At this point we are at Legends in Kansas City.
It is a large outdoor shopping complex that also houses the comedy club we attended that night.
I was in a bit of a rush to get there by the start of the show because I thought that they were going to be hosting improv exercises that audience members could participate in, but that was actually at the club in Denver the following night. Cut me some slack, there was a lot going on with this three states in three days business lol.
So we showed up an hour early, and decided to get some dinner before the show.
I was excited, seeing that it was an open mic night, because even though I did not sign up to perform, I would get to see how the people out in Kansas City were living their lives and would get a decent amount of information to work with.
And oh dear, did they give me a lot to work with:
They were real people
There was a lawyer, stay at home parents, single parents, people all across the socioeconomic status spectrum, artists, and a number of others, all using comedy as an outlet.
I was not a fan of most of these comics (I just have different comedic preferences, nothing personal) so I am not going to name names or go into any sort of specifics, but I was really listening to what they were saying.
The lawyer talked about lawyering and made lawyer jokes. A guy that immigrated here from Eastern Europe made jokes about culture shock and the language barrier. You know, stuff within the context of "stick to what you know."
There was one lady that I found particularly interesting though. The host of the show hyped her up a bit, talking about where she had traveled to perform her stand up, this and that, etc. So I was expecting a little bit more from her, at least compared to these other people that were just trying this out, hoping to have a good time.
Her jokes detailed her life being poor (her words, not mine) and being a single parent, and for a lot of it the audience was silent. But it was not even the type of silence that could be attributed to her not being funny, but an awkward silence. They could not relate, and they felt uncomfortable being confronted with these socially unfavorable topics that they had probably, more often than not, pushed to the back of their minds to reconcile their own guilt over not doing something about it. I started looking at the people in the audience. Hearty guffaws had turned into shifting in chairs and throat clearing. A large part of comedy is relatability, but there is a significant barrier being put up when we choose not to relate to someone that one may deem as part of a lower social status, simply due to their lot in life.
This is me seeing comedy as potentially elitist and a cause for separation between people. I'd bet good money that these same people would laugh at jokes that are disparaging towards people of lower socioeconomic status-- I say this because I've seen it happen at another venue along this trip--, but when a member of this group comes in front of them and is speaking to them in a frightfully equal arena, the comparatively higher status that they hold in their own perception is challenged and discredited.
And if we are all equal, we really should be doing more to help others, right?
But that's just me postulating.
Soon thereafter the headliner came on, a Black comedian that rose to fame in the 1970s from a tv show on which he had an iconic catchphrase. There was an older audience tonight so I figured there would be a nostalgia factor into how a lot of them took in his set, and it seemed like it did.
I was really not a fan though.
An issue I had with stand up comedy when I came home for winter break was how it was being used to perpetuate stereotypes, with the helpful politics I was learning in school that recognize historically marginalized peoples being discredited and made fun of, so I just found it laugh at these jokes, because I didn't find them funny.
And people are always saying "oh you're too sensitive, it's just a joke!" but if that's the case then we can never draw the line, anywhere. And the line has to be drawn somewhere. But everybody has a different line, so we can't just go around policing lines for other people. Just let each other live.
Back to the comic. He had a very antiquated way of thinking. Example: he belittled the idea of sexual harassment to whether or not women find their harasser attractive, and a number of other ways of thinking that are best left in the past. This is not meant to be a "holier than thou" narrative, but it's always useful to think about how comedy and what we find funny can reinforce dangerous ideals.
The rest of show was about the same quality as the beginning. There was an inspirational comic who was also a paraplegic but more importantly, was actually funny. (Referring back to my prior statements of relatability, no one in the audience could relate, so how many of those audience members were genuinely laughing and how many were laughing out of pity?)
Maybe I am going too deep, but maybe I am asking the questions that I needed to be asking all along.