It’s been a funny week.
Friday, I attended the opening night of Norm Foster’s Here on the Flight Path in the cozy confines of Theatre in Port (cross-reference below). For two hours we were regaled with a recounting of failed relationships as three women came in and out (only one of those literally) of a novelist wannabe’s life. This three-act balcony scene brought many chuckles and guffaws but tears-in-your-eyes hilarity was absent.
The celebration of seventy-five years of the Three Stooges was squished into a one-hour special on NBC television the following Tuesday. Ever since savouring their antics up-close-and-personal at the CNE in 1960, I have been an avid fan of their slaps, “nyuks,” and non-stop silliness. The network saw fit to warn us that the material “while intended as humour, may offend some.”
Finally, one night later, the Just for Laughs Road Show breezed into Brock’s Sean O’Sullivan Theatre for a four-comics-no-waiting evening of stand-up routines similar to the popular festival (and its packaged Comedy Network TV version) but which included “lines we’d never get to say on the air.” A handwritten placard in the lobby dutifully warned us that “some material may be offensive.”
Andrew Grose was the genial host and warm-up guy who, as the only Canadian in this hahaha quartet, got to make the hockey jokes (“They don’t even know what playoffs are in Calgary”). It also fell to him to inject a heavy dose of profanity into his gags that centred on couples (“I gave her a hand mixer for our anniversary and she stuck it up my ass; it wasn’t all that bad”) and included polling the guys on their masturbation timetable and porno magazine purchases (“yeah, sure—6,000,00 sold a week and I bought them all?”).
Of the three Americans who followed, L.A.’s Chris Bliss drew most of the heartiest if slightly uncomfortable laughs (“I just came back from working a cruise ship, the ‘50s night was incredible; they put all the blacks at the back of the boat and tore down the wheelchair ramps”). But his closer, balling on stage to popular music (relax, relax—he was juggling), was a terrific vaudevillian treat and had me pining for the Palm Springs Follies (cross-reference below).
After the break, Grose resumed the deprecating humour of his absent wife (“now, be honest, girls, who doesn’t have at least one pair of tattered elephant-size beige panties at home”) and drew us all into the visual imagery of his bathroom with the obligatory “poop” joke.
Louis Ramey started slowly, peaked with his irreverent rendition of the Afghanistan national anthem then sputtered to a finish as he began explaining the set-ups that some of us got ….
It fell to New Yorker Eddie Gossling to bat clean-up, delivering his take on life as a member of a minority (“I’ve been black for a while now,” “Talk about profiling, I took a taxi here and was pulled over eight times!”). He did deliver one knock-out with his rendition of standing outside a tanning salon and screaming in mock terror that he’d been overdone.
Throughout the night it seemed that nothing was sacred (boobs, dicks, gays, the “N-word”), but there was nary a word about any President, Iraq or Canadian politics.
Horrific, current events need distance before their jokes can be told.
Reflecting on the three events, I noticed how comedy has moved from the body to the bawdy and that—now—both require buyer beware warnings. Sadly, pay-off rich story-telling (think Bill Cosby or Stuart MacLean) has been overwhelmed by the quick (often nervous) laugh that sex and profanity bring so easily.
Switching on the news all last week, I was warned that some of the images I was about to see might be disturbing; caveat emptor. JWR