I watch and listen to a lot of stand-up comedy online, and I’m mostly interested in how the comedians’ values and assumptions show up, what they make jokes about.
Louis CK, for instance, is disgusted by his body, among other things, especially the naughty bits. He’s willing to talk about it for money and is disgusted by it simultaneously, a workable combination for an artist, which he is.
When I heard recently that Amy Schildhauer was gonna do stand-up in an all-woman show at The Maltese, my neighborhood saloon, I went with great trepidation, because I’m especially susceptible to a certain kind of sympathetic agony when people fail. For instance, I can’t listen to a bad singer, like the one I heard at a recital not long ago who sang flat with no vibrato, just after a stunning aria by the class star. That kind of thing makes me want to cry, I suppose because I imagine how awfully exposed and ashamed I would feel in that situation.
I admire stand-up comedians—and performers generally—for their guts, because it takes a lot of nerve to get up in front of strangers and try to make them feel the way you want them to. Some comics I can’t stand. Sometimes they’re too stupid or stuck on ridicule or just uninteresting. I hear the audience laughing, but I’m not. Some female comedians I’ve enjoyed are Amberia Allen, Sarah Millican, Maria Bamford, Chelsea Peretti, Celia Pacquola, Ellen Degeneres, Sarah Kendall, Amy Anderson, Dana Alexander, Sarah Silverman, Paula Poundstone, Moms Mabley, Margaret Cho, Lisa Lampanelli, Morgan Murphy, Kathy Griffin, Kathleen Madigan, Aisling Bea, Sarah Pascoe, and Felicity Ward.
I’m careful to breathe deliberately when a friend asks me to read something of theirs, because I’m afraid it’s gonna be shite and I’ll have to think of a way to say so kindly, not my long suit.
Fortunately, Amy made me laugh. Whew. I don’t know what I would’ve said if she’d been awful, and thank God she wasn’t. She also stood out because she talked about being fat, the only one in the first half of the show who did, although not nearly the only one who could have.
I was surprised at how vulgar the performances were. I don’t mind vulgarity—I often like it—but this bunch didn’t seem to know much of anything past dicks and vaginas. No phalluses, no pussies, no insight, no wit, no wordplay. I remember when sex was about all I thought about, but I’ve gotten used to other things being of interest, and the barrage of dicks and vaginas got old in a hurry. I’m an old fogey and grateful for the variety that allows. It’s not that my dick has no influence, we’re old pals after all, but I feel like I’ve given him his way enough. And he’s so predictable.
I decided that the preponderance of sex observations and jokes was because sex is what they’re still learning about, and nothing’s more important than that at their stage of life, mostly under thirty and unmated. Until we find a mate, or think we have, mating gets most of our attention, males and females alike. Male lives are affected most by testosterone poisoning. I don’t think any of the performers, including the transvestite emcee, was more than tentatively attached to another person, and nobody talked about education or employment or having children or politics or religion or much of anything past swapping fluids. Bless ’em.
They were all energetic and optimistic, which gives me hope for the race, though not always a reason to laugh, and that evening I did a lot of cringing. I’m going back, though. Even if sex isn’t the main thing you think about, try standup comedy at The Maltese, and tell me what you think.