Tuesday, May 7, 2013

In Defense of Rape Loving Comedians....

My response to John Knefel’s response to Sam Morril’s response to Sady Doyle’s  response to Sam Morril’s "rape jokes":

To begin, I’ve known John Knefel for several years of doing standup, and I’d like to think we can both say we’re friendly acquaintances with some similar interests and perspectives (and others that we part ways on). This is one of those in which we part ways.  I’m not criticizing John personally, just the perspective that he seems to represent on this matter.

Now, I think John’s doing a fair job of representing the mindset of people who tend to have issues with Sam Morril as well as previous comedians who have engaged in “rape humor” and why that displeases them. However, I think he’s doing an inaccurate job of portraying the perspective of those defending Sam and their reasons.  There is no winner in this as it’s all subjective beliefs, but there are a couple things that strike me as perplexing about this issue.

“The comics I do know personally who have actively circled the wagons – not to mention the hundreds, both male and female, who have “liked” his response to Doyle – should be criticized for their collective defensiveness in the face of good-faith criticism,” writes John Knefel. What makes Sady’s criticism have “good-faith” any more than what Sam wrote? To categorize the comedian’s defense on the issue any more thoughtless, senseless, or baseless than the opposing view is unfair. It’s an attempt to paint anyone who has an opposing view on “rape humor” as angry, vindictive, and/or heartless.

Just because someone might agree with the right to make jokes about rape does not mean that they are indifferent to people’s feeling.  It also doesn’t make them a misogynist any more than someone who watches Silence of the Lambs a cannibal.  I happen to have a few people in my life who have dealt with sexual assault.  Just because I’m a comedian and I think no subject is, indeed, off limits doesn’t mean I don’t understand the severity of how heinous an act it is.  My stance on this issue is made with a lot of consideration to the consequences of everyone involved. It’s not just a random guttural reaction.

 John writes, “Any critiques of said misogyny are treated with unmitigated scorn…” Any? Sam’s piece was well thought out and articulate.  While you may not agree with it, you certainly can’t say it was filled with “unmitigated scorn.” Now, there are people who have responded that way via Twitter or Facebook (from both sides, by the way, as Sam’s piece indicates). But that doesn’t mean that every critique garners that response. And because certain people choose to respond that way does not make the entire argument invalid. I wish everyone had the ability to clearly articulate their thoughts on any subject, but sadly, that is not the case. That’s something that crosses past all subject matters and content, and is certainly not one sided. Sam’s response is not senseless and it’s certainly not any less thought-out than Sady or John’s responses.

“Senior comedy states people like Patton Oswald are all too willing to take the violence in Boston (or Aurora) seriously but not violence against women,” writes John Knefel. Who’s saying that Patton Oswalt, or any of us who lean on the same side on this issue don’t take rape seriously? We do. We don’t take rape JOKES seriously. There’s a big difference.  I don’t think Sam or anyone else who jokes about rape does not take the actual act of rape seriously (Sam said as much in his rebuttal).
Here, to me, is the most glaring discrepancy in this issue; if you’re not against rape jokes, then you don’t take it seriously and you’re part of the problem. Just because you touch on a subject does not mean you endorse it.  It does not mean you are unaware of the realities of it or how others are affected by it.  

From what I gathered, and on the few occasions I’ve seen Sam Morril, his “rape jokes” were absurdist and done as a classic mislead. For example: “You see, you thought it’d be a black joke…but it’s a rape joke;” it’s a formula that many comedians use.  Tom Cotter jokes, “I went home and the tension was mounting…Tension is my dog.” Similar formula, but the only difference is Sam chose a much darker subject matter. But he no more supports rape than Tom Cotter supports bestiality.

The argument that by joking about rape you are somehow an accomplice is an absurd straw-man argument which also itself belittles the severity and commonality of rape.Rape is a real issue, and there are far more significant root causes than standup comedy; just like there are far more significant and effective solutions than just limiting the mention of it in standup comedy. How about harsher sentences for the people who cover it up? How about universities lose their funding when they don’t report it? How about more resources for counseling or preventative education? Wouldn’t these be more helpful to the cause than just not having it mentioned at a comedy club?

You can’t accuse comedy of adding to rape culture any more than you can accuse Henny Yougman of adding to the human trafficking issue by saying “Take my wife, please,” or Jeff Ross adding to domestic violence issue by saying,  “I ran into my old girlfriend…then I backed up and ran into her again.”

You know who never told a rape joke? Comedian Vince Champ…who turned out to be a rapist.  

Would it make life easier for some people if there were no jokes about rape? Perhaps. But it’s not comedy’s job to make every aspect of life easier nor can it be done. Which subjects should be off limits in an attempt to do so? Is murder, child abuse, or alcoholism any less serious to its victims than rape?  Should a comedian worry that a fat joke might push someone dealing with weight issues to suicide? I get that some subjects might be more serious than others, but who makes that decision for everyone? Everyone is different; therefore everyone’s line as to what’s offensive is different. Something that offends one person will have absolutely no effect on another. So who can be any type of “authority” on what’s deemed offensive or not? Who is to decide what’s off limits when it literally impossible to unanimously decide on the standard? It’s narcissistic to say that your feelings are more important than someone else’s and that because of your feelings on a subject, that lines should be drawn.

Some argue that the frequency of rape is what makes the subject taboo (1 in 6 women, according to Jamie Kilstein and Allison Kilkenny of CitizenRadio)**. Is it statistics? If the stats go from 1-6 to 1-15, is it ok to go back to joking about it? What are the odds that someone in the audience might have experienced a family death recently? Or been the victim of domestic violence? Lost a family member in the war or been the victim of racism?

 The irony is that Sady (and for that matter, Daniel Tosh’s critic) never even claimed that they themselves were victims of sexual assault. They only critiqued that they were uncomfortable with the subject matter in general. Regardless of the validity, they have the right to feel uncomfortable. But we cannot stop art because it makes someone uncomfortable. Yes, I know it may sound silly, but it is art. What makes a person uncomfortable is subjective.  There was a time criticizing George W. Bush or speaking of inter-racial marriage made people uncomfortable. Where is the line? The line is personal. For both the audience and the performer.
John writes, “When critics call you out for misogyny, repeatedly…the community's response is, ‘YOU DON'T GET US.’” It’s unfair to label myself or anyone who isn’t against Sam Morril or Daniel Tosh as a misogynist.  It’s not misogyny that pushes me to defend Sam Morril, but the defense of art. Whether you like it, whether it’s good, or it’s utter garbage…it’s art. You have the right to not like art that makes you uncomfortable, but you don’t have the right to never be made to feel uncomfortable.  And even if you did have that right, how could we enforce it?    

Comedians don’t support “rape humor” because they’re apathetic to people’s feelings. They support it because they’re sympathetic to humor and to art. They’re sympathetic to people who want to express themselves in whatever avenue they feel necessary. And if that avenue is a rape joke, then so be it. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to like it. Quite literally, nobody is forcing you to do anything against your will. And if someone is forcing you to do something against your will…well, we all know what that’s called. Just don’t mention it in a comedy club. 

*While I did hear the 1-6 statistic mentioned on the Citizen Radio podcast, it didn't initially mention the source, within that segment. Through some research, I have found varying statistics on the subject exist, as well as several locations that state the number to be 1 in 6, including RAINN (Rape Abuse & Insets National network). I'm not challenging the validity of any of the statistics nor the sources or data that form the them. 

Also in a previous draft I had referred to comedian Tom Cotter, as Wayne Cotter, who also happens to be a comedian. I hope that both Wayne and Tom can find it in their hearts to forgive me and I apologize for any damage this may have cause to either Cotter family. May god have mercy on my soul.

Also if anyone knows a good locksmith,....you now what some of these aren't relevant to this article. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Comedy Is Still Fun

Because the name “Harry Terjanian,” is too odd for people to remember or look up,
my website is “IHateComedy.com.” It’s not done to be ironic; it’s true. I’m a comedian who hates comedy. Bad comedy. Comedians are a jaded bunch. We don’t start out that way. But when you love something so much, you hate seeing it destroyed and you hate being denied the opportunity to make it better. But every once in a while, there comes an opportunity that reminds you why the hell you go through all this in the first place. For me, that event was the great American Comedy Festival.

For five days in Johnny Carson’s hometown of Norfolk, Nebraska, 19 other funny, talented, and unique professional comedians and I were treated to everything that comedy should be. Professionally, financially, and artistically. And while being Mr. Positivity goes against every fiber of my comedic being, I have to be honest, bad or good. Thus here are some of the lessons I discovered and/or was reminded about in the world of comedy thanks to my trip to the festival.

There are still people in comedy, who care about comedy
Eddie Brill (comedian, booker and organizer of this festival) didn’t just find a town and some microphones. He had a vision; a place to showcase the smart, witty style of comedy that was favored by the legendary Johnny Carson. There was a concerted effort to find the best kept secrets in the comedy world and it showed.

A funny thing happens when you book good comedians. Everyone steps up their game and becomes a better performer. There was not one comedian I watched perform and thought, “What the hell are THEY doing here?” They were more than just people who told jokes for a living; these were people who worked hard on their craft and poured everything they had into their comedy.

There are still places where comedy is a real profession and not the circus
We were well taken care. I won’t say how much because frankly, some of us have ex-wives and needy relatives. But it was more than necessary. Most of us would have done it for a free trip and chance to perform at theater shows alone. But this “small town” ran a tight production which rivals a lot of festivals whose extent of preparation consists of “Congratulations, you’ve been accepted into the Smiley Face Comedy Festival. If you can find a way to get to Roanoke, Virginia and a place to stay, you’re in!”

We were legitimate working comedians and not amateurs. Eddie made it a point to not treat us like of group of contest winners getting back stage passes and a quick picture with the Rolling Stones. We were the Rolling Stones.  

And when you put on good shows year after year, good audiences come out and bad audiences stay home. It was a nice change of pace to perform for audiences who wanted to see good comedy. They weren’t there to drink their troubles away while a comedy show played in the background. They were there for every subtle nuance of every joke. They were there for a good show and because of that, we delivered.

Funny is funny
There’s a reason for alternative rooms, mainstream clubs, city rooms, black rooms, Hispanic rooms etc. Some people’s styles are appreciated more by a specific demographic. However, the best comedians can branch out. The best comedians learn to adapt and make the audience get them.

Everyone had a different style, pace and unique voice. They had something special that was interesting and used their experience and skill to command those audiences, no matter what style or where they were from. Comedy isn’t just a New York or L.A. thing. I got to see some of the best new comics from Cleveland, Denver, Minnesota, Indianapolis, etc.  

Not all of us are backstabbers and jerks…some of us just want to create art
Eddie went out of his way to not make this thing a competition. He made sure all of us were paid equally (with a little bump up for finalists and winners). “Art is not a competition, so don’t worry about that. You are all here because you deserve to be here. Because you are all the best.”

Eddie didn’t just find great comedians, he found people with a passion for comedy. People who want the best comedy to succeed. To put it simply, everyone on the shows were…nice. Since the trip I’ve had several of my new friends help out by calling in favors and I hope to do the same for them when I can. I have a couch that’s always free for anyone who wants to make the trip (I hope you like dogs though).

We were all willing to share advice and info with one anther about how to be more successful or how to get more work.  Everyone offered suggestions on ideas or lines that would make a joke stronger or a smoother.

We made sure each of us didn’t miss anything and had a ride to the next event (Thanks Kevin McCaffrey).

We reminded those of us that were slightly nervous to “knock it off  because you’re good and funny.” 

We’d find medicine for those of us with headaches, upset stomachs or the myriad of injuries that result from the full court basketball game. That’s right. 20 out of shape, un-athletic, uncoordinated, alcoholic, smoking comedians….playing full court basketball…after a hotdog picnic.  If we made good decisions, we wouldn’t be doing comedy.

And let’s not forget the wise decision to turn a 2-hour bus ride back from a great show in Omaha into an impromptu 30th birthday party for Kevin McCaffrey by stopping off for Jack Daniels, some balloons and a cake shaped like a monkey. The festivities were capped off by Tom Waits style rendition of “Happy Birthday,” immediately followed by Tom Waits renditions of classic hip hop and pop songs.

Funny People
Between the treatment we received from everyone, the respect for the craft, and the skill level of everyone involved…we were free to just be people. The best kind of people: funny people. There might have been several hundred ongoing bits or lines of comedic genius:

- Ryan Dalton’s mission to visit “Steak Buffet USA,” despite appeals that he avoid it.
“I have to, man. It’s ‘Steak Buffet USA.’ I love all three of those things!”

- Headliner Jake Johansson preforming a one of the shows in his newly purchased overalls. Yes, really.

- The comedic tragedy of terrible bookers and road gigs.
“I told that jerk that I’d rather headline a show on the Hindenburg.”

- Dave Wait’s ongoing bit about Pete Lee’s likeability with the locals.
“Where’s Pete?”
“Uh I think he’s out campaigning for mayor,”

“Hey Pete, how was the city council meeting today?”
“The town’s in trouble you guys.”

- The trend that grew daily of comedians buying sleeveless Larry-the-Cable-Guy-style flannel shirts.

- Comedian Ben Bizuneh admitting on the long 2 hour confessional from Omaha to Norfolk that he’d never been to a strip club and Owen Smith’s response of “Well maybe Nebraska shouldn’t be your first.”

I’ll admit that I suffer from severe depression, for various personal and professional reasons. Don’t worry, I won’t every go on a rampage or anything, but it’s something that most performers and especially comedians deal with. If you have any real perspective on the world around you (which is what you need in order to be a good comedian) then you probably have some form of it.  But for five days of my life, I was cured. No meds, no meditation, no therapy. I was just too busy working and laughing.

Am I now “Mr. Happy-go lucky, life is great, cease the day!” guy? No. I’m a comedian. We only feel as good as the last set we did, and we’re too stupid to stop after a good one because we hope the next one is better. But as the people of Norfolk bid us farewell with pleas of, “Please come back next year,” I couldn’t bare to tell them that we won’t be back next year. Next year’s fest, which will only be bigger and better, will host 20 other comedians.  I’ll be envious them for sure, but also be happy that someone else will get the rare opportunity to be one of the Rolling Stones.

If you’re looking for great new comedy, please check out these comedians from the Great American Comedy Festival competition. It’ll definitely be worth your time:
Pete Lee, Harry Terjanian, Brian Hocker, Amber Tozer, Andrew Orvedahl, Dave Waite, Tom Keller, Andrew Sleighter, Amber Preston, Kevin McCaffrey, Gary Peterson, Denise Ramsden, Janine Brito, Sasheer Zamata,  Owen Smith, Ben Bizuneh, Stephanie McHugh, Ryan Dalton, Johnny Beehner. 

Also I documented some of our offstage activities in 360 panoramic video with my new toy, the Kogeto Dot. Swipe with your mouse or fingers to view the full 360 video and pass it along.

Outrunning the sprinklers

Talking about pigeons on a hayride in Nebraska.

Comedians meet cows. Cow meet comedians


Ticks and Redbox

Mookie in the Morning

Country Music in New York

Are you ready to tear some groins.


This was a bad Idea:

So what’s the plan:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A-rod is forgiven

All is forgiven with A-rod…till October

After a long off-season filled with criticisms for his steroid use, Alex Rodriguez made his return to baseball after hip surgery this season. And in his first at bat, on the first pitch, Rodriguez hit a game-winning three run homer, becoming the savior for Yankee fans, who just minutes prior had hated him.

As a baseball fan, I don’t care one way or the other whether Rodriguez used steroids. But what I can’t stand is the hypocrisy of people who seem concerned about the integrity of the game, only after they’ve gotten everything they wanted from it:

The Fans: Whose only reason for hating Rodriguez stems from his failure to play big in the post season. That’s the extent of the concern for Yankees fans. They don’t care about steroids, about his cheating on his wife, or the fact that he’s a spoiled athlete who makes more money in one month then they will ever see in a life time. Sports fans care about winning; period.

Yankees fans wouldn’t care if “A-rod” took his bat and beat an elderly woman to death, so long as he was able to make contact with something in the month of October.
If some miracle were to occur and Rodriguez helped the Yankees win a championship, well then he would be the toast of New York, and all would be forgiven.

Fans never seem to cry “integrity” when theirs’ is the team that’s winning. Do you think San Francisco Giants fans were upset when Barry Bonds broke the home run record wearing a Giants uniform? Do you think St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs fans felt a sense of shame watching roided-up Mark Mcgwire and Sammy Sosa shatter the single-season home run records respectively? No because everyone loves a winner, except for the losers.
I guarantee you there’s people in Buffalo New York who still remember O.J. Simpson with a great deal of fondness. “Sure he decapitated those two people, but man could he carry a football.”

Only when their teams don’t benefit do the fans turn on the players and began their song and dance about a return to the innocent “good old days” of the game. Ah yes, the good old days. So good for blacks, that they had their own leagues. Aww yes, who doesn’t remember the boys of summer, when the game was pure:

Mickey Mantle who drank himself to death. “Joltin’” Joe Dimaggio, who used to beat his wife Marilyn Monroe in the face on a regular basis. And of course the great bambino, George Herman Ruth; the booze, the drugs and not to mention the hookers. The man bedded so many prostitutes that he was…well, the Babe Ruth of prostitutes. At least we know that the Babe didn’t use steroids. Anyone who can pay for the services of an entire brothel one night and then in the morning eat an 18-egg omelet, probably isn’t on the juice. He’s baseball’s hero and the man did everything wrong, shy of owning a slave. Oh and that reminds me, I almost forgot the “Georgia Peach,” Ty Cobb, who would have owned a slave if the government hadn’t made it illegal at the time.

All is forgiven for a great all-star who keeps your team in the game.

The Teams and the League:
who cashed every check for television commercials, billboard space, and merchandising revenue that came with Barry Bonds, Mark Magwire, and Sammy Sosa destroying home run records.

They all turned a financial blind-eye to the steroid use and when baseball squeezed all the juice they could (no pun intended), they blackballed the very same players they were just earlier throwing celebrations for. AT&T Park, the very ball park beloved hero Barry Bonds hit many of his home runs, including the one that broke the all-time record, has no visual indication that
Bonds was ever part of the organization.

Who would think that in San Francisco, a city that opens to gays, immigrants and any other lifestyle, the only person not welcome there anymore is Barry Bonds.

It’s only after being confronted with a list of players in writing, that Major League Baseball was suddenly announce that the integrity of the game was their number one concern.
Is integrity in the game a major concern? Is that why they charge you $7 for a hotdog; integrity? That’s why you don’t allow people to bring in their own sun block and force them to choose between skin cancer and the over-priced sun block you sell at your stadium; integrity?
George Steinbrenner wouldn't urinate on you for less than $50 and a Ticketmaster service charge.

Baseball owners don’t care about the purity of the sport or preserving the “national pastime.” Guess what, America has a new pastime, it’s called screwing the poor. Doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or destitute, just pick a side and grab a giant over-priced novelty “We’re #1” foam finger, because that’s what we’re going to be doing for the next 200 years.

Congress: Who wasted valuable time that could have been better spent on fixing the lack of proper care for Iraq war veterans, keeping the economy from collapsing, or finding a solution to the lack of health care in this country. Congressional hearings, which are organized with the speed and urgency of a Tai Chi class for important matters are somehow instantaneously thrown together to discuss grown men playing a kids game.

How about instead of focusing on people who have voluntarily chosen to risk their health, Congress focus on the disgustingly high cost of tickets, and concessions at baseball parks, something that really effects the people. If Congress were really concerned about the integrity of the sport, maybe you’d hold some hearings about all the other heinous crimes that take place in these stadiums.

Senator: I call this hearing to order, and I call forth the first witness, one, “Douglas Shapiro.” Mr. Shapiro, you are here to testify as a Yankees’ fan? Is that correct?

Mr. Shapiro: Uh yes sir, I’ve been a fan since my father took me to Yankee stadium in 1965.

Senator: Mr. Shapiro it is my understanding that you are alleging here today, that you were raped at Yankee Stadium, by a member of the Yankees orgonisation?

Mr. Shapiro: Yes Senator…I was forced to pay $5 for a bottle of water.
(Audible gasp in Senate chambers)

Senator: Oh my goodness. I’m sorry Mr. Shapiro, I can only imagine what that must have been like. And I’m sorry to make you relive this horrific event, but to clarify what kind of water are we talking about here? Are we talking a Perrier spring water, or maybe some type of Fiji brand water?

Mr. Shapiro: (Trying to compose himself) Ummm no sir.…it was Aquafina.
(Audible gasp in Senate Chamber)

Senator: I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.

When all else fails, everyone involved, from the fans, to the owners to the Congress, all attempt the ultimate clich├ęd appeal for wholesomeness, “What do we tell the children when they ask about steroids?”

How about you tell your kids that America loves a cheater so long as he’s your cheater.

How about you tell your kids that while America is going through it’s worse financial crisis in 70 years, that your beloved baseball team is charging the highest prices for seats in the history of the game, and that’s actually supposed to be good for America because it’s the free market in full effect.

How about you tell your kids, that life is a bitch, and that sometimes, you have to make tough decisions like choosing between being the all-time home run king, and having normal size testicles.

Or how about you tell your kids that while baseball is a fun distraction from the hardships of life, that in reality it’s just a game, and in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter.