comedy and poker

when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em

Sorry, this will be short.  I’m in a training class today, so I’m using my lunch hour to update.

I am no longer playing poker.  I have lost $50 in three weeks and I’m just not having fun anymore.  I had a much better time just sitting around with the non-poker players this weekend just talking and watching television.

I saw two good comedy specials this weekend.  You should see them too:  Eddie Izzard:  Dress to Kill and Chris Rock:  Bigger and Blacker.

Now, they may not be your type of humor.  Chris Rock is very angry in this special, and he talks about Columbine and masturbation, and Eddie Izzard is a British transvestite– but what I really watched these specials for (twice in Chris Rock’s case, and I’ll catch the Izzard one again when it’s on) is the way that one man just manipulates the audience.

Some of these people can only see little specks on the stage, and they are still captivated– standing up in some cases.

When Eddie Izzard comes out for his second curtain call (!!!) he does the most amazing thing.  People are just clapping and shouting and such, and he begins to manipulate them with his arms.  He gets them to stop and start and stop and start and then he gets them to do a slow build.  Imagine having that many people just with you.  They are already applauding, and now they are just being manipulated like puppets.

Chris Rock can get away with saying things that a lot of other people couldn’t, because he’s Chris Rock.  He can end his set with “That’s it!  I’m out!” and throw down the microphone and lift his arms like, “You are all my bitches” and people are losing it out there.  Just screaming and hooting and stomping.

Eddie Izzard finished his set with “Thank you very much for coming to my show.”  Two different endings, two similar responses.

Both comedians discuss gun control.  Both discuss Bill Clinton and the impeachment hearings.  Two very different ways to say the same thing.  They don’t use light changes or music.  Chris holds a microphone (cuz he’s old school– and probably because he uses it for a prop later in the show) and Eddie is on a wireless microphone.  They don’t sit down, they don’t drink water, they both just come out, do their sets, rock the house and go home.

Eddie Izzard does a twenty minute encore that is almost entirely in French.  I know about three words in French and I understood what he was saying and got the jokes.  How amazing is that?  Both men are incredible at winning an audience over.  They win them so much that they get away with mocking the audience.  Chris calls them “motha fuckin’ liars” and Eddie calls them “completely clueless” at one point.  And the audience just claps and screams and stomps.  “It’s funny ‘cuz it’s true.”

I have done shows where we tried to get anyone in the audience to just name a country and we’ve just gotten blank stares.  And it’s not just the name.  Sure, Chris Rock gets away with things because he’s Chris Rock, but who’s this British man in heels?  He’s instantly likable.  He’s intelligent.  Both men are smart.  Both know how to play a crowd.

I don’t think that’s something you can learn.  I can understand what they are doing, but I don’t know how I’d ever do it myself.  It’s not even a question of how.  I don’t think I could finish a show and then think to myself, “They really liked me.  Let’s see if I can get them to do the wave.”  I just would never think of it.

HBO must really like Eddie Izzard because they hardly cut a thing out of the show.  What comedy specials do you know that are an hour and a half long?  Granted, it’s billed as a one man show in the credits, but the commercials call it a comedy special.

It doesn’t matter.  I just watched these two men and thought to myself, “How many years did it take to get this good?”  Maybe they always had it.  How do you know?  How do you know when you’ve got it?  How hard do you have to work before you decide that you’re not going to cut it?  You never know.  You don’t.

Last night I was watching my new channel HBO Zone and I was trying to figure out what was the target audience for this channel.  I wondered what this channel was all about.  HBO Comedy– I got down.  HBO Signature– they remind me every three minutes.  HBO Zone just had some people on an escalator.   Then I saw that they were about to have an hour long show promoting HBO Zone on the HBO Zone channel.  “Oh, now I’ll figure out what this channel is all about.”

No.

What they did was ask people on the streets what they had in their backpacks.  This is the first fifteen minutes, before I turned it off.  And there’s no editing, there’s no quick clips of humor.  Just people opening their backpacks and discussing what they have in them.  It’s not even interesting on a voyeur’s level because they don’t give a shit what they have in their backpacks.

[scripty]
MAN WITH MICROPHONE
What do you have in your backpack?

GIRL
Food.

MAN
Really?  Food?

GIRL
Yep.  Food.

MAN
Can we see the food?

GIRL
Yeah.  Have a look.

MAN
I can open your backpack?

GIRL
I don’t care.

MAN
Okay, I’m opening the backpack.

GIRL
Okay.

MAN
What if I just stole your backpack right now, what would you do?

GIRL
I’d go get more food.

MAN
Look at this!  There’s actual food in here!

GIRL
That’s what I said.

MAN
What are these red things?

GIRL
Lentils.
[/scripty]

And so on.

If you are wanting a Tom Green rip-off for a full hour then fucking hire Tom Green.  I just kept sighing while I was watching it.  “Jesus,” I said to Eric, “They could have called the Monks.  We could have done something.  Cheap!  And maybe we would discuss just a little bit about the friggin’ cable channel.  This is so boring.  We could have done something at least slightly amusing and perhaps related to the channel.”

And then I turned it off.

I got the feeling that they were trying to be an MTV HBO.  Sort of a “Hey, you hip twentysomething guys!  Here’s a show about nothing for you!”

No chemistry.  Nothing interesting.  Very frustrating.  So on one hand I’ve got these masters of comedy making me feel like I’m worthless, and then I change the channel and get so pissed off that I can’t find work and these stupid hour long shows get produced.

See?  If they keep doing that, I’ll never know when to quit.  Bad comedy gives me hope.

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