Comfort in Comedy

Comedy is the blues for people who can’t sing.-Chris Rock

            Am I an outsider looking in, or an insider looking out?  I couldn’t help but reflect on that as I watched comedian Chris Rock yesterday.  I was lucky enough to see Chris Rock in a sold out venue of only 360 people at the Apollo Theater in Paris.  He entered the stage wearing all white, the lights were dimmed.  When he tried to speak into his microphone, the power on the stage went out.  As the staff worked quickly to fix this, he offered to the audience, “I’m a little off, but you’ll have a good show.  We know how good I am in crisis.”  Laughter eased the discomfort with that one line.  He promptly alluded to something we were all thinking.  Would the infamous Will Smith slap heard internationally two months prior be addressed?  And it was with an insinuative remark.  

We were in the 12th row, and it was surreal.  The title of his show was called Ego Death, and I couldn’t help but be curious as to the meaning of this title.  As I watched his show, I viewed it through the lens of my old psychology profession.  This is how he chose to deal with this experience.   His craft of storytelling and boldly sharing his opinions in a palpable funny way, was his cathartic journey.  This is how he is intentionally dealing with that media driven experience.  Instead of being a victim, he is using it as fuel for his work.  In his set, he shared that people get attention through either being infamous, excellent, or a victim.  He reminded the audience we have a choice.  And there was power to that statement.  Although he didn’t state it, we knew Chris was opting to not be a victim in this narrative.

 To be an American, listening to an American telling jokes in France was like an out of body experience.  I haven’t lived in America for almost nine years, most of that time having spent lived in the United Kingdom.  But those years were spent working with Americans as a therapist.  The USAF to be exact.  Therefore, I have yet to pick up any type of accent or new language.  I still sounded ‘murican.  I could relate to the jokes because I still identify as an American, my family and friends reside there, and I visit annually.  But how American was I?  Was I American in my ideals, values, or daily living?

            As the show continued, I listened to Chris Rock rant about political hot topics, celebrity gossip, the state of homelessness, racism, the pandemic and the overused political correctness that have taken over the country.  I laughed at the jokes, as so many were based on reality.  But as I laughed, I couldn’t help but think how sad the state of the country was, and wondered if I want to return as a citizen in the future? Did Chris Rock even want to return?  He asked the audience if abortion was legal in France, and joked that maybe he could get one while he was here. 

            And Chris also talked of things that are universal, not just not the crisis of all things American.  But the creative process.  Chris shared at the beginning of the show how art sucks these days.  This includes all types of art: movies, television, music, books, tangible art.  He stated all art sucks because there are layers of people who oversee the creative process of what actually gets distributed to the public.  Art is out of the artists’ control today and is censored.  He exclaimed that all mainstream art seems to be out of one’s control, except that of the art of a standup comedian.  A standup comedian is in charge of their own acts and the words that come out of their mouths, not the publishing world, or the television executives, or the publicists.  As I heard that comment, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of awe and jealousy with that statement made.  I’m in the process of my book proposal being pitched, and I am keenly aware that much is out of my control.  Yet comedians take their art straight to their audience.  And they can get away with it. 

            Just as the olden days of a royal court, the only ones who could get away with telling the truth and not be punished were the court jesters.  Buttons are pushed, and often things slightly teeter on the edge of controversial.  But then laughter breaks up the discomfort.   Viewpoints are shared with audiences in a way they can swallow it. Shock, laughter and wit can go a long way.   Their intelligence is hidden with smiles.  

            As I watched Chris Rock, I reflected on the show’s title: Ego Death.  Ego Death disarms the audience, it humbles him, and allows us as a group to take in what he says with more ease.  Although he speaks of his lavish lifestyle and the privileges that fame and money bring, he is grounded by being a human being, with the woes of parenting, dating during midlife, and the joys of co-parenting with an ex.  It’s a reframe.  We are curious as an audience to see this man as a victim of another celebrity’s slap, but we see how he’s fueled to redirect the narrative.  

            Perhaps we also re-write the current narrative of America.  It does not only have to be the bold, outrageous, wild, divided, selfish nation that the media has painted.  I feel I’m only watching it from afar, like a reality television show that I cringe to admit I’m a fan of.  As a nation, we seem to be getting attention through either being infamous, excellent, or a victim.  All aspects are there.  We have a choice in how to frame the nation.  And what if our ego death as a country is approaching?  This may be the key for our story to be reframed in a way that is palpable to the world and ourselves.  Laughter may be key to get through and beyond this moment.

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