Thursday, May 5, 2011

The significant overlap between babysitting and standup comedy

A friend of mine wrote a fascinating blog post about the overlap between computer repair specialists and therapists. More and more, he said, the person who fixes your computer is prepared to, basically, counsel you, because the trauma of losing access to your workstation is increasingly enormous.

I notice a similar kind of occupational drift with regard to standup comedy. Today the way comedians practice their art has everything to do with the way they deal with "hecklers." A drunk man, in 2003, kept yelling "yeee-haw!" from the back of The Fillmore at Dave Chappelle. Eventually Chappelle found a way to incorporate this guy into his act, asking the crowd, "who here likes to give head?" and, after a beat, "thought I was gonna hear you, yee-haw guy." This is the traditional formula: a heckler is hostile and disruptive, the comedian makes fun of him, the crowd returns its focus to the comedian.

But in the two clips above, something different might be going on. There are basically three hecklers in these videos. During Hannibal Burress' set, a man, who's probably tripping on something psychedelic or maybe just a nutcase, is publicly displaying his enthusiastic affection for a woman who seems to enjoy the attention too. During Galifianakis', it's a woman who gets on his stage and starts acting like an oblivious, rambunctious kindergartener. In both cases, the crowd members don't seem to want to attack the comedian directly, but just to get attention themselves, to be performers themselves. They are literally regressing, ignoring the standard procedures of adult events like standup comedy by acting like very young children. Maybe there's something to this idea that the generation of people born in the 80's are now big, adult-sized children, unprepared for life as adults.

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