On Friday night, I went with a friend to see Filipino comedian Jo Koy at the Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much in one night. Larry Miller and BJ Novak (‘Ryan’ from ‘The Office’) also dropped in.
If I weren’t a poet, I’d attempt a life of comedy.
On second thought, no, maybe not. But there must be something about charming an audience that is intoxicating to the comedian. Although there are many similar things between comedy and poetry (i.e. the pacing/timing, tone, the encapsulated and short moment, the storytelling), I almost NEVER think about an audience. As a writer, there isn’t that face-to-face interaction with the reader, unless it’s a reading. Hopefully, the book survives the writer, and continues to have an audience as an art object (as Ralph Angel would say), despite the actual writer, dead or alive.
It seems to me that comedy is SO much about the actual artist, the personality, the oral communication, the moment. Yes, a comedian’s routine can be caught on YouTube, but it’s very different from experiencing the actual show. I think the best comedy is the most honest and truth-telling. So why the perpetual racial/gender/class/everything stereotyping in most amateur comedians’ work? And although we have Chelsea Handler and Kathy Griffin, why the dominance of male comedians (maybe it’s just like anything else, though).
Jo Koy was quite funny, though. Of course he did the Filipino Mom jokes, but he also painted such great portraits of the other characters in his life, like his son, the dude sitting next to him on the plane. Rather than sticking with just THE punchline, his jokes/stories are complex and layered in experience. No easy feat, BUT no cheap laughs.
A poem came out of this experience:
When I retell last night’s joke,
I squint my eyes at the sober morning air.
I can’t seem to get the posture right,
the grease-haired comedian’s casual lean
against the microphone,
the hands pulling at the air already
liquored with laughter. The joke:
If it’s like poetry, then everyone’s
interested. Oh that movie’s like poetry.
Cool, I want to see it. That album is like
poetry. OK, I’ll download it. But if it’s actual
Even now, writing the joke, the awkward
crossout for the punchline, this shameless
mortification on the page, the maybe-I-should-
be-offended. When I retell the retelling,
I am less mortified by my imaginary grip
of the microphone, rather;
the part where the honest poet herself
sometimes can’t hide,
who shrugs and says, sad but true.