Have you ever heard the one about…


(I’m letting you know early, just so you’re safe, you precious flower.)

The recent brouhaha over at NBC concerning The Tonight Show (with Conan O’Brien; as it should be) and the absolute fail that is/was The Jay Leno Show has me contemplating one of my favorite art forms: Stand-Up comedy.

First off, if you don’t know about the Jay Leno/Conan O’Brien mess, let the funniest guy in Late Night explain the situation:

Note:  When I say funniest guy in Late Night, I’m not counting the Comedy Central Duo of Awesome that is Stewart/Colbert (2012!), because they are their own beast.

Comedy is a subjective thing, obviously.  Personally, I find Jay Leno to be fairly dull, with a monologue that is a solid 10-15 minutes of sliced unfunny in toasted boring bread.  But, okay, I get it, for some people he’s the bee’s knees.

Those people are wearing adult Pampers.

I’m just playing, you can like whoever you like.  Unless that includes Carlos Mencia.  Then you’re probably your own uncle.

I love comedy down to my core.  I pathetically don’t have the balls to do stand-up myself (maybe one day, if I’ve free-based enough heroin), but watching live stand-up comedy is one of the best experiences you can have.  The first stand-up comedian I ever saw in person was Lewis Black, way back in the day (I got his autograph!).  Later, in my college years, one of my brothers did stand-up for some time, so I had regular viewings.  Then, when I moved to SoCal, my roommate and I would go see Daniel Tosh all the time at the Improv.  If you’re unfamiliar with Daniel Tosh, let me introduce you.

(If you aren’t tracking down more of his comedy right now, then we probably don’t have similar senses of humor.  That’s okay, I’m sure your parents are to blame.)

Continuing my personal journey with stand-up:  When I moved to San Francisco, one of my roommates was an Australian pothead who fancied himself a stand-up comedian.  Trying to be friendly with the new roomies, I met him and his girlfriend at one of his gigs (if you need to picture this couple, think of a couple so horrific, the Jerry Springer show would have deemed them too depressing to put on TV).  In the process of warming up for the show, this momentously unfunny man, let’s call him Larry the Cable Guy, got himself plastered.  When his time finally came, Larry went up to the stage, angry that he had to go on so late, drunk as Bukowski at a wedding and too Australian to make any sense.  In a 5 minute tirade of what was presumably supposed to be jokes, the only intelligible words were a smattering of ‘fuck’, ‘cunt’ and ‘Jerry Seinfeld’ (yeah, I don’t know, either).

It was funny in the same way that videos of guys on pogosticks nutting themselves are funny.

Stand-up comedy, to me, is the rawest form of performance, and for that reason I have a healthy mix of admiration and astonishment for those who get up on stage and risk all levels of humiliation on the assumption that the funny voices in their own head might amuse other people.  I have many favorite comedians, most of which could never headline an ABC sitcom because their material is bit too, as they say, blue.

For instance, there is the king of wrong:

Louis C.K.

This clip may actually be the perfect summation of his comedy, because it’s awkward and wrong and filthy and bizarre and yet so so smart.  I’m surprised to be typing this, because I have so many favorite comedians, but I think Louis C.K. is my all time favorite, the person who most perfectly fits my sense of humor.  If you haven’t heard me make this kind of joke, it’s because I don’t think you can handle it.

Dave Attell

This guy kind of looks like my oldest brother, so there’s the family connection.  Plus, this guy can take a completely ridiculous idea and make you follow it as if he were just telling you a story about going to the grocery store.  I’ve been a fan of his since he hosted Insomniac on Comedy Central (now that was a kickass show).  He drinks too much and will fuck anything that moves.  Essentially he’s a writer in the body of a comedian.

Sarah Silverman

This isn’t her best clip.  Not even close, but I like it for the shot of Laura Dern looking particularly uncomfortable.  Sarah’s comedy  has the amazing ability to not only be unfunny to certain people, but to make them ferociously angry.  She made fun of Paris Hilton (and I mean, come on, talk about an easy target), and people flipped out (as if anyone would give a guy shit for making the same jokes).  Some people just fucking hate Sarah.  Maybe it’s because of how sexual she is in her jokes, maybe it’s because she says absolutely terrible things (some of which some people like to label ‘racist’), but I think it comes down to this:  People are shocked by a woman making the same kind of filthy, un-P.C. jokes that male comics make all the time.

These three comedians (and Daniel Tosh) are the comics who make me laugh every time, without fail.

I have many many more that can make me slap my knee (literally; when I laugh it’s a full physical reaction).

Jim Gaffigan, Zach Galifianakis, David Cross, Patton Oswalt, Eddie Izzard, Mitch Hedberg, Steven Wright (aka the original Mitch Hedberg), Maria Bamford, Dave Chappelle and on and on into the night.  I love stand-up comedians.  I miss having cable where I could watch Comedy Central’s Friday Night Stand-up, but thank God for the internet, because I’m never truly at a shortage for great comedy.

But I don’t just love the comedy, I’m fascinated by the personalities that do stand-up.  It’s no secret that comedians tend to be pretty fucked up people (again, like writers, but with better stage presence), usually with major depressive issues or other mental problems.  Watch the movie Funny People for insight (a movie that didn’t do very much box office despite being quite good; if you haven’t seen it, do, but don’t expect a comedy.  Yes, it’s funny, but in a very personal way.  It really is a drama that just happens to be about comedians).

That’s why I loved the new book, I’m Dying Up Here by William Knoedelseder.  It gives an entertaining and fascinating look into the comedians and club managers that made the comedy scene of the 70s into such a boon time (both Leno and Letterman are major players in the story, along with some of the greats who have long since fallen out of the public consciousness).  I can’t do the book justice here, but if you have even the faintest interest or respect for stand-up, this book will be well worth your time.

The book will also give you a lot of great insight into the history not just behind Letterman and Dave (which is mostly public knowledge and still very interesting in a Schadenfreude sense) but also the integral part that the Tonight Show has played in launching comedy careers.  It’s why I completely respect Conan’s stance to not tarnish the long running standard of the Tonight Show by pushing it back a half hour.  NBC is about to ruin a comedy institution.

Still, there’s nothing funny about talking about comedy, so I want to leave you with this.  It is a collection of comedians telling the greatest joke of all time, taken from the DVD extras of the documentary, The Aristocrats.  You know when people say stuff like, “I know we can be friends if you like this band or this movie”?  That’s what this movie is for me.  If you don’t laugh your ass off watching this incredibly dirty and fantastically insightful film, then… well, we can still be friends, but you probably wouldn’t want to be.

If we’re ever out drinking (and there’s no one around who will get their panties in a bunch), just ask me and I’ll tell my personal version of the joke that’s so good it got Jesus to raise from the grave just to say, “The Aristocrats!”