A Lesson From Mel Brooks

“Those who are creating humor and parody claim specific common experiences with those who are laughing at the joke.”

(Jenkins, Ford, and Green)

Yes, Mel Brooks, a man that everyone should definitely know at some point in their lives. For me, I was introduced very early with Young Frankenstein, which made it to my top childhood comedy influences in film. Although I love Mel Brooks with all my heart and consider him to be a genius and one of the greatest writers and directors out there, some people don’t appreciate his work. Why is that?

A lot of people don’t like the sense of parody in film, the idea that a film is mocking one thing or another. However, if I could play devil’s advocate for a moment, I would like to go against those that say that. Are there bad parody movies? Oooooh yes, and I’m sure we all can name a handful of ones we’d like to lock away forever. In Brooks’ terms though, a parody is a work of art. Parodies allow us to let loose for a brief moment, get us laughing, while also reflecting on what the movie is parodying. Young Frankenstein? Mary Shelley’s classic novel. Spaceballs? Star Wars. Blazing Saddles? Westerns and the culture surrounding them.

Blazing Saddles is always the one to get the controversy. Even Mel Brooks claims it would never get released in today’s society. Yes, the language is crude and inappropriate at times, but I would argue that Brooks’ writing and directing help us reflect on how African Americans were treated and how they still are treated in the country, and this all happens as he makes us laugh hysterically. It’s genius. To use humor in order to have those reflect on themselves and the behavior of others. All from a parody. Mr. Brooks is and will always remain a hero of mine. His decades of making people laugh are ones that I can only dream of being able to have as well.

“Life literally abounds in comedy if you just look around.”

-Mel Brooks

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Why Do We Ignore Women Comedians?

We live in a society that was built on the idea that men are more powerful than women. I don’t mean to sound political in any sense, I’m just stating the truth. The Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, etc., all written by men for a man’s world. While times have changed (ever so slightly), it seems there’s always going to be this sort of push away for women, and comedy is no exception. Look, when I go back at my favorite comedians and write them down in front of me, men always come to mind first. I don’t know why, they just always do and it’s quite concerning. It’s almost as if women aren’t thought of as funny, and that’s a damn shame. Some of the funniest people I know are women and it’s time they get the recognition they deserve. After reading an amazing article by Groovy Today about the power women comedians hold in other areas of the world through social media, it got me thinking about how I’ve ignored many many funny women over the years and it made me feel extremely ashamed of myself. As a woman, how could I have done this?

Think of the talent that Tina Fey possesses and how she’s executed it over the years. From her seasons as one of the all time powerhouses of Saturday Night Live, to her hilarious seven season running show 30 Rock, to movies like Baby Mama, which never fails to make me and my mother laugh. She is one of the most talented people, not women, people in Hollywood and I will stand by that until the day I die…and then some.

tina-fey-16x9.jpgNot enough for you? How about Wanda Sykes, Joan Rivers, Sarah Silverman, Amy Poelher, Ellen DeGeneres, Whoopi Goldberg, Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett…CAROL BURNETT

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This woman showed the world how funny women can be when starring on her show which began in 1967, The Carol Burnett Show, which ran for eleven seasons…eleven! The show was revolutionary and allowed Carol to go against the idea that women can only play housewives or teachers. She. Is. Hysterical.

To the people who don’t want to hear me ramble about this, I’m sorry you’re not interested, but this is a serious deal to me. As a woman who loves every aspect of comedy, I think it’s time women get more credit as comedians because newsflash…we’re pretty fucking funny.

Learning From Don Rickles

How can we tell the difference between a joke and an insult? It seems like a simple separation, but in reality, the line can become very thin over time.

In the words of Jenkins, Ford and Green,

“..a joke expresses something a community is ready to hear; an insult expresses something it doesn’t want to consider”

Let’s take Don Rickles into consideration. Though he recently passed away on April 6, 2017 at the ripe ol’ age of 90, he will remain in the reign of comedy legends.

(and for the kids at home that don’t know this man by the picture below, maybe you’ll know him by his sarcastic, wise-cracking animated alter-ego, Mr. Potato Head from the Toy Story trilogy).

Known as the Equal Opportunity Offender, Rickles’ jokes were finger pointed at everyone.

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He didn’t leave anyone out, making his shows a laughing pit for everyone to enjoy. Instead of singling out one, he singled out everyone, an extremely intelligent move. It was because of this that no one found his jokes insulting to the point of controversy. Everyone could take his jokes because, well, they knew they were just jokes.

In his own words,

“I laugh at the blacks, the whites, the purples…”

I think plenty of comedians can take a note or two thousand from Mr. Rickles. Making fun of everyone brings joy to everyone. Making fun of one person or group causes controversy because of the idea of singling out that singular person or group. Don knew better than that and knew that everyone was equally available to be made fun of. It made him a legend, one that mustn’t be forgotten.

Why Have We Gotten So Sensitive?

We’ve all heard the jokes: “Millennials are so sensitive!”, “Snowflakes are everywhere!”, and the ever so popular, “Grow a backbone!”, it’s all been heard before. Personally, if you were going to ask me, I think the answer to the question of how we got so sensitive is simple. The answer is 9/11.

After the September 11th attacks in New York City back in 2001, comedy took a hard turn in terms of what could and couldn’t be said. As a nation we became so installed with fear of the unknown and fear of more attacks, that any mention of the attacks was immediately shut down. We began to feel guilty for laughing at certain jokes that some people would deem as un-American at a time when national pride was what everyone ran on. Even Lorne Michaels, the creator of the beloved comedy series, Saturday Night Live, noticed the lack of laughter in America and came on stage with Mayor Rudy Guiliani after the attacks to let people know that it was ok to laugh again after the attacks.

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Let’s be honest, we’ve all had those moments of hearing a joke from a tv show or from a comedian that make us think, “There’s no way that’d fly today!”, and it’s true. Comedy isn’t what it used to be. You can’t say a lot of the things comedians used to say. Be it because of insensitivity, or simply because after the 9/11 attacks some jokes don’t hit us the way they used to. I’m an advocate that jokes are jokes as long as they don’t become anything more than a joke. Sure, there are definitely some jokes that go too far and offend some people, but there are innocent ones that cause a worldwide outrage, most currently being the Pete Davidson joke at Dan Crenshaw when he made fun of his missing eye that he lost in combat. Crenshaw even released a statement saying that not everything needs an apology. In fact, he did a surprise appearance on the most current SNL episode and returned the jokes Davidson’s way.

I want to know what you all think, because there are plenty of answers as to why our sensitivities have increased over the years. Mine certainly is an opinion and isn’t the only reason why this could be. I was only three when 9/11 hit so I don’t remember much of the cultural changes, so I’d love to learn about what anyone else can remember about changes in pop culture after the attacks. I’m always wanting to hear from the readers. So let me know what you think. What are your opinions?

My Top Stand Up Performances

I’m a believer that stand up comedians are not only some of the most talented people in the entertainment business, but also the most brave. To be able to go infant of hundreds, even thousands of people and attempt to make them laugh, a job that can go so south so quickly, and keep them entertained for hours, there’s a small percentage that succeed at that. Since I was a kid and insomnia kicked in during middle school, I began watching comedy specials to keep me entertained. It was there that I found my love for stand up and my curiosity in how these comedians do it so well. I wanted to be like them. I wanted their physicality, their confidence, their humor, I wanted it all. I decided I could share with you my top stand up performances.

Side Note: As all of my list posts go, this is only an opinion. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I would love to hear from you all on your favorite stand ups. Until then, come listen to me ramble. Also, these are in no particular order.

#1: Donald Glover, “Weirdo” (2012)

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Not a lot of people can say they’ve accomplished much at the age of 23, but Donald Glover was already a writer for the acclaimed comedy show, 30 Rock, proving himself to be an extremely talented young comedian. He got his first televised stand up opportunity in the form of a thirty minute Comedy Central special in 2010 at the age of 27. Showing that he could handle a stage and an audience, two years later he created, Weirdo, which in my opinion, blows away his first special. Glover holds the audience in the palm of his hands, you can see how comfortable he is on a stage. With jokes such as the Trinidadian nanny and the childhood tale of Terry in Home Depot, this hour long special leaves you wanting more from Glover, which we have seen a substantial increase in since 2012. While he’s wrapping up his career as Childish Gambino and continuing his run on his show, Atlanta, I do wish we could squeeze out one more comedy special from this triple threat.

#2: Bill Hicks, “Relentless” (1992)

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The last special to be released while he was still alive, “Relentless”, is a hilarious and thought-provoking look on how Hicks believed the country was failing at the time (God forbid he got a hold of how the country’s doing now). His commentary on drugs, pornography, the Persian Gulf War, and the dangers that have been caused by patriotism all come together to give a sense of Hicks’ intelligence as well as his sense of humor. If anyone wanted to get a sense of Hicks as a comedian, I would recommend starting with this classic.

#3: Eddie Murphy, “Delirious” (1983)

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Good god, who can unsee that skintight red leather? Remember back at Donald Glover where I mentioned his success at age 23? Welp, Murphy had his most successful stand up at the tender age of 22. Having to be clean cut for his job on Saturday Night Live, he had no problem cutting loose on stage, using “fuck” a total of 230 times and “shit” 171 times. Controversy also struck after for Murphy’s opening joke, using slurs to talk about gay men. However, in 1996, Murphy released a one page apology for his actions, claiming, “I deeply regret any pain all this has caused.” Watching this special amazes me due to his age. I can’t even imagine performing a sold out show in a little over a year. The amount of success this man held at such a young age shows there’s potential in people to be able to find it themselves at any time. Props to Murphy for causing me to go short of breath at the Aunt Bunny falling down the stairs bit. I’m also wondering if the person who owned that camera still has the pictures of Eddie’s crotch.

#4: Sam Kinison, “Breaking the Rules” (1987)

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An ex-preacher with a temper more explosive than TNT, Sam Kinison proved himself in his first HBO special. His early bits such as his love life with women and the oddness behind the crucification of Jesus Christ caused me to break out in laughter when I first watched it during a class in school years ago. His enormous stage presence worked so well, even shocking Robin Williams. His iconic long coat and matching hat created an image that almost contrasts to his loud mouthed “oh oh OOOOOOOOOH!” gorilla screams. Kinison was a personified speedball on stage and so far, I haven’t seen anyone that can match a presence like Sam.

#5: Richard Pryor, “Live in Concert” (1979)

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This is every aspiring comedian’s bible. Richard Pryor, one of the most well known and beloved comedians of all time, in one of the most well known stand up specials of all time, it’s the bread and butter of comedy. Pryor manages to get a diverse crowd laughing maniacally at the topics of race, sex, family, all while adding in Patti LaBelle as an opener. Pryor showed the world what being a comic on stage meant. His demeanor, his physicality, his strong voice, the confidence he held, created a step by step look at what success on stage is. To this day, comedian’s site Pryor’s “Live in Concert” as a classic, a favorite, and an important piece of comedic talent.

My Movie Comedy Influences As A Child

I didn’t simply wake up one morning and find a love for comedy, as I’m sure none of us did. It took VHS tape after VHS tape and countless viewings as a kid to form the love I have for it today. Now, I’m aware parents today would never let their children watch some of the movies I watched as a toddler, but my mom is cool….she also was studying to get her teaching degree and was in another room in the house. SO that being said, these are (in no particular order) the comedy movie influences I had as a child.

#1: Tommy Boy (1995)

Ok remember how I just said these are in no particular order? That was a lie because if anything influenced me as a kid, this was it. I was three years old and my aunt gave me and my brother a VHS copy of this movie and from that moment on, the movie was playing everyday. I had never followed a movie so thoroughly, for christ’s sake, I was three. This movie taught me a great deal of sarcasm, slapstick, as well as tug at my heartstrings at certain moments. It also taught me to keep my mouth shut sometimes, as I got in serious trouble for threatening a fellow preschooler with “wailing on him”. Oops.

This was the foundation for my love of Chris Farley and there’s no other movie that influenced my love of comedy quite as much as this one.

#2: Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

I know, I know, I’ve professed my love of Robin Williams plenty of times on this site before but….come ooooon! I can’t talk about childhood influences without him. As a kid who had divorced parents for the duration of my life, this movie held a special place in my heart for teaching me that it was ok. It taught kids that having separated parents didn’t mean you didn’t have a family. It showed the hardships of divorce and the nastiness of court hearings and custody battles, while also making audiences laugh away at a father’s determination to go as far as impersonating a British nanny in order to see his children.

To this day, I can’t watch it without crying.

#3: Young Frankenstein (1974)

I’m convinced this movie aged me by forty years after watching it so many times. Gene Wilder captivated me with his descent into madness, but it was Marty Feldman’s performance as Igor that had me acting out scenes to my mother. It gave me a sense of goofiness and a touch of insanity to my joke telling.

This is my favorite Mel Brooks movie and if the world worked my way, everybody would have seen this by the time they turn thirteen. There’s never been a parody movie like it since and in my opinion, none could top it.

#4: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

Another movie that aged me by forty years and left the kids in my classroom scratching their heads as I quoted it religiously. This movie is set in stone ridiculous. It’s a movie that can be quoted relentlessly and for good reason. Watching it now, it’s understandable to see a child watching this and laughing uncontrollably.

The gore of the Black Knight, the killer rabbit, Patsy being the pack mule of the group, this movie is always a refreshing and laugh-filled watch. It will never go out of style.

#5: The Mask (1994)

I’m surprised I didn’t ruin this VHS tape with how often I rewatched it. This was the movie that introduced me to the whirlwind that is Jim Carrey, and I remember being enthralled with this man’s physicality on screen. He is a ball of energy for an hour and forty minutes and you better believe I learned from him. Not to mention that great Cuban Pete musical number.

Those were some of my childhood movie influences into the world of comedy, but what about yours? I feel like nostalgia has always been a major component in the way we view media today, so I’d love to hear from you all about what movies influenced you and brought you into the world of comedy.

Foreign Demons

Addiction is something that comedians aren’t strangers to. We all can think of one, two, fifty comedians that have struggled with addiction through out their lives. With those who fought and defeated their demons, others lost. John Belushi, Chris Farley, Mitch Hedberg, the list is nearly endless. While we see many comedians that lose their lives to personal vices, what about the ones that die not because of their vices, but because of someone else’s?

When I think about this topic, the two names that come to mind are Phil Hartman and Sam Kinison, two very notable names in the world of comedy.

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Phil Hartman, well known for his days on Saturday Night LivePee Wee’s Playhouse, News Radio, and The Simpsons, was no stranger to vices.

He himself struggled with drug addiction for some time, but he got clean with the support of his wife, Brynn. Brynn was also an addict and thought that the two of them could work together to get sober for their two children. While Phil followed the clean path, Brynn continued to use and her mental state only got worse. On the night of May 28, 1998, Brynn shot Phil in the head as he slept. After calling a friend and confessing what she had done, the same friend drove over and saw the body himself. As the police were notified, Brynn laid down next to her husband and turned the gun on herself. The police escorted the couple’s two children from the home and the couple were pronounced dead on arrival.

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Being that I was exactly four months old at the time of his murder, I went to a source that I know was affected greatly by his loss, my mother.

“I remember that I was absolutely devastated… I couldn’t move away from the tv and I was horrified that his wife would have killed him while the kids were in the house.. the emotional impact was great because I think you were just a baby and I was really upset for his kids… I loved Phil from News Radio… I think when comedians die, it’s always sad but for him to have been killed in that way it was even worse..”

My mother is the reason I grew up loving Phil Hartman and his encyclopedia of impressions. It’s a shame for him and it’s a shame for his children that had to grow up in the press because of a horrific event that should have never taken place.

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Sam Kinison was recognized for his screaming outbursts on stage and his outrageous material, including wishing his ex wife would die.

Sam was also known to merge the world of comedy with rock and roll, having reckless shows filled with loud bikers and blaring music. With this title came a surplus of drugs and alcohol. Though many predicted Sam’s early demise, they never expected it to happen the way it did. In fact, Sam was beginning to clean up his act and was sober at the time of his death. On April 10, 1992, Sam was driving to a show with his wife of just six days when a truck with two drunk teenagers, the driver being 17 year-old Troy Pierson, slammed head on into Sam’s car. His wife survived, but Sam stumbled out of the car and collapsed on the road. His brother who was driving behind him, ran out to tend to Sam. When he got to Sam’s body, Sam was speaking to someone that wasn’t there. His brother recalls, “…he suddenly said to no one in particular, ‘I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die.’ LaBove later said, ‘it was as if he was having a conversation, talking to someone else, some unseen person.’ Then there was a pause as if Kinison was listening to the other person speak. Then he asked ‘But why?’ and after another pause LaBove heard him clearly say: ‘Okay, okay, okay.’ LaBove said, ‘The last ‘okay’ was so soft and at peace … Whatever voice was talking to him gave him the right answer and he just relaxed with it.'”

When such talent is taken away for no reason, it’s a disaster. The world is deprived of laughter because of another’s vices. Had it not been for Brynn Hartman and Troy Pierson, Phil Hartman and Sam Kinison could still be here making us laugh today. Robbed of their lives, it’s important to remember to cherish life. It’s one of the most cliche phrases in the book, but in reality, it’s a vital lesson. These men were taken far too quickly from their lives. Yes, life can bear a lot of demons, be it yours or someone else’s, but before you know it, the world can go black. In the end, life can be taken away with one pull of the trigger or one wrong turn on the road.