Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ribs, Royals, and Rednecks

I don’t consider myself someone who needs a lot of flash when it comes to lodging – but it would really be a pleasant luxury to wake up in the morning and not have to scrape insect carcasses out of every moist surface in the Motel 6. I’m just saying. I’ve ended up sharing a room with our tech guy (also named Phil), which prompted the following exchange:

ME: You’re about to see something awesome, when you go in to take a shower.

PHIL: If you’re talking about the bug carcasses, I saw them last night.

ME: We should probably pick up some roach motels or something, when we go out to run errands today.

PHIL: Yeah, but this is something we should really take up with the management.

ME: Dude. This is a Motel 6. Why? So they can spit on our towels in contempt?

We also ran into the problem of our door locks jamming shut, so that we couldn’t close our doors upon leaving them.

PHIL: I’m just going to turn on my iPod and pretend this isn’t happening.

ME: Yeah, but you’re our tech guy. I think this is exactly the thing that I’m paying you to deal with.

At this point, he studies the deadbolt, grabs a wrench, strikes it eight times – hard – until it retracts. Maximum Verbosity: the mark of quality.

We opened tonight, and actually had a decent audience, largely because of our preview last night, I suspect. They didn’t laugh much, which means that we either flopped or had a crowd of introverts. The former seems the only safe assumption, if only because I have no control over the latter.

There’s two things that I found really bothering me. The show is punctuated by musical interludes, written by cast members Neil Fennell and Mike Shaeffer. The first one in particular is pretty crowd-pleasing stuff, exactly the kind of topical material that the script proper works so hard to avoid: I’ve encouraged its involvement, both because I think that the left-wingers in the audience need something to engage with, and as something appealing to throw them in the midst of a very language-heavy script.

In one rehearsal, Courtney criticized the opening number, claiming that “The audience is going to be so into what they’re doing that they’re not going to be into the script.” And she’s absolutely right.

There’s also a sketch part way through – difficult to describe, but it basically plays out as an argument between Penner – who favors a more thoughtful, cerebral approach – and Max Verbosity, who favors a more crowd-pleasing, community-theatre approach to entertainment. Part of the gag is that the actual structure of the comedy shifts – in the beginning, it plays out as a Penner-esque comedy dialogue, and concludes as an action-comedy as envisioned by Max Verbosity. The latter half is, unfailingly, more popular than the former, thus proving the point of both its protagonists – and that fact drives me up the fucking wall.

I’ve claimed before, and I’ll continue to defend the point – I’m not Penner. But I do favor his more cerebral style, and it’s intensely frustrating to me that the more shallow material is more popular. For most of our audience, political comedy breaks down to little more than a kind of tribalism – they hear the phrases that they recognize, in the context of an ideology that they’ve signed up with. The actual *structure* of the joke means far less than whether or not they hear the phrases that are familiar to them.

I suppose the fact that I favor Penner’s position in this makes me something of an elitist – and that’s an unforgivable sin, in a context in which I’m supposed to be a populist. But, yeah, I favor those who are able to deconstruct ideas over those who simply respond to the ones that they already recognize. I don’t know how I’m supposed to build an audience with that philosophy, but it’s one that kinda makes me want to pierce my ears with a railroad spike.

The other thing that really bothers me is an exchange that I had with our techs:

TECH GUY: Yeah, I was laughing at the sketch, but you realize that you’re working in, like, the most segregated city in the United States, right?

ME: I guess. But the worst-case scenario is that I just get shot, right?

TECH GUY: You won’t get shot. Three blocks over that way (he points in one direction) is where all the beaners live, and that’s where you’ll get stabbed. Three blocks over that way (he points in the other direction) you’ll get shot.

Now, I recognize that it’s entirely possible – even likely – that they were simply fucking with me. But it’s still intensely disheartening. I know that – as a political comic – I operate in an occasionally dangerous profession – I’ve certainly received more than enough death threats in the past five years to cement that idea for me. But at the same time, I’ve come to realize that most of those threats are empty.

And still, it’s frustrating. Racism has always been a difficult concept for me, not least because I’m the child of an interracial marriage. It’s difficult because it’s so fundamentally irrational – there’s no real way to reason with it. ‘Tis in grain, sir; ‘twill endure wind and weather. I recognize that the fear of getting shot or stabbed because I use a racial slur onstage is nothing short of a kind of a terrorism, and I refuse to allow it to dictate my writing – not out of any kind of simple-minded nobility, but simply because I don’t know how to write anything at all with that many mental blocks on my brain.

The real challenge for me, I suppose, is that I have little hesitation about defending my text as a solo performer – I am, however, *very* hesitant about asking an ensemble to do the same thing. It’s a community of people who signed up to do a fun, silly comedy by a comic who is, for whatever reason, a flavor of the month – it’s absurd for me to ask them to then defend that text against the threat of physical violence.

I suppose that, at the end of the day, this whole line of thought is academic – nothing more than ink on paper. But then, words are important. Names mean something. And if Maximum Verbosity is about anything, it’s about that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

huh. the reason why i like the maximum verbosity sells out skit is because of the irony overlapped with irony... first you protest all attempts to sell out, then you rant about selling out, then you actually sell out, all with the attitude of poking fun at yourself topped with a thin layer of "help get me out of this play because i don't know what the fuck i'm doing..." oh yeah. it's much fun. it's the same kind of stuff the rest of the play is made of, only instead of being a blunt, mashing weapon, it's this tiny little knife which you turn over and use the handle as a blunt, mashing weapon... yay for obscure analogies that probably don't make any sense to anyone except me!!! :D

-crysta (again)
p.s. i think i'm having too much fun making comments...