At the risk of being a downer on a comedy blog, the world is kind of in disarray right now. Bad news overwhelms good. Tears and anger seem to drown out laughter. Yet, as the show biz cliche demands, the show must go on.
The Definition We Have to Make
Sometimes it appears that audiences have forgotten that they are engaged in watching art; subjective, messy, first amendment protected art. Recently I was given a note from someone in the audience 5 minutes before the show. Written in Sharpie embellished with little hearts and smiley faces on pink poster board was, "We are a church group. KEEP THE SHOW CLEAN!"
Broadway's Next Hit Musical is always a family-friendly show. You could bring your oldest, most conservative, deeply religious, easily bruised aunt or uncle and they'd find very little objectionable. However, that definition is ours to make. Sometimes we might stray into gray areas - 50 Shades of them to be exact. It's subjective. My idea of clean might not be the same as yours. That's the nature of humor. It's prismatic.
The same applies to post traumatic stress humor. When is it okay to mention Orlando in a joke? When can you play a policeman without it invoking the Dallas assassinations? When do #comiclivesmatter?
Get Past the Pain With Laughter
I used to be in an improv group that did a structure during which people died. That was the entire point of the game - to stage funny, ironic deaths. Then my dad died. Out of concern for me that game wasn't scheduled for over a month. I finally asked why and was told that people thought it would upset me. Kind, but unnecessary. I'm a grown up. Not doing that structure wasn't going to bring my dad back. Better to get past the pain with a little laughter.
I remember the first show I did post September 11th. The Disney comedy club I worked at in 2001 shut down for two nights. On September 13th I was given the honor of setting up the first show. I thought about it for a long time, not sure how I or the audience would feel. The overture played, the lights came up, I entered and asked, "Who needs a good laugh?"
I can still hear the audience cheering.
It was one of the most memorable moments of my 11-year tenure at the Comedy Warehouse. Instead of concentrating on what separated us, that audience and those actors focused on what brought us together. Perhaps if we did more of that the world would be in a better place.