Thursday, March 28, 2013

Comics of a Certain Age

Sometimes the comedy business is like a great automobile assembly line. Talent moves down a conveyor belt where gigs, accolades, resume credits and accomplishments are added to the chassis of a newbie comedian. He or she slowly moves down the line for years until finally, the constructed talent is polished and takes on the patina of notoriety and/or fame. Those who reach the zenith of their careers, through talent, hard work and luck become stars, and the rest, missing one or more components, become ‘veteran’ comics eking out  a living at Uncle Hah-hah’s Comedy Emporium somewhere in America, or auditioning for whatever project comes their way. But always, there is that little glimmer of hope for them that this next ‘thing’ will finally be the ONE. Thus, I became a little optimistic when I recently received this call from an agent friend of mine.

“Yeah Julia, it’s an industry showcase. A casting agent is looking for comedians for some television project and I thought you’d be great for it. Be there Wednesday night. Show starts at nine pm and you’ll do four minutes. You in?” 

“Sure, why not.”

Little did I know that this seemingly innocuous phone call would begin one of the great karmic bitch slaps of my life.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the older we get, the greater the divide between the mind and the body when it comes to aging. While our bodies are busily withering away, our minds continue blissfully busy planning, looking to the future, developing ideas and material.....being immortal. It isn’t until the physical world meets the spiritual that we become aware of that horrible ugly thing which we refer to as reality.

This showcase was being held at one of the major clubs in NYC. I arrived early (my custom) and watched as the other auditioners began to filter in. Oh look, there’s so and so from the old days at the Improv, and wait...isn’t, she looks old! And what about....omg, what the hell happened to him?

On and on it went; Comedians who I had known in the 1980s and hadn’t seen in thirty years were showing up for this thing, which I came to find out was for, what else, older comedians.

We stood around in that room, greeting, hugging, and cracking jokes just as we did so many years ago at the Improv, Catch and the Strip. We reminisced about the horrible bookers and the hundreds of hell gigs we did on our comedic journey to fame. And as I looked around at all these people from my past, I couldn’t help wondering, what was to become of us now that we are 'past our prime'? Even though I may now need a step stool to get on the stage, why is there no place in comedy for comics of a certain age? Why are we no longer relevant just because we’ve committed the crime of aging?

Our culture is as youth oriented as ever. Young comics today look upon us as we did the Borscht Belt comedians in our day.  For them, age automatically qualifies us as outdated and schticky in our delivery and material, and in many cases they are correct. But I could point to dozens of young up-and-comers whose material is bland, derivative and soulless, and who are lauded nationally for no discernable reason other than that they are smarmy and crude. And with enough PR behind such a person, it’s rather easy to convince the public that an act like this should be elevated. And so, relevance to society has taken a turn. Whereas a comedian’s job used to be to comment on the inequities and inanities of society as Carlin, Pryor, or Tomlin did, it seems that today’s comedy is now judged by the appearance of social commentary and for TV purposes, the amount of jokes per minute. And that’s what passes as relevant.

This is not to say that there aren’t contemporary versions of the aforementioned comedic heroes. Certainly there are many there today who are carrying on the tradition and who will be role models for the generation that follows them. My question is, why does television limit the voices of the older comedian who still has something to say? Why does age automatically equate to irrelevancy? Surely an older comic with years of experience and life under his/her belt has a vast storehouse of experience from which to draw new material. Certainly, an older comic has a point of view that is still unique, don’t they? And if they are funny and original, what difference does it make how old they are?

But it does make a difference. The ‘suits’ that decide who gets on at a particular club or a particular television show have never been known to have great comic senses. It was true then, and it’s true now. In their minds young equals contemporary and hip. But this is only partly true. Content, which used to matter, is not relevant for the most part, but packaging is. And that point is, in my opinion, the reason why we see so much diluted dreck passing for comedy out there. And it is also why with each succeeding generation of comedians, our beloved craft, and our art, our voices will be chiseled and polished away to the point where all is smooth and shiny in order to succeed. What they don’t understand is that comedy was not meant to be smooth and shiny. It’s funniest when it’s jagged and a bit dangerous. People in the ‘mainstream’ media like Chelsea Handler, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Craig Ferguson get that. Leno doesn’t, although he used to.

There are older comedians out there who you don’t know and probably will never know who are saying plenty of those things and who are still very relevant to today’s world. They deserve a chance too. I know. I stood in a room full of them last week.

We all did our sets for the casting director and the very small audience in attendance and hung out for a while afterwards to chat. I don’t know if anyone else felt it, but there was a tinge of sadness in seeing how we have all aged. That night on the drive back to Jersey, I couldn’t help but think back to the beginning of my career. How many times had I made this drive on a deserted New Jersey Turnpike? Hundreds? Each time is just like the first. I think back over the set. Could I have done better? Should I have tried a different bit instead? Will anything come out of this? Why am I still doing this at my age? What more have I got to say?

That weekend, I performed in Pennsylvania somewhere. I drove a long way through snow and ice to a gig I presumed would be hell since it was a pretty conservative group. I didn’t alter one word of my content but it still got big laughs. And all I could think of after the show was, this was so worth coming all the way up here for. I didn’t back down and I didn’t edit. I just plowed ahead and I won them over. That ability comes from experience. That sense of fearlessness comes with age. I am relevant and I have a lot left to say! All I need, all WE need is a place to say it. Wake up television!

That’s it. I’m done bitching. Everybody hug, everybody eat. Abbondanza!  

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Flying Monkey Ate My Incentive

Well, we’re almost four months into 2013 and from the looks of things here at the blog, I have been quite remiss in keeping up with things here. For that egregious betrayal of your trust, I humbly apologize.

In a world where the only way of saying ‘hello’ to the person standing next to you is via a text (#wtf?),  it’s sometimes easy forget what a lifeline to humanity this blog is. In my greedy little narcissistic world, I have forgotten that there are people all across the continents who read it, depend on it, who count on it as their only source of quality entertainment (in black and white, color, and HD where available). You could say that for millions of readers around the world, Julia Scotti-Inside and OUT is as important as PBS, but without the annoying entertainment factor or fundraising drives which seem to come faster and last longer each time they interrupt my television watching. You could say all of that, but I wouldn’t in front of other people. They’ll think you’re out of your mind. Trust me, I know.

There are major reasons of important national security why I haven’t been keeping up here. However, I am sworn to secrecy....and there is a little exploding pellet just under the skin of my skull which, if set off by a super secret government agency, would make a huge mess at the dinner table and ruin my family’s Easter. Let’s just leave it at that, shall we? Here’s the real reason I have been AWOL from this blog.

After months of creative toil, it became apparent to me that I had to take a break from writing JS-i&O for a while. What began as a wonderful creative outlet (it replaced North Korean Monopoly) for me became over time, a job, like an assembly line factory worker or a ‘fluffer’ in a porn movie. Week after endless week of trying to find creative ways of saying in three pages what I could have easily accomplished in one, I realized that I had gone dry creatively speaking, with no source of material that I deemed “Blog-worthy”.  I rapidly became an impotent, useless piece of flesh not unlike Mitch McConnell, Rush Limbaugh, or Karl Rove.

It didn’t take too long before my idleness, and a blossoming friendship with some rogue Elks Club members, led me into a sordid life of donut addiction which nearly killed me. Broke and with nowhere to turn, I resorted to performing  unspeakable acts, such as standing on the shoulder of a highway dressed as a cell phone to promote A Terrible & Tragic  phone company just to feed the two-box-a-week powdered sugar monkey on my back. It was an unimaginable horror I tell you.

It wasn’t until I began to hear from readers like Ushi, the Japanese commercial Swai (Japanese catfish) fisherman, or Lech, the juggling rabbi in Latvia, or the entire male Russian gulag prisoner dance troupe, GETUZOWTSKY (who longed for the top secret sex messages I had playfully embedded in it), that I came to understand that maybe it was time for me to stop being an isolationist, set aside my beloved hobby of Splenda packet collecting, turn off my beloved  Swamp People television marathons and. spring into action. I had to get these keyboard keys a clickin’ once again!

Realizing that it was time to make some major changes to my lifestyle; time to get back into the fray, to once more create posts so mundane that they would border on profanity if read by a genuine writer. But how? How does one get a mojo back which has seemingly flown the proverbial coop?    

I considered becoming a kosher vegan just to annoy and confuse my friends when they invited me over to dinner. Then I actually met a vegan and realized that yes, I too could be pushed to a level of rage which I had heretofore never thought possible. Those people get on my nerves with all their dietary lectures! But it wasn’t enough to jumpstart my desire for resuming the writing of this blog. It would take more.

Entering a convent for a few months of spiritual reflection seemed like a good idea initially, but did no good either. I made the mistake of going to one in which  the sisters take a vow of  poverty, chastity and silence, Of course I had no problem with the first one, but it’s cruel to put a lesbian comedian in a room full of women and expect her to be chaste AND quiet all the friggin time. Plus, they didn’t appreciate my smoking, watching Letterman through my ‘cell’ window on the neighbor’s giant flat screen TV across the street, and my constant use of the world ‘friggin’. Couple that and the complete lack of donuts in the convent fridge and I don’t have to tell you, I went nearly mad! Sisters of Mercy indeed!

Tibet and the Dalai Lama beckoned for a bit. What better place than that to get your soul in gear, right? But the pilgrimage fell by the boards after the Dalai wrote me saying how much he was looking forward to meeting me because he had a keen interest in doing stand up comedy and had been writing material for years. He sent me some of the stuff, and trust me, he might be able to float in the air or sit naked on a Tibetan cliff in the dead of winter for an entire week, but he has zero comedy bones.  And so my journey continued.

I’m two pages into this entry now and have managed to fill it with nothing which even remotely explains why I have shied away from writing here. I guess the truth of the matter is I got lazy. I made excuses for not writing (see today’s title) and kept pushing it off like a summer school book report that was due on the first day of September. Like my credit card payments, the more I postponed it, the more behind I got. The more behind I got the greater the guilt, and as the guilt grew so did my resentment of the blog, to the point where I opened the blog one dark and stormy night and yelled at it for a good ten minutes. “How dare you try to push me around, blog? You aren’t the boss of me! I’ll write when I damn well feel like it and you and all your entries can go straight to ...” well you get the idea.

But that isn’t the entire reason. Since we last spoke, I have been doing some really cool things. And if I hadn’t eaten up the first two pages with the nonsense you’ve just taken a few minutes of irretrievable time from your life to read, I would have told you some of them.

So here’s what I’m going to do. I will hold off until future, more regular posts to share with you Ushi, Rebbe Lech, and  the GETUZOWTSKY crew and anyone else who wants to read this because there really is a lot to tell. Honest. Dammit it went to three pages again!

That’s it. I’m done bitching. Everybody hug, everybody eat. Abbondanza!