field with his parody of “We Saw Your Boobs.”
The old adage that beauty is in the eye of the beholder is also true for comedy: One person’s “funny” is another’s “obscene” or “sadistic” or “racist” or — but you get the point.
Who among us can set a standard of acceptability for jokes? No one really, because in the case of humor, there isn’t and can’t be a normative standard that will be acceptable to everybody.
Over at Think Progress, Alyssa Rosenberg argues that when a comedian—unique among artists — is criticized, the very “act of criticism is taken as proof that the critic speaking lacks critical judgement.”
Criticisms that suggest that jokes were cliche, ineffective, or fail to live up to the standards that are invoked to argue that comedians deserve special protection get recast as evidence of bias or humorlessness.
Should a comedian be immune to criticism? Why is the objection to anti-Semitic or racist or anti-gay jokes “proof” that the objector doesn’t understand comedy? “It’s an incorrect and unproductive interpretation of the First Amendment, one that suggests that the right to speak also includes the right to be free from judgement and criticism,” argues Rosenberg.
The comedian always had a special place and privilege as the speaker of truth to power. Court jesters and fools could get away with barbs that would incur a beheading if uttered by anyone else. But that was before mass media and then the internet and social media broadcast the insult far beyond the confines of a single court. We play by different rules now. The trick is to figure out what they are.
If we’re going to give a class of people extra credit for calling out societal hypocrisy and harm—an argument defenders of comedians under fire often employ—of course we have an interest in making sure that they’re actually doing that job, not just hiding behind the job description, and doing it well.
Since comedians enrich their sponsors and earn their living with comedy, they have a need to give their publics what they want and are willing to pay for. A few comics have been tried and found guilty of overstepping the bounds, but their convictions were eventually overturned. The trial of Lenny Bruce on charges of obscenity, his conviction and subsequent posthumous pardon became a landmark First Amendment case.
By Diane Vacca, ComedyBeat | Seth MacFarlane is talented — he could have soared as a song-and-dance man at the Academy Awards show — that is, until he performed that puerile and crass “We Saw Your Boobs” song.
What woman do you know who thought it was funny? I didn’t see any of them in the Awards audience laughing. Watch Naomi Watts react. She was typical:
And the tasteless jokes — c’mon, guys, is denigrating women the only way you know to be funny? Telling a sexist joke at the expense of nine-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis? Implying that Jennifer Aniston was a stripper? Using Best-Actress nominee Jessica Chastain‘s character in “Zero Dark Thirty“ to say that all women are obsessive?
Lest you think only women were offended, the Parents Television Council denounced MacFarlane’s “misogynistic, racist and anti-Semitic jokes,” and that’s not including a joke about women who are victims of domestic violence or the ones that slurred Latinos and gays.
Of course, not everyone saw MacFarlane in the same light. My colleague Carl Unegbu and I differ sharply about what he calls Political Correctness. He thinks PC kills comedy. And it does, if what you mean by comedy is smearing or ridiculing an entire class of people. If a comic wants to use that kind of material, of course he should have that freedom. Read the rest of this entry “
By Diane Vacca, ComedyBeat | I first saw the very talented Veronica Osorio about two years ago at the Upright Citizens Brigade, a premier comedy club in New York City. She was performing solo, playing five different parts in a sketch she had written herself. Each character was “The First Woman on the Moon” — a feminist reaction to the fact that no women astronauts have made it to the moon.
The self-styled “20-something comedian who thinks stuff” blogs about her life and her work. A native of Venezuela, she’s una Latina graciosa at the same time she’s an Americana who loves to have fun and wants others to laugh with her. Osorio has numerous film and TV credits; she’s performed sketch and improv comedy at UCB, theater in Venezuela (Skena) and Street Theater (Ingravidos, Baktúm Art-O).
Brutally honest, a performer and a writer, funny and engaging and — but it’s best to let Vero speak for herself.
Watch her as the Manic Pixie Prostitute with Dan Hodapp:
Written by Leila Cohan-Miccio and directed by Adam Sacks.
Last September, she blogged:
Who am I. Who am I. Sometimes there’s no information and sometimes there’s all the information. How do you come to your self?
She was about to find out.
A near-fatal accident turned her life upside down the day after Thanksgiving. Osorio is still recovering from the multiple injuries that come from being dragged by a motorcycle at high speed. Three months later, she’s able to walk on her own, but she still has to make do with one hand:
TYPING? You know when you go home and see your mom typing s o f r a c k i n g s l o w l y y y y!!!1!!??? If you have the short patience I have, you probably have to find a way to breathe and let it happen without yelling to the very being who’s vagina was the portal to your life- which It’s hard, very hard, because she’s still looking for the @ and you are POINTING FRANTICALLY AT IT but she still can’t see it. Well… unfortunately now I’m my mom. I’m your mom. I’m all moms. And, I know where the @ sign is, I just can’t go to it at the pace I want, because I’m “typing with just one hand…”
The comic spirit that suffuses Osorio, the ability and willingness to find humor in the worst of times, is undoubtedly largely responsible for her resilience. Just last week, Osorio performed a monologue in Spanglish at UCB. I can’t wait to see what she’ll do when she has both her hands back!
By Diane Vacca, ComedyBeat | Barack Obama and his GOP challenger, Gov. Mitt Romney, gave dueling stand-up routines tonight at the annual Al Smith Dinner.
The charity dinner is hosted by the Archdiocese of New York, and presidential nominees are traditionally invited in election years. Since the affair always takes place shortly before Election Day, the rivals are in high-gear campaign mode, but they are expected to obey an unspoken pact that they will sheathe their knives and tone down the political sparring. But how would Obama and Romney, a mere two nights after the most contentious debate in the history of televised campaign debates— a contest that had them snarling at and pummeling each other just short of coming to blows— how would they manage to don a veneer of cordiality?
They did put on a pretty good show, but the witticisms barely masked the barbs. Romney went first, and targeted Obama with eight of his jokes. He had good writers. They both did.
By Diane Vacca, ComedyBeat | When ComedyBeat heard about an ad agency that was using comedy in their ads, claiming that standup comedy is integral to its work of promoting brands, we had to check it out. Raging Artists is a California company based in Los Angeles, the world’s entertainment capital and the birthplace of unusual ideas. ComedyBeat asked the founders of the agency: CEO Justo Diaz, CCO Hesh Rephun and CFO Ernie Noh to explain the connection they make between standup and marketing. (Our conversation has been edited for the sake of brevity and clarity.)
How did you get into comedy?
Justo: We’d been doing online marketing for a while. Over time we got known for producing funny articles. We live in L.A., and as you know, everyone here is a comedian. In order to compete in our field, we decided to start doing standup six months ago.
But that had nothing directly to do with your PR and advertising work, right?
Justo: It did, actually. We found a niche market here in L.A., where people wanted to create content for the Web that was particularly funny. As time went on, the articles started to become videos, and in doing the videos we realized that pinnacle of comedy is standup, so we started using standup to prop up our writing. That became its own little monster: we started to get shows. People started inviting us to perform.
by Holoholo, The Celebrity Cafe | Well before the U.S. military adopted the policy of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ it was standard practice across America, especially when flamboyant characters appeared on television. In 1968, America was in desperate need of laughter and the antidote was Laugh In. The show sizzled with topical comedy and a cast of comics clearly ready for prime time. Hosts Dan Rowan and Dick Martin provided the calm eye of the storm while a cast of zanies played havoc with the norms and standards of the era, among those zanies was an actor named Alan Sues
Alan Sues had been working on Broadway, way off Broadway and on television with little impact when he joined the cast of Laugh In. Alan Sues made a splash playing “slightly effeminate” characters and, though they were accepted stereotypes of the times, Alan Sues imbued them with originality and verve.
By Steve Pond The Wrap | Alexander Payne’s eagerly awaited comedy “The Descendants” will serve as the closing-night attraction at the New York Film Festival, the Film Society of Lincoln Center announced on Wednesday. The film, featuring George Clooney as a father whose life is shaken when his wife is injured in a boating accident, is Payne’s first since the Oscar winner “Sideways.”
The festival also announced its main slate of 27 features, some of which had already been confirmed. The lineup includes Michel Hazanavicius silent comedy “The Artist,” Lars von Trier’s controversial “Melancholia,” Martin Scorsese’s documentary “George Harrison: Living in the Material World,” and Steve McQueen’s “Shame,” the British director’s follow-up to his acclaimed “Hunger.”
By Diane Vacca, ComedyBeat |
Bobby Slayton’s humor has an angry cast: a 55-year-old, Jewish white guy, he makes fun of everybody who is “other” to him, including Mexicans, Asians, blacks, women, gays and even Jews. Someone called him Yid Vicious, and Slayton thought it was funny. That’s not surprising for a peformer tagged 20 years ago as the “Pitbull of Comedy.”
“Pitbulls were coming into their own,” he says. “They were in the news. People would buy them and they would kind of bite the hand that feeds them. I was on a radio show, and I told a joke on the air about Burger King or MacDonald’s or some fast-food chain. They lost a $50,000 account because of me. I became the Pitbull of Comedy because I bit the hand that fed me.”
But the comedian objects to being characterized as “angry.”
He prefers “edgy” or “brutally honest.” Making fun of women and minorities is funny, Slayton believes, because “most people agree with me. Most guys I know really don’t like their wives.”
Stereotypes, he says, are based on facts. “What always got me angry,” he says, is that “women comics can make fun of guys, and black comics can use the N-word, Mexican comics can make fun of gringos and Mexicans, but if white guys make fun of anybody except for white people, they’re being sexist and racist.” Black comedy nights weren’t called white comedy nights, Slayton continues. “I’m not a white supremacist. I’m a Jew, for God’s sake, but why do you think you can say that and I can’t? Because I’m a white guy? F–k you. I get very angry about that.”
Slayton defends his position. “I’m sorry if I’m sexist, but men and women are different.” He insists that “people are different, and I hate it when everybody says everybody’s the same.” Slayton points out that “white people can’t get sickle-cell anemia, and black people can’t get Tay-Sachs disease. There’s different cultures, and I like to make fun of them. I find most of them are ridiculous, including my own.”
The stage liberates him: “You can’t point out people’s differences in schools, in politics, in the workplace, in restaurants—you can’t separate people anywhere. I can do that on stage.” Slayton has no patience with the “stupid, uninformed, ignorant white people” that he believes make up half the population. “You get so many ridiculous people out there that I do hate: people fight against abortion and gay marriage. I think that’s moronic. There’s Creationists in this country that think the world was started 6,000 years ago.”
Though he’s not averse to making topical jokes, Slayton tends to avoid politics. He writes his own material, and his act doesn’t change nightly. He can’t do what Jay Leno or Jon Stewart are able to produce with their stables of writers, nor does he have a national audience like theirs that demands new material for every performance. His television special was taped over a month before its airing date. Topical jokes grow stale overnight.
Slayton does his stand-up act in venues all over the country. He spends most of the week away from his home in Los Angeles, but he says he doesn’t mind.
“I like being by myself. The only thing I hate about traveling is all the flying. I don’t mind being in a hotel room, because I like watching television and I like reading magazines and books. And I go to the gym and I work out. By the time I get bored with a city after three or four days, I’m out of there and home for a few days and then I go somewhere else. It gets a little monotonous— I’m packing right now. I have to pack and unpack, pack and unpack.”
“Born to be Bobby” is tattooed on the comic’s back for the opening of his upcoming Showtime special, a painful procedure for one event, but not nearly so painful, he says, as 22 years of marriage. “After 20 years of marriage, I think chemotherapy would be a walk on the beach.”
Perhaps his marriage holds up because he’s away a good part of the time. “It would be an even better marriage if I was always gone, but I’ve got to be there a couple days a week because I want to see my dog.” Always the comic, Slayton can’t resist reverting to his shtick.
“Too bad your wife can’t die after 15 years and your dog live to 80. That would be great. A new wife every 10 to 15 years.”
But what does he really feel? “I love my wife, but I love my dog more,” Slayton persisted. “He doesn’t talk, and he doesn’t touch the remote control.”
I asked Slayton if his comedy originates in the pain he’s suffered. He allows it may be true for some comedians, like Richard Pryor, but not for himself: “He had such a horrible upbringing— the mother was a hooker, and the racism, and being poor—but I didn’t have any of that. It doesn’t come from any pain whatsoever. It comes from anger, ‘cause I’m married and I live in L.A., and I hate the traffic, I hate the smog. I really hate L.A. It just comes from general frustration. It comes from the same frustration everybody has. If you look at my act, it’s the same stuff most people—everybody—feels.”
According to Slayton, he “kind of fell into” comedy when he was 18. He moved out, leaving his family in Scarsdale (“for those who don’t know, it’s like the Beverly Hills of New York”), and drove with a friend to San Francisco.
“It was about 1974, before San Francisco was known as a big gay city, but it was also right after the Summer of Love, so it was a transitional time. Somebody just said to me, ‘You should try stand-up comedy.’”
After the first night at the legendary club, Holy City Zoo, Slayton knew what he wanted to do. He never formally studied his craft.
“I didn’t go to college. I learned the real way: getting up and doing it.”
One of the local comedy clubs made him the house emcee, so he opened up shows for Jerry Seinfeld, Elayne Boosler, Michael Keaton, Jay Leno, George Wallace—“I was in the right place at the right time,” Slayton says.
At the time, Slayton recalls, $25 was “the standard, starting-out payment. I think that was pretty much the norm, because I remember when I finally made it to 50 bucks, it was a lot of money. At most comedy clubs when I started out in the 70s, for comedy night you got $25, and the middle act got about $50, and the headliner got $75.”
Today, he says, many who emcee shows as Slayton did aren’t paid. They do it for the experience and “a few free drinks. A lot of the club guys are making $50 bucks a show. They do a week, so they’re making from $200 to $500. That’s really on the low end. I do ask guys sometimes when they open up for me what they’re getting. It depends: some headliners in some clubs don’t make very much: they make $500 to $1,000 for a weekend, and some guys make $5,000 to $10,000 for a weekend.”
Slayton has never needed a non-comedy day job. He considers making a movie or a television show a day job. He hasn’t done any long-term financial or career planning: “Just trying to stay alive and make a buck,” he says, so of course he has no business plan.
“I’m a horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible businessman. I’ve had a firm for years that I really can’t afford to pay, but I just got so spoiled at one point,” he says, that he hired them to take care of everything. Slayton never so much as writes a check. He gives them a “small, little cut, not too bad. I pay them more than I should, but every year I think that it’s going to be a big year for me, so I don’t want to let them go. If I would have 20 years ago, I’d probably have some money in the bank, but I would have spent it all by now anyway; it wouldn’t have made any difference. There’s so many peaks and valleys in my career that— I bought a house that was a money pit, and that pretty much sucked out every cent I had— I have a great house and a great car, but I don’t have any money.”
Slayton has no publicist. “They usually make a lot of money,” so he hires one only when making a movie or a television show. He doesn’t need one for clubs, because they perform the publicist’s function of making sure he’s featured on the local radio station. Slayton says he pays his agent 10 percent and his manager from five to 10 percent, depending on the gig. He’s incorporated himself, so he pays the government about 30 to 40 percent and estimates that he keeps about half of his income.
When I asked Slayton to tell me about the toughest challenge he’s had to face, he had a hard time answering. “I never tried to do anything that difficult. Anything really difficult to try, I pretty much quit. I wish I could say I learned how to fly a plane, drive a stick shift, speak another language, play the guitar, but I can’t do any of that s–t. I really haven’t taken on too many challenges. Stand-up comedy has been a big enough challenge— every night to go on stage. I haven’t beaten cancer, I haven’t had to identify a body, sky dive out of a plane.”
But then he remembered something. “Doing the eulogy at my father’s funeral. That was pretty hard. I’ll never forget: he’s sitting there in that coffin, it’s kind of weird, because I haven’t been to that many funerals, and my wife, my mother, my brothers were all sitting there in the front row waiting for this to start, and my mother whispers to me: How are you going to get up there and talk without breaking down? And I said, I’m just going to pretend my wife’s in there, and everybody laughed.”
What’s the best advice, I asked, you could give your daughter? Slayton says he taught her “all the basics: say ‘please’; say ‘thank you’; make sure you tip 20 percent. I always told her you have to remember to care about the environment, eat dolphin-safe tuna, be nice to animals: just be as nice of a person as you possibly can to other people— even though you wouldn’t think that from listening to my act—but I said the most important thing to know in life—and I told this to my daughter—is get the f–k out of the left lane if somebody wants to pass you. And I told her that when she was a little girl.”
Always the Pitbull, Slayton insisted, “The left lane is for passing. The carpool lane is not for Mexicans going 55. It’s for passing. If you’re not going to pass, get out of the way or roll over and die in a big, flaming, metal ball of death and fire. That would be her little good-night story. I’d tuck her in, I’d kiss her good-night, and that would be that.”
Stand-up comic Mike DeStefano became a heroin addict at 15 and was HIV positive. When I interviewed Mike for ComedyBeat last spring, he told me how he escaped death with comedy. For three decades he cheated death with laughter, but on March 6, the Grim Reaper caught up with him. Mike suffered a massive heart attack at age 44, just as his career was soaring from the New York clubs to the national scene. He had done a solo special for Comedy Central and finished fourth in the most recent “Last Comic Standing.” Days after Mike died he was to have performed a new show, one that continued where his previous one-man show, “Drugs, Disease and Death: A Comedy” left off.
Mike entertained people by connecting viscerally with them. He showed them it was possible to laugh about one’s pain. “Before, my depression and anger was something I would do drugs over, but now I realize I can say it on stage and turn it into something that’s cool. And beautiful, because everyone laughs and they enjoy it.” Rather than deny his experience, he shared it. “I think people,” he said, “really relate on a deep level to pain and suffering. Even though I was a drug addict, I talk about fear and loss and self-destruction.” Mike knew “You don’t have to be a drug addict to know what that’s like. All the suffering that everyone has— every single human being— we all lose people, we get sick, we die.”
And now we’ve lost him. RIP, Mike.