Tag Archives: comedy

Farewell, Leslie Knope, and Thanks for Everything

Dear Leslie Knope,

You don’t know me but I’m very familiar with your work. For the past 6 years, I’ve watched in awe as you have worked tirelessly to better your crazy little town of Pawnee, Indiana–not unlike my own hometown. Tonight, that all comes to an end (at least, until I delve into my Netflix queue again) and I just wanted to take a minute to say thanks.

First, thank you for introducing me to the world you live in. I won’t just miss you, but also your friends and the family you’ve built in the Parks and Recreation department. Donna and her unending love for her Benz. Tom and his many pursuits of both businesses and the ladies. Andy and April’s weirdly perfect loving relationship. Chris and Ann’s unending support for those around them (who I’ve already made my peace with). Ben’s love of the calzone. Ron Effing Swanson. All of these people go into making Pawnee, and you, the wonderful thing I’ve born witness to for the past 6 years.

Oh, and Jerry/Garry/Larry/Terry I guess. Whatever.

Second, thank you for being one of the first blatantly feminist characters I ever saw on television. I’ll never forget being introduced to the Pawnee Goddesses and wishing I could go back in time to when I was a kid and be a member of that troop. I loved that you considered not dating Dave because he didn’t know enough about the female political icons who adorned your office. The fact that you eventually became friends with Madeleine Albright was amazing. Thank you for slamming the media about the way women in politics are treated.

In short, Leslie, thank you for being you. You showed me that it’s OK to make mistakes and have flaws as long as you care passionately and never give up. We can use more women–people–like you in the world and you have undoubtedly inspired countless young women to speak a little louder, push a little harder, and down some whipped cream unabashedly.

I like you and I love you. And I will miss you, Leslie. I can’t wait to see what you do next.

Molly

The series finale of Parks and Recreation airs tonight on NBC at 10/9c.

Rest in Peace, Joanie: The Loss of Joan Rivers

I realize I’m a little late, but this has been a tough one.

One of my favorite movies growing up, and my earliest memory of Joan Rivers, was Spaceballs. In it, Rivers played a C-3PO Android Jewess named Dot Matrix with a Joan Rivers-esque wig of the times and some of the best lines of the movie. Rivers’ own wit was injected into the character:

Can we talk? OK, we all know Prince Valium is a pill. But you could have married him for your father’s sake and had a headache for the next 25 years.

Of course, while she was trained in the famed Actors’ Studio, Joan Rivers was known more for her stand-up career and later her interviews on the red carpet.

Since her death, Joan has been lauded for what she did for women in comedy. And it’s true. Without a Joan Rivers, there likely would be no Kathy Griffin or Sarah Silverman or perhaps even Lena Dunham today. Joan paved the way for all free-thinking women to get their say in the din of white male sameness.

Chris Rock perhaps said it best, though:

I know people are like, ‘Joan Rivers broke down all these barriers for women, blah blah blah,’…I think it’s a disservice to even group her in any — Joan Rivers is one of the greatest stand-up comedians to ever live. She’s better than [Don] Rickles. She’s one of the best female stand-ups to ever live. No man ever said, ‘Yeah, I want to go on after Joan.’ No, Joan Rivers closed the show every night.

People have said Joan was shocking for her time, and she was, having joked about sex, marriage, and abortions in ways that weren’t done until Phyllis Diller before her. But she was shocking everyone right up to the day she died, which was why she was so important. Joan Rivers’s humor and voice was the kind that could be at once outrageously horrifying and yet make you think about things on a systemic level.

In short, Joan was Joan to the end:

When I heard she did a one-hour set the night before she died, I cried. I can’t help but feel she was taken from us too soon.

It used to be a dream of mine to be one of Joan’s writers. I quickly realized this was unrealistic and modified my hopes to seeing her live and meeting her one day. I never will, but Joan’s comedy lives on forever. You can YouTube her original days on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show. I recommend you watch the documentary A Piece of Work on Netflix. For any comics or comedy nerds, you’ll be blown away. Netflix also has one of her stand-up specials. I daresay Joan lives on in Chris Rock and even Louis C.K. as well, and all of the comics who’ve taken a page out of her book. And, of course, Joan lives on in her daughter and grandson.

I didn’t know Joan, but I think she would love being the center of attention and beating out Royal Baby #2 on magazine covers.

Thanks, Joan.

Molly

The Death of Robin Williams: Mourning Within a Community

I have to confess something right up front: I was not a huge fan of Robin Williams. At least, not in recent history. The past few years, he had become more of a cliché to me than a comic. I don’t think I am alone in this opinion.

The past eight weeks I have been taking a stand-up comedy class at the Comedy Parlor in Tulsa. This Sunday, the night before Robin’s death, was the last class and my third time on stage. I plan to write another post about the experience as a whole, but over the last two months, I’ve slowly ingratiated myself in the world of Tulsa comedy, though I don’t know the half of it yet.
I didn’t really process Robin Williams’s death until I got on Twitter that night and saw the dozens of comedians I follow grieving.

As I read through posts, I kind of remembered who Robin Williams was. That my first memory of him was actually watching Mork and Mindy as a kid on Nick-at-Nite. That I used to watch Hook all the time with my sister. That I’ve seen Aladdin hundreds of times and Genie was my favorite character. That I can still remember the scene in Mrs. Doubtfire when his boobs catch on fire and laugh to myself. That he was such a part of the cultural lexicon when I was growing up the comics I admired as a kid did amazing impressions of him that I tried and failed to live up to.

What I’m saying has already been said by other people in far more eloquent ways. Paul F. Tompkins wrote a wonderfully concise tribute. Conan broke the news during the taping of his show on Monday then paid a beautiful tribute to him on Tuesday. Others focused using his death as a way to highlight the importance of treating depression and reaching out to the mentally ill.

Monday night, there were tribute shows at the Laugh Factory and Comedy Store among other places. I had been asked to do a room in Tulsa on Tuesday. After his death, it was planned to be turned into a tribute show until a comic decided that it was “too soon.”

However, Tuesday night, I found that many of the comics were simply lost. They didn’t know how to cope except to stand up and talk about Robin and his impact on them, what a loss it was. A few had had the opportunity to see him live and re-told his jokes with reverence. Some were so distraught they meandered about the depression they suffered from and how they understood him.

I think that’s why Robin Williams’s death has effected everyone so much, but the comedy world in particular. Comedians are predisposed to depression. In order to be a comic, you generally have to observe the world and comment on it in a unique way or have gone through some stuff. And the world is not a pretty place all the time. Telling jokes and making people laugh is also a heck of a way to make yourself feel better when your day isn’t so great.

In short, I haven’t been a comic for long and I did not know Robin Williams or his darkness. But I know the people upon whom his death has made an indelible mark forever. And as a new member of the comedy world, I’ve seen his death from two sides in a way.

Robin, we’ll miss you.

Nanu nanu,

Molly

Crossing the Line: Writing About Taboo Subjects

This spring, I took my first “official” Creative Writing class. (Arts Camp doesn’t count, right?) I figured I may as well try to take a class that was actually relevant to what I wanted to do with my life in the last semester of college. As a communication studies major, the workshop format appealed to me in that I am very used to discussing topics and ideas with professors and fellow students–we comm people love to talk. However, I quickly came to feel as though my ideas weren’t valid in the class–not due to anything our instructor did–because of the way they were received by fellow students. I was used to group discussions in my comm classes where no one could ever really be wrong. Conversely, in the workshop environment, I soon learned that writers had very clear opinions about right and wrong, even if they didn’t explicitly state them as such.

Early in the semester, before I learned to keep my mouth shut or suffer a verbal onslaught where virtually everyone in the class disagreed with me for the rest of the hour, we were workshopping a story about rape. It’s important at this point for me to tell you a few things about this story:

  1. It was initially framed as a romantic comedy type story about a couple trying to conceive. (That’s probably not really important. Just a fun fact.)
  2. It quickly veered into nowhereland when the female protagonist was literally kidnapped by a horribly disfigured man in broad daylight. Did anyone see, you ask? No, because she ran at a track with no one in the nearby vicinity except a WHITE VAN and she still willingly helped the man when he asked her to use her phone or something, despite her internal monologue along the lines of, “He looks like bad news. Oh well. I’m sure my intuition is completely wrong.”
  3. The story then flashed forward 5 years in the future. Our heroine had been held captive in the elephant man’s basement and raped on a daily basis. He also sterilized her for laughs. Because he somehow knew she wanted a baby more than anything.
  4. She finally escaped and called her husband (while still in the elephant man’s house) and he married someone else because he thought she was dead. End of story.

The author of the story, who was a woman, basically took all the worst societal tropes and myths about rape and violence against women and put them in one poorly written short story. Which I think is very dangerous.

I raised the point that the rape in it really bothered me. Now, there wasn’t a rape scene in the story–at least, not to my memory–I just thought it seemed senseless. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but my main point was that if you are going to be writing about rape, or something similarly sensitive, it has to be done with a great amount of care and thought, not just because it’s horrifying. You have to think about the audience–potential survivors of rape themselves–who may be reading it and how they would feel. You have to think about what writing about random acts of violence from random people contributes to the culture.

Of course, the people in our workshop staunchly defended the author of the piece, which is fine. I wasn’t attacking her. I wasn’t attacking anything. Except the notion of careless rape scenes, I suppose. To the instructor’s credit, he paused the discussion and asked the class if we thought there were certain subjects that shouldn’t be written about.

And thus, the subject of this post.

This is a highly contentious issue for writers. I think most writers feel like they should be able to write about everything because, well, they’re writers! The human word is their palette! Or something. But, I don’t think it’s quite as clear as that. Because words don’t just exist on the page and make pretty sentences. They have power.

It’s not my job to say what you can’t and can write about. I wouldn’t even go so far as to say there should be a black book of subjects that are forbidden. I simply think with certain topics that are obviously sensitive–sexual violence, child abuse, race, just to name a few–you have to put extra thought into why you are writing about it in the first place and whether your story needs it.

The real kicker is, the author of that story was not a survivor of rape. (Shocker. I know.) She wrote that story because being kidnapped in broad daylight by a horribly disfigured rapist is her worst fear. Sadly, she didn’t understand the logical trap she was caught in. She essentially wrote an episode of Law and Order:  SVU because she’s scared of Law and Order:  SVU. Not to discredit these experiences, of course. We all know the statistics about rape. I’m not here to remind you of that. With shows like Criminal Minds, NCIS, CSI, Law & Order, (and all varieties thereof) and even True Detective which focus overwhelmingly on female victims, the portrayal of violent, sexual crime against women is undoubtedly contributing to the culture at large. It’s a vicious cycle.

I answered our instructor’s question, whether some things should be off limits, with a yes. I said that rape, for example, should be off limits unless you are writing from your personal experience or if you are doing it for a specific reason, which, frankly, I don’t think this story was doing. (This was, of course, met with many grumbles.)

A few months later, near the end of the workshop, we were critiquing a story where the character’s race was suddenly revealed through a random racist joke by another character who implied the protagonist was Black. I actually missed it the first few times I read it. That was the only reference to it in the entire piece. It’s also important to note the author of the story was white.

At this point in the semester, I was pretty well keeping my mouth shut until specifically asked to contribute. So when the instructor asked what I thought, I said, “Is he supposed to be Black?” Everyone shrugged and nodded, nonplussed. I essentially said:

“OK, that’s what I thought. I kind of have an issue with that. I think if you’re going to mention race, especially a race other than your own, you can’t just throw it away. It has to be done with purpose. And I really don’t know if you should even be writing from the perspective of a Black character because you don’t know what it’s like to be Black. I don’t know, I just had a problem with it.”

Some people thought it was “anti-racist” because the character was so cool, which is offensive in and of itself.

But this brings me back to the main theme of this entire post, which is that writing about sensitive subjects, and writing in general, has to be done with purpose, with care, with thought, and with meaning. Or else it’s just drivel.

Furthermore, I signed up for stand-up classes in Tulsa. The first class was this past Sunday and we mostly met the instructor and talked. Much of the discussion revolved around what it’s like to do stand-up, to be a comedy writer, our various opinions on comedy theory, etc. At one point, the instructor looked straight at me and said, “Do you think there are any jokes that are out of bounds?” (It’s as if I were wearing a sign on my forehead.)

I replied immediately and said, “Yeah. Rape jokes.”

He then replied with a weird diatribe about what kind of comedy he finds to be offensive or not offensive. As he was ranting about it, I wasn’t entirely sure why he asked me. He was basically saying he wasn’t the type to make racist jokes or dead baby jokes or rape jokes and didn’t necessarily like them, but he would laugh at anything. Which I thought was an arbitrary line, but I didn’t outright have a problem with. I can’t say I haven’t laughed at racist jokes or rape jokes in my lifetime because I’m sure I have. But I certainly wouldn’t defend them. However, moments when we laugh are also moments we have to check ourselves and ask why we did laugh. Was it just the shock value? Or was it the racist/sexist/homophobe in us laughing?

As he was going on this weird diatribe, another student in the class, an older guy in his fifties asked, “Yeah, but just because you laugh doesn’t mean you support [rape], right?”

The instructor replied, “No!”

Here’s where I kind of disagree, though, I didn’t say anything. I think laughing is implicitly a form of consent. Especially when you’re a comic. If a comic bombs, they know the joke didn’t work and they don’t keep using it. But when people laugh at, say, a rape joke, they think it works and will keep it in their set. Even if you yourself aren’t a rapist, you’re overtly supporting the rape culture by laughing.

That’s my rambly thoughts on it, anyway. I suspect as a freshly minted female “stand-up”, this won’t be the last time I discuss rape jokes with a dude.

And, of course, a few minutes later, when the older gentleman insinuated that I was a prostitute because I was waiting on the street with him before the class started, I wasn’t terribly surprised. Which is kind of the whole point, isn’t it? At least our instructor found that “joke” to be offensive.

I owe a lot to a column in LitReactor by Cath Murphy for my thoughts in this post.

Molly