Comedy and assholes, continued

The bigger the ego, the shittier they are

I’ve been saying I would continue my “Comedy and assholes” bit so here goes.

In that first (and only) post), I discussed Saturday Night Live co-head writer and “Weekend Update” co-host Michael Che’s then-recent decision to harass a critic who’d written about his comedy partner, Colin Jost, in an article. Specifically, Che decided (and not for the first time) to weaponize his rather significant platform (414,000 Instagram followers and, you know, being partly in charge of SNL) against the writer. He even went so far as to edit the critic’s Wikipedia page to suggest that he had been accused of abusing animals and charged with bestiality.

On the one hand, all of this is pretty excessive for a response(s) to an article that pondered why so many people seem to dislike Jost’s comedy but, I shit you not, largely defended him. On the other hand, some of you might still be giggling about Che’s trying to claim that the critic had been charged with bestiality (or “beastiality,” as he initially misspelled it). “It’s just a joke, Andrew,” you might be thinking. “Relax!”

At the moment, I have neither the time nor the motive to explain to you why the “it’s just a joke” or “just kidding” excuses for otherwise awful behavior are as stupid as they are ignorant. So let’s just take it as a given that these statements and the sentiments behind them are bad.

Which propels me to what I was basically saying and thinking through in that introductory post: Michael Che is an asshole. Or, that is to say, his most recent example of targeting a critic with harassment is yet another instance of his being an asshole. At the same time, he is by no means the only asshole who has also happened to be a prominent stand-up comedian. I also mentioned Louis C.K., a more obvious illustration of this, and aside from his sexual misconduct scandal, his recently leaked material about the Parkland shooting survivors and his subsequent efforts to squash such leaks have only reinforced this observation.

But it’s not enough to simply identify behaviors one finds (or the majority of people would find) reprehensible enough to categorize the person behaving accordingly as an “asshole.” Otherwise, it’s just one of many negative descriptors that can be applied to such misdeeds.

Hence why I brought in Aaron James’ 2012 book Assholes: A Theory, a playful book of philosophy that, via moral philosophy and other more academic means of reflection, tries to clarify what an “asshole” is and what makes or qualifies them as one. This was the basic definition I pulled from the book’s first chapter:

“[A] person counts as an asshole when, and only when, he systematically allows himself to enjoy special advantages in interpersonal relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people.”

James’ definition can be broken into three parts: (1) the allowance to “enjoy special advantages,” (2) doing so “out of an entrenched sense of entitlement,” and (3) being “immunized against the complaints of other people.” So, technically, if any given case hits all three of these pieces, then taken together, it’s fair to say that whoever is being analyzed is, by definition, an asshole.

It sounds simple, but it’s not. Using the three basic components of James’ otherwise general definition of what makes an “asshole” isn’t enough. Per the author’s own example, one could easily use these metrics to toss the random entitled asshole who regularly cuts in line at the local coffee shop into the same group as, say, Adolf Hitler. Obviously, these two people are not the same kind of “asshole”:

“[We] should not think first of extreme cases such as Hitler, Stalin, or Mussolini. There are not enough harsh names for these figures, and it is fine to add ‘asshole’ to the list. But it would be deeply offensive to only call Hitler or Stalin an asshole; there are much more important ways to describe them morally.”

So, what gives? James goes on to suggest that his book, and in particular, his theory, is more concerned with the “mere asshole.” Someone whose assholery is defined by a person with a “stable trait of character” who is “not morally beyond the pale” but, nonetheless is still a “repugnant” person.

For review, an asshole is an individual who regularly allows themselves access to special advantages out of a sense of entitlement that makes them (or, more specifically, their livelihoods) impervious to criticism. Their character is also chiefly identified by these qualities, and while this doesn’t necessarily make them morally evil (like, for example, a murderer’s acts of violence do), they’re still unpleasant as a result.

Yeah, this kind of sounds like Che, as well as Louis and a host of other comedians-cum-douchebags who have managed to maintain, or have once boasted, an acceptable (to them, at least) level of success in their respective comedy spheres of influence.

Che may not be “immunized” against criticism, as his many lash outs have proven, but his career and professional standing are. He made false accusations of bestiality and related crimes against someone and, as far as I can tell, has faced no repercussions for his actions.

As for Louis, he’s in the middle of a “comeback” tour that might not have him playing in the same storied venues he used to sell out, but he’s still out there. What’s more, the gatekeepers (comedy club owners, bookers, etc.) are, for the most part, totally fine with putting him onstage — his past misgivings and present routines notwithstanding.

Defining and analyzing assholery among comedians notwithstanding, this is also about power and its ease of abuse. The history of stand-up comedy, as well as pretty much any other facet of the entertainment industry (or politics, or business, or XYZ) if rife with examples of powerful assholes who demand a lot, give very little back, and assume that their lives will always be this way, regardless of whoever they step on.


Random Bits

Ken Jennings is a monster. I’m currently reading his 2018 book Planet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture, in which the celebrity Jeopardy! contestant turned author tries to discern precisely why the comedy genre has permeated so much of the modern world. It’s actually a great read, albeit one that makes a lot of assumptions about a lot of things that are stand-up adjacent, but that’s okay. Jennings isn’t a journalist by training. He is, however, as I’ve already mentioned, a monster.

In the book’s second chapter, Jennings recalls a viral video from 2013 in which, after releasing a small rabbit back into the wild, a family watches in horror as a hawk swoops in and takes it away to almost certain death. The father in the video instantly laughs when it happens, and let’s be honest, the majority of people who’ve watched this video (over 22 million and counting) probably did, too.

In bringing up this example of “The Laugh Reflex,” Jennings says the following:

“I laughed despite having said many a toilet-side eulogy for dead fish, and in one case having helped my teary-eyed daughter set up an incredibly elaborate backyard monument to a beloved golden retriever.”

What a goddamn monster.


Crowd Work

Don’t forget, I actually want you to respond. Send me whatever questions, comments are snide remarks that you may have about my thoughts on stand-up comedy, or comedy-related matters I didn’t cover, but are nonetheless on your mind. To get in touch, simply email me and we’ll go from there.

Okay, so CNN is doing comedy now

Please help me I need sleep

Okay, I know I said I was going to continue my “Comedy and assholes” series this week, but allergies kicked into high gear over the weekend, which weakened my immune system and rendered me susceptible to catching a cold, or something like it. Anyways, that’s my long-winded way of saying this past week sucked and I didn’t get a lot of work done. So I’ll be digging into the aforementioned series shortly, but not before addressing CNN’s first-ever comedy special.

Yes, CNN, otherwise known as the “Cable News Network” and the progenitor of our modern 24-hour news cycle era, is getting into the stand-up comedy business. And it’s doing it with Saturday Night Live and Comedy Central alum Colin Quinn, whose recent one-person show Red State Blue State was taped for a Memorial Day premiere on the otherwise news-focused channel.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Colin Quinn. He’s highly underrated when it comes to assessing the pool of “Weekend Update” hosts on SNL, and his Comedy Central panel show Tough Crowd was a staple of my college years. I also got the chance to interview him for his previous special, New York Story, which debuted on Netflix in 2016.

I also enjoy CNN’s non-news or non-political content, like the food-focused Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown and The History of Comedy documentary series. Along with Fox News and MSNBC, the three major cable news channels have been devoting plenty of airtime to original content for well over a decade. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with diversifying! In fact, if these three networks actually tried to do nothing but current events and politics, then they probably wouldn’t garner the ratings they currently do. I mean, of course most of the eyeballs tuning in are waiting for the latest controversy, but just as many people are hoping to catch some favorite bits of food trivia or nostalgic rushes from CNN’s decade-focused documentary programs.

So the mere fact that CNN is about to release its first comedy special isn’t troubling me at all. Rather, Thursday’s announcement simply triggered the angst I’ve already been feeling about the current state of stand-up, which the title (and original purpose) of this newsletter clearly describes: there’s too much goddamn comedy. Yes, this also means, at least in terms of sheer numbers, that there’s so much comedy that there’s at least something for everyone out there. But it’s also a lot. Like, a lot.

In a statement, Amy Entelis, CNN’s executive vice president for talent and content development, said the network is “always looking for new ways to engage our viewers by exploring the issues that are most important to them.” What’s more, she added, “Colin Quinn’s show is a smart political satire that speaks to what is dividing our country.” As for the show itself, CNN describes it as an “hour-long presentation of [Quinn’s] critically-acclaimed Off-Broadway show [that] brings the funny tackling the absurdities, hypocrisies and calamities on both sides of the political divide.”

Again, Red State Blue State itself sounds like a great show. Most reviews of its off-Broadway run were quite positive, which is not at all surprising when you consider just how prepared a performer Quinn is. Since this was his sixth one-person show (as opposed to a traditional “stand-up” set), you can rest assured that even more preparation than normal was put into its creation and execution. Plus, Quinn is a very thoughtful and introspective person. He cares deeply about every single syllable of every single word in every single line of what he’s saying during every performance. It’s an attention to detail that hearkens back to the scribbling smartness of George Carlin’s onstage work.

Careful craftsmanship doesn’t necessarily mean that the result is going to be good, but in Quinn’s case, it almost always is. This is especially true of Red State Blue State, a show that purposefully tackles the intensely two-sided political divide that major news networks like CNN have had a hand in shaping over the past few decades. So irony of ironies that they chose to distribute it, as I’m sure Quinn himself would be just as critical of them as he would be of their competitors.

But if CNN, of all places, is now trying to stick its hand in the over-stuffed cookie jar that is the streaming comedy boom of the 2010s, then isn’t that a sign that too many people trying to get the same cookie is going to result in crumbs for the rest? Over-baking this silly metaphor even further, when is the cookie jar finally going to turn up empty? Next thing you know, Dennis Miller is going to opt out of the self-release or Comedy Dynamics-provided models for his next special and go straight to Fox News.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, this is a lot and I don’t know for certain how much longer it’s going to last. Some have already been predicting the current boom’s inevitable bust, and with outliers as seemingly antithetical to stand-up as CNN getting in on the action, I can’t help but feel that said bust is going to happen sooner rather than later.

Even so, I’m going to try my best to not preemptively judge Quinn’s new special based solely on its chosen home. (Or at all, for that matter.) I’m going to watch it, and considering my own history with his comedy and what I’ve read about the live show, I’m probably going to enjoy it. But I can’t shake the feeling that it’s going to feel weird to me that I’m watching it on CNN.

Then again, watching original stand-up specials on Netflix, and not Comedy Central or HBO, five years ago felt weird, too.


Random Bits

The “More Cowbell” SNL sketch from 2000 is rightfully considered a classic, and if you agree, then you’ll probably enjoy fellow SNL alums Chris Kattan and Jimmy Fallon reminiscing about it on Thursday’s The Tonight Show. Sadly, Kattan’s current press tour is built around his new book, which contains some not-so-nice allegations about his alleged mistreatment by Lorne Michaels and the show’s other producers regarding an apparent health mishap. Regardless, it’s nice to see him talking positively about the “More Cowbell” sketch and Will Ferrell’s brilliance in it.


Crowd Work

Don’t forget, I actually want you to respond. Send me whatever questions, comments are snide remarks that you may have about my thoughts on stand-up comedy, or comedy-related matters I didn’t cover, but are nonetheless on your mind. To get in touch, simply email me and we’ll go from there.

Gastor Almonte is good

Go check out 'Immigrant Made' wherever you stream albums or on Amazon Prime

Apologies for the repeated delays, everyone. I’ve been busy dealing with real life for a few weeks, but I’m finally settling back into a normal (re: unending and underpaid) work routine. This means that I’ll be getting back to my promised “Comedy and assholes” series next week.

In the meantime, I wanted to talk about Gastor Almonte, a fantastic New York comic who released his first album, Immigrant Made, in April. You can find it on iTunes, Spotify or wherever you stream your stand-up, and if you have Amazon Prime, you can watch the self-produced video special version that Almonte also released. Here’s a trailer for it on YouTube.

I was going to talk to Almonte for a paying publication, but they decided late in the process that they weren’t actually interested. Which is a shame, because not only is Almonte’s comedy incredibly good, but the man himself is interesting and worthy of discussion and praise. The son of parents who immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic, Almonte works by day as a landlord in his native East New York in Brooklyn, and spends his nights grinding at some of the city’s most prominent comedy clubs. After The Daily Show’s Roy Wood Jr. took notice of him after a club gig, Almonte’s local profile exploded. But on his own, the man works hard. He’s performed at several major comedy festivals, appeared on Comedy Central’s This Is Not Happening stand-up showcase, and guested on several podcasts.

Speaking of This Is Not Happening, here’s his “Brooklyn Batman” performance from 2017, which is a goddamn riot. Seriously. Watch all 15 minutes of it right now.

Anyways, despite losing out on the chance to highlight Almonte in a paid piece, he was more than willing to talk to me for the newsletter, so we spent about half an hour on the phone discussing everything from his stand-up beginnings to his family’s oral traditions and how they directly influenced his incredible storytelling abilities. Check out our full, mostly unedited conversation below.

Andrew Husband: The album has been out for almost a month now. The special’s been up on Amazon Prime for a few weeks. What's the response been like? What's it been like for you?

Gastor Almonte: It's been truthfully really touching man. The album in terms of numbers has done well. It hit number one on Amazon and on Google Play. It hit number two on iTunes. It peaked at number nine on the Billboard charts for comedy. Just a ton of stuff that proves that it's more than just my friends buying it. It was nice to see that. And then in terms of the special, it took an extra week to get it up than we had originally planned with some hiccups from Amazon, but once it went up, the feedback has been great. Just, again from what I'm seeing, we're at around 20-30,000 views so far, and it's just really exciting to see that it's reaching people outside of just my immediate circle. The direct feedback I'm getting, I am regularly being messaged by people that are connecting with the project. You know, telling me how they relate to it, sharing their own stories about their immigrant families, and their journeys here. Stories about their grandfathers. It's been truly beautiful.

I was reading in another interview in which you spoke about how a lot of material in Immigrant Made comes from about four to six years of doing stand-up and perfecting these bits. Is that about how long it took for this hour to take shape?

Well, yes and no. I think in particular with the first hour for most comics, you know myself included, it probably took that long because I was a new comic. A lot of the time is just discovering yourself and your process. I would say in terms of the idea of the hour and actually finalizing it took about a year and a half, but there are bits here that definitely took four to six years because I was a new comic just learning how to do stand-up and how to perform and be funny. In particular with the keys to the stories, I know that they were longer. I wanted to do them justice because of the people that I'm talking about and what I'm talking about while by the same token be good at my craft. So yeah, it took a bit longer because of the fact that, I was a newbie I won't have this process started and I hope it doesn't take that long for round two.

It goes to what you were saying about being a new comic and sort of figuring out how a lot of the nuts and bolts work in terms of just building bits yourself, but also testing them successively in different clubs. The first time takes the longest. After that, fingers crossed, it usually doesn't.

Right. I'm hoping that a lot of the lessons I've learned from this time around kinda allow me to see the process for round two.

Are you the type of comedian who, once it's recorded, that's it — you can't do it anymore? Or will you still tell older jokes when you're building stuff up?

I tend to try to avoid doing a joke once I feel it is burned I guess because I do want to honor the audience as well. I feel like if know me for the piece and you came and seen me you deserve to see something new. With that said, I have come to see that the world it a lot bigger than we realize. I have clips that might have 100,000 views and that number seems huge and yet realistically that still means I could do shows in New York and no one has seen the clip because there's millions of people here and millions of people in the country and so on and so forth. So in terms of that I tend to probably avoid clips where they've hit the million view mark, the This Is Not Happening stuff I probably won't perform anymore.

But something that like was on PBS and got 80,000 views, I'm willing to do that. In particular if I have a real honest take on it that might upbeat the story or in the case of the PBS story that I did, I literally performed it for the first time for that show. So I felt like I never really got to enjoy performing it myself and sharing it with the audience that I think would like it. There are exceptions, but overall I am of the sentiment that once it's out there I do want to work on something new just because it's one of the things that people are excited about. They see what you did online, they enjoyed the piece, and they want to come enjoy and share something new. They want to see what you're up to and that's my job. I want to constantly be creating new things for the audience and give them a reason to come back again.

I wanna follow up on something you said, which was when you're up on stage and you're performing, you want the audience to have a good time. You want them to enjoy it, to laugh with the jokes, to hear something new. For you, as the performer, as the comic on stage, how important is it to you that you're enjoying it?

I think it's immense. I applaud the comics that can do a piece over and over again and perform it at peak level of enthusiasm. I think that our job is to always deliver material at its best and the way you go about that is different for every comic. Some comics are able to go back and really recreate the feelings that they had the first time they performed that material. Others need to create new material in order to maintain that level of enthusiasm with the piece because if you don't have that, it shows in the performance. So me personally, I do tend to gravitate towards trying newer things. I'm always writing, I'm regularly booking shows where, to be frank, I might not always be prepared when I booked it. Just because it forces me to continue to create because I know that I personally don't like to perform material that I've already done. And I want the pressure to have to create something new.

For your writing process, are you physically writing everything out? Are you doing bullet points or recording yourself at shows to listen back to? What's that process for you?

I have to commend my wife and kids, they are incredibly patient with my process. One thing I realized is I genuinely need their approval and I really enjoy the fact that the few times they see what I'm doing, they're proud of it and they are impressed by it. They don't understand necessarily the process to get to that point, it's very vulnerable. They work with me. Every Saturday before major shows usually about two to three times every month and also during the work week, they specifically go out. They go to my in-laws, they go to my parents, just to make sure that I have allocated time in the house by myself because in order to write I actually need to verbalize everything. I'm literally pacing back and forth in my living room saying jokes out loud over and over again and working on different endings.

Me personally for writing, I need to verbalize everything. I don't actually write it down until I feel like I'm close to the joke. Then from there, I'll try that at live shows that I record every single set that I do and then on the way home I play them all back. I make a bunch of tedious notes, literally who's at the show, how many people were at the show, what's the capacity of the show, what's the layout of the seating, what time of day was the show, what was the weather, how high was the ceiling, how bright was the room, who did I go after, where was I within the order, and I review all those details and listen to the set once more the next day before I go attempt it again. Yeah that's kind of like my process almost every day.

Ideally when the kids are school, I'm pacing back and forth in my apartment. I'm doing that review process during the week and hopefully by Saturday I have a really solid bit that I could review again when my wife takes the kids out to see grandma and grandpa. Then on Sunday hopefully that'll make up for it and do some family time and remind them why I'm doing all this madness.

A lot of creative people, be it comedians or writers, have that physical aspect of it. Like, I'm a professional writer and I read a lot, which most people assume is a very sedentary thing, and it is, but it's also a lot of pacing. Plenty of comics I’ve talked to do almost exactly the same thing. A lot of it is in your head, but you also, essentially, have to act through it to get it down.

Early on in my stand-up I bumped into Anthony DeVito, who's gone on to become a real mentor. He told me, he's like, "Yo listen. I sit down and write, but I know funny people that do it in all sorts of ways. It doesn't matter as long as you understand your process and you could replicate it. You could find work and it'll work for you. So figure it out and then just stick with it. That's who you are."

Figuring those things out for yourself can make a huge difference, and it all just depends on how your mind works.

I think it's huge. I feel like if I don't do that I'm ignoring the fact that the performance is a unique piece of art in and of itself. I think the words are incredibly important, I think the way I say it matters, but I think the room that I'm in matters. If it didn't, every stand-up set would be the same. There would be no purpose to come to a live show. I feel like every live show is its own unique moment. Understanding the dynamics that affect that, allow me to better present my stand-up differently and to better adjust for the different moments that might come up.

I'm a really big fan of your style of comedy, which is all about storytelling and combining long, complex narrative bits. Is that something you saw in the comics you liked, or is it more personal? Like, was storytelling a big part of your family?

It's actually very directly from my family. On Sundays growing up, we use to go to my grandparents house and literally the men would sit in the front yard and they would tell stories to each other and politics. One of the things that I didn't touch on in the album is that the kids literally weren't allowed to hang out with the adult men because they would tell adult stories. Some of them would talk about their date that week or they would complain about their boss or whatever the case may be. It was something that I noticed that I wanted to be apart of. They would let you try to tell a story, it's just that usually you're seven, eight years old, you're not really offering any depth to a 35, 40-year-old man with your issues. Like hey somebody stole my crayon at school. Your stories are lacking.

Every now and then I notice that my stories were so good that they would let me stay in the circle. If I told it well enough and if it was funny, they would let me hang out with the grown ups for the rest of the day. All of my other cousins would get a little jealous of it and it was a point of pride to me that I was good enough to stay in the circle and hang out, in particular with my dad and with my uncle also that were in my opinion the greatest story tellers in the circle and still are the funniest people I know. It was also a challenging because it only lasted for that Sunday. If I wanted back in the circle, I'd have to do a new good story. Otherwise, you'd have to go play with the kids again. I enjoyed playing with my cousins, but that seemed exclusive to me and I always chased that. Now when I'm doing these stories that I'm performing on stage I really feel like I'm just doing honor to what they did every Sunday. It was just the way to pass time among your brothers.

Now that they see you doing this professionally and you've got an album out and you've got a special out. You go up on stage and are essentially doing this, going and telling these stories and these jokes. What do they think about that now?

Now that the album is out and that I've been on TV, they're very happy. I was in the cage until about two years ago. Thankfully they're starting to see that it's paying off and they're on board. They're very happy about it. My dad has asked a check because I talked about him on a few different stories. It's definitely something that they're proud of now. Ironically I've been on Comedy Central twice. I've been on PBS. I've been on Vice. I have my album out. I have a special out and the thing that they are most proud of is that I did an interview for a local Univision Philadelphia newscast, because that was the first thing that they actually understood. It was the first thing that they understood the credit. They don't really watch Comedy Central. They didn't understand the magnitude of it.

That interview was like, “Oh wow, this is a real thing.” They put it on one of these shows. I'm like, “Dad, this clip has like a million views.” He's like, “Yeah but that's not real. This is a Spanish news station talking to you.” So it was nice to have that moment for them. Instead I was being frank, to me it means a ton because part of what I touch on at the end of the album is the fact that when they came here they kinda had to really be blue collar and take whatever work they can get in order to provide for their families. It always makes me wonder, if my dad or my uncles were first generation American. What kind of artistic skills they might have developed and what kind of careers they might have persuaded. Is my uncle really a stand-up up? Is my mom a painter? I'll never know that because they never had the option to be. Those weren't realistic things for them to pursue. I feel like me doing this and hopefully winning at it, is a way to kind of show them you made this possible and understand that while you sacrificed the ability to do this, that it's paying off now with this generation.

Not only that, but it sort of sets that example for your own kids or for nieces and nephews or anyone else of that next generation after you that they see what you're doing and they're like yeah this sort of thing is totally possible for us. Or something else that's not possible for-you know what I mean? It kind of passes on.

Yeah, most definitely. I think it was a real key moment for me when I resigned from my job and started pursuing this seriously after some real heart to hearts with my wife because I felt like I was sending a mixed message to my siblings who, right now they're 18 and 17 at the time. They were in high school and to my kids who were just starting to ask me real questions about what I did for a living. It felt hypocritical to talk to these four individuals that I care about and tell them they can be who they want to be when… I'm not old by any means, and I was already waving the flag. I was 29 when I started doing comedy. It just seemed odd to me that at that age I had already was dying to, I'm going to do a corporate job because it pays well despite how I feel about it.

So this kind of gave me an opportunity to backup what I was saying to them. You know what I have a dream and if I work at it and I'm dedicated at it, I can achieve it. If I can do that with the additional hurdles and responsibilities that I have as a parent and as a husband and as a homeowner, imagine what you could do if you start out with this pursuit even younger.

It’s only been a month, but what's next? What's your next goal post?

My general goal is to continue to make art that makes people more and more aware that people that look like me and that sound like me are far more similar to the rest of the country than people realize. I think there's a very direct idea that when you hear my accent, you hear East New York, Brooklyn, you automatically have certain expectations of, “Oh, this guy might be a gangster, this guy might be dangerous.” Once you hear my stories you realize, oh he's just a family guy. He happens to be in the neighborhood that I don't understand all the dynamics of, but overall he and the people from there are just middle class working people trying to do the best they can. The more that I can do that with my art, I feel that I'm doing some small part in hopefully making people aware that we're more alike and it makes it more difficult for us to be ignored and forgotten about, but we're making decisions politically.

So that's kind of like the meta idea of what I'm trying to accomplish. More directly I just want to make so much more art. I'm already working on my new hour. I have a real specific idea of kind of doing honor to the women in my life with this next one. With the current hour with Immigrant Made, I shouted out East New York and my heritage with the Dominican Republic. Something I noticed is that I very directly spoke to the men in my life. I talk a lot more about my son and my father and my grandfather. I'd like to kind of flip that on this next one and talk about my daughter and my sister and my wife and my mom and grandma.

That's kind of what I have in mind with this next project and I have some things I'll be doing to make that interesting. Besides that I also have some really cool Gorilla marketing tactics that I'm going be rolling out for Immigrant Made the rest of this year that I think will be very East New York and Dominican specific that I think people will get excited about. I don't want to tip my hat off too much on that.

Finally, just because it's one of my absolute favorite jokes from the album, have you had a chance to watch Avengers: Endgame yet?

[Laughs] Thanks for asking. I have not. I will not wait until the end of the last week like I did with Black Panther, but I am definitely taking my wife and kids to see it. I'm probably going to do honestly, two trips. I'm going to go separately with my wife, so I can see it like a normal date night movie. That's something that we've learned, we can do that. We can enjoy the movie in and of itself. Then if the kids want to take me to go see it seven in the morning on a Sunday again, it is what it is. I'll be a good parent. I know that I will have enjoyed it beforehand with the Mrs.


Random Bits

If you like sketch comedy and absurdism, then you’ll love Saturday Night Live and Detroiters alum Tim Robinson’s new Netflix series, I Think You Should Leave. It’s cringe-worthy sketch comedy at its best and weirdest, and I usually don’t like anything that remotely makes me cringe. But this? It’s good. As Robinson explained to Seth Meyers on Late Night, many of the show’s sketches were rejected bits from his SNL days. It’s easy to see why they were rejected — SNL is mostly crap at the moment.


Crowd Work

Don’t forget, I actually want you to respond. Send me whatever questions, comments are snide remarks that you may have about my thoughts on stand-up comedy, or comedy-related matters I didn’t cover, but are nonetheless on your mind. To get in touch, simply email me and we’ll go from there.

Comedy and assholes, an introduction

Comics can be pretty shitty

On Friday, Saturday Night Live co-head writer and “Weekend Update” co-host Michael Che took to Instagram to rant against critic Steven Hyden’s recent essay about his colleague, Colin Jost. Seeing as how Hyden described Jost as the “most despised cast member that I can recall from more than 30 years of following SNL” in the first paragraph, it’s safe to assume that Che was not pleased.

Writer Seth Simons, whom Che has also targeted previously, documented the comedian’s tirade on Instagram Stories before the posts were evidently deleted:

If that weren’t enough, Che went so far as to edit Hyden’s Wikipedia entry to include a false statement regarding alleged charges of bestiality (which the comic misspelled, no less, but that’s not the point):

I bring all of this up not to rehash Che’s latest bout of pouting, because Twitter, The Wrap, HuffPost, Fox News and plenty of other outlets (good and bad) already spent most of the weekend doing this. Instead, I’m mentioning it because stand-up comedy and its adjacent endeavors (like sketch and variety programming) have almost always been populated by assholes, and I really want to know how and why this is the case.

Obviously, at face value, this is a somewhat naive line of inquiry to adopt. Assholes are everywhere, regardless of whatever particular industry or social situation they happen to be a part of. What’s more, their being assholes probably has more to do with personal psychology, upbringing, social contexts and a bunch of other factors that have nothing to do with their chosen career paths. I mean, I’m making some pretty general statements here, but there’s plenty of research to back these points up. Aaron James, a philosophy professor at the University of California, Irvine, even wrote a hugely popular book about this subject back in 2012 titled Assholes: A Theory.

So no, I’m not looking to explicitly redo everything James and other professionals of his ilk have done vis-à-vis theorizing “assholes” in human social culture. Instead, I just want to explore Che’s apparently vengeful actions against a critic on social media in terms of the research that James and others have conducted — while also putting it all into a critical context that succinctly traces a comedic lineage of assholery that connects back to the more subversive instances of Louis C.K. and the more blatant platforms adopted by Sam Kinison, Bill Hicks and other (mostly white cis straight male) comics like them.

Obviously, I have no intention of thinking through or writing all of this down right here, right now. This is just a free newsletter and I’ve got lots of deadlines to stop avoiding. That being said, I’ll leave you with James’s basic definition of what makes an asshole an asshole:

“[A] person counts as an asshole when, and only when, he systematically allows himself to enjoy special advantages in interpersonal relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people.”

Let that sit with you for a beat, because at the top of part one, I’m going to demonstrate how and why what Che did — and not just in this particular instance — is a damn near perfect exemplar of what James had in mind when he set the parameters for assholery.


Random Bits

Remember the 2006 film Man of the Year? No? Well, it was a Barry Levinson satire of contemporary American politics in which Robin Williams played Tom Dobbs, a Jon Stewart-esque comedian and late night host whose presidential campaign gimmick turned into an actual race for the White House.

I mention the film because, over the weekend, Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian and comedy actor who played a school teacher-turned-president in a Ukrainian television series, was actually elected to the nation’s presidency. To make matters even weirder, his opponent was a chocolate magnate. Yes, that’s right… a chocolate magnate. Then again, the U.S. elected a coddled real estate tycoon-turned-reality television star back in 2016, so…


Crowd Work

Don’t forget, I actually want you to respond. Send me whatever questions, comments are snide remarks that you may have about my thoughts on stand-up comedy, or comedy-related matters I didn’t cover, but are nonetheless on your mind. To get in touch, simply email me and we’ll go from there.

Hasan Minhaj is not a journalist

Neither is Chris Evans

In college, I un-ironically wore one of those fake “Stewart/Colbert 2008” shirts that were printed long before Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or John McCain had ever considered entering the actual presidential race. I thought it was funny and viable. After all, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report’s Stephen Colbert were two of the funniest men on television and, thanks to their deeply entrenched writer’s rooms and research departments, they were also incredibly knowledgeable about the day-to-day happenings in Washington, D.C. And since a 2004 survey touted by CNN and lampooned by Fox News claimed that Daily Show viewers were better informed than broadcast or cable television news viewers, I figured, “Why the hell now?”

Flash forward 15 years to the presidency of Donald Trump, a legacy real estate businessman and reality television star whose idiotic bluster seeps out of the White House on a daily — nay, hourly — basis.

I’m not saying that the political prestige achieved and enjoyed by Stewart and Colbert necessarily paved the way for Trump. Nor am I suggesting that, had either Comedy Central host actually run for president and won, their presidency would have been precisely like the one America is enduring now.

What I am saying is, the lines between politics and entertainment have been blurry for some time, so trying to point the finger at our contemporaries and assign blame is a moot point. But when it comes to the business of journalism, which has been a fiery garbage heap for decades, I fear that the influence of politics-as-entertainment has taken (and still is taking) a heavy toll. Mass layoffs are a commonality throughout the news media industry now and private equity keeps buying up and shaking down those media companies that remain, while Stewart and Colbert’s literal and figurative successors in entertainment endeavor to do more journalistic (or journalism adjacent) projects for laughs, tears and other forms of emotional catharsis.

Don’t get me wrong. As a fan of the type of programming Stewart and Colbert pioneered in the 2000s, I enjoy the heavily researched deep dives of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, the comedic rants of Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal, the pop culture knowledge drops of Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act and the local forays of Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas. But when, for instance, Minhaj reveals that his show is “going to have an internal investigative reporting team” in order to “start breaking long-lead investigative reports that we’re providing all the footage and sources for,” I can’t help but do a double take.

I’m not concerned because Patriot Act is hiring investigate reporters, editors and producers to populate its writer’s room and research team. In fact, this is a wonderful thing to hear — especially for me and other freelancing members of the journalism community at large who have suffered the consequences of media buyouts and mass layoffs firsthand. It’s always great to see journalists getting jobs, especially if it’s a gig that will get their work even more exposure. (For example, about a month after he was let go from BuzzFeed in January, Chris McDaniel was hired by Last Week Tonight for a news producer role.)

What actually concerns me is how audiences and network (and streaming) executives will interpret these creative/business decisions at popular news-focused comedy programs like Last Week Tonight and Patriot Act. Remember that Stewart and Colbert were never journalists or politicians. They never set out to become either and never really claimed to be one or the other, but that didn’t stop idiots like me from buy t-shirts with their fake campaign logo printed on them and not-so-secretly wishing that their running for office would become a reality. So what’s to stop their audiences, or the executives who see dollar signs in their ratings and streams, from putting more emphasis on their being journalists when, in reality, they’re nothing of the sort?

I’m going to be completely honest and admit that yes, this concerns me because, as a professional journalist, I’d rather see myself and others who specifically work as journalists get the jobs that put them down in the trenches of whatever particular beat it is that they specialize in. I’d also rather see them getting all (or most) of the credit for their hard work, as opposed to a funny or camera-friendly entertainer who condenses months’ (if not years’) worth of reporting into social media-savvy chunks.

But I also worry that, as the entertainment and journalism divide becomes further blurred with shows like Patriot Act or actor Chris Evans’s recently teased website A Starting Point, audiences, executives and businesses alike will gradually value journalists and journalism even less than they evidently do now. I mean, it’s not like the majority of people value the few local news institutions that remain. Most local or regionally-focused outlets, be they print or digital, have been razed to the ground. Instead, as Luke O’Neil reminds his Welcome to Hell World newsletter readers, these sources of relevant local information and investigation have been largely replaced by national outlets and programs — be they news, comedy or both — or the unmitigated annals of Facebook, Twitter and social media at large.

This isn’t a simple “stay in your lane” complaint. It’s just… I don’t know. The world itself is pretty weird right now, and the worlds of comedy and journalism are getting even weirder by the minute. I’m all for folks like Minhaj and Evans using their big media profiles to highlight important issues, but I fear that too much else is lost in that process.


Random Bits

Well, that was a bummer that only barely had a bit to do with stand-up comedy, so here’s something inane and cringe-worthy that made me laugh really hard this week. Comedian Michael J. Wolf took footage from Casey James Salengo’s 2017 appearance on Comedy Central Stand-Up Presents and edited out all of the applause and general audience noises. It’s a solid minute’s worth of uncomfortable silence and it is glorious.


Crowd Work

Don’t forget, I actually want you to respond. Send me whatever questions, comments are snide remarks that you may have about my thoughts on stand-up comedy, or comedy-related matters I didn’t cover, but are nonetheless on your mind. To get in touch, simply email me and we’ll go from there.

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