Hola! Just put another video in the gallery. Me and The Sketchersons made this very special and emotional video written by Ian MacIntyre and directed by Andy Auld. This one was a lot of fun for me to do; it’s been about a year since I’ve been able to do much Batman stuff since the PB&J show ended, so it was nice to jump back on it. Give it a look!
First let me say that this isn’t particularly a response to what Daniel Tosh did. He said a brutal thing and he’s getting done in for it and I don’t feel I need to throw more feathers on him because at this point you probably can’t even see tar, and up until that story broke I thought his first name was David, and when commercials initially told me to watch a show where a smug standup comments on YouTube links I more or less said No Thank You, and I didn’t even really have that much else to do that I couldn’t spare the time. It’s not even particularly about the If and How of rape jokes being “okay” because this this this and frankly even this have the ground covered by now and say it in better ways than I probably can.
It’s about something I saw reiterated often in defense of Tosh, and something I see a lot as a person in comedy whenever something like this goes on, which I consider to be the most common instance of blatant half-stepping among comedians: The credo of “They’re just jokes, and there’s free speech, which means you aren’t allowed to be mad at me.” The waving of the flag of Free Speech while you’re speaking, and the immediate dropping it on the floor and kicking it away when somebody doesn’t like what you say. The idea that comedians all get smooched by a magic angel who says “and never shall ye be judged” and then flies away while the comedian grows a foot taller and gets a +3 boner and shouts “WEEEE!” The idea that no words should be off-limits except for “Boo.”
As somebody who was been doing comedy for a very long time (CAVEAT!: I am first and foremost a sketch comedian, with all of the premeditation and non-on-the-fly-ness that that implies, so I might not GET IT because I’m not in the TRENCHES DUDE), I have usually found that the most aggressive champions of Free Speech in comedy are willing to defend it to their very last as it applies to them as comedians, but lack much understanding of it as it applies to their audience’s right to be offended, to disagree. Which is a drag because the math of it really couldn’t be any easier: Take all of your dearly held ideals and replace “ME” with “YOU.”
If you’re a comic who wants to stake their claim by being “edgy” and “offensive” then your most likely patron saint is George Carlin; it may also be Bill Hicks or Lenny Bruce depending on how much reading you’ve skimmed. And this is in no way to undercut the importance of those comedians, who are broadly remembered for saying what they believed ought to be said. But there’s a thing: Carlin was an incredibly astute critic of the condition of the modern human, and the lowered standards we live by. Hicks didn’t just fire poison arrows wildly in the air, he aimed for hearts: the government, the marketing machine. Bruce spoke on the “tragedy plus time” formula in a “don’t let anybody tell you when it’s too soon” sort of way, and that’s perhaps one of the easiest footholds to plant yourself on when it comes to purposefully “offensive” comedy. He did also say that a comedian’s job was to make people laugh once every fifteen seconds. If you believe that your job is to make an old opera lady’s monocle fall into her glass because you said rape is super, then at the very least, hey dudes guys at the bare minimum, don’t be all “first they came for the comics” when it doesn’t work out for you. You strode purposefully into the territory of controversy looking an awful lot like you were ready to handle its effects.
So you’re a comic and you get up on stage. You tell that joke you’ve been preciously honing about Retarded Mexican Dead Baby AIDS Rape. No, not the one with the empathy for the targets of it and the disdain for the perpetrators, that dud is safely crossed out in your notebook. The one that’s like “Don’t you love committing Retarded Mexican Dead Baby AIDS Rape.” Some people, god help them, don’t even laugh, and some people even take issue with you. Maybe they tell you you suck after the show, maybe even right in the middle of your set. You feel slighted, persecuted even! You’re a comedian! They’re breaching your sacred circle! Guys, but CARLIN, though!
Well I dunno, are you where Carlin was at about the murder of abortion doctors and systemic negligence of children, when it comes to Retarded Mexican Dead Baby AIDS Rape? Did you feel like Hicks writing his “you get elected and they walk you down the hall and show you a film of JFK’s assassination from an angle you’ve never seen before” bit, were you sitting at your notebook like “finally people are going to know how I feel about Retarded Mexican Dead Baby AIDS Rape”? Did you maybe just decide to talk about it to shock and offend people? And if you did, and people got shocked and offended, AY BUDS: That’s a game you started, and that’s just a great thing to keep in mind as you’re taking your ball and going home.
(“Mexicans,” by the way, is for my money one of the most weaksauce pages in the Edgy Comedy Playbook, particularly in Canada where you’re a bit less likely to be menaced by the numerous supposed catastrophes associated with being located next to Mexico (like knowing a Mexican). I once heard it described as a target for young white comedians who want to do “funny-racism” but want to stick to somehow-less-racist Mexican jokes, as making fun of black people might be perceived as “racist-racism.”)
There is, of course, “the point.” A lot of things are defended as being in service of “the point I was making.” Personally my feeling is if you have to explain the point you were making after the fact, which is when “the point” is almost always explained, yer doin’ it wrong (especially when you’re calling that explanation an apology). But hey, if there actually is a larger point in what you’re doing and you’re really trying to crack something open about the nature of controversy or the empowerment or disempowerment of words or what have you, my devil’s advocate wishes you success in accomplishing that. And if your point is a blearily mumbled “there’s still these words, these words…” because you’re Michael Richards and the red mist is fading and you just realized you’ve been shrieking N-Bombs at an audience member and you want to act like you did it for any reason other than you suck, I hope you have a much better-than-you Seinfeld to go out there and back you up.
THE TL, DR VERSION: If for whatever reason you think it’s a good idea, yes you’re allowed to tell your joke. And people you tell it to are allowed to hate it, and by gum if you get paid money to tell them jokes they’re even allowed to say you shouldn’t, if you can believe it. And you’re allowed to whine about how they didn’t lift you up on their shoulders and declare you the second coming of Carlin and I’m allowed to not stay up late writing protest songs for you.
I’ve had a small pile of old comic books on a shelf in my apartment for a while that I’d been meaning to dig up and toss on the scanner. A while ago I was helping my mom pack up the basement of the house I grew up in because my folks were moving further into the city, and came across a few old comic books I had when I was a kid. I pulled a few out of the banged-up pile that I wanted to keep (it was a more or less random assortment; as a kid I never followed any title month to month except when Death of Superman was going on, a lot of them had been selected at random by grandparents on the way to visit, random packs of 5 bought on road trips in the US, etc). I’ve been really interested in tossing some pages from the ones I hung onto up here – some of them are really interesting and/or just truly odd and I love digging up old stuff like that (this page I posted a while ago if from one of them). I’ve also been amassing a pretty good stack of dollar-bin movies I’m going to be writing about too. I just haven’t got around to any of that stuff until now.
But on the subject of getting around to things or not, recently I was looking through the rest of that packed-up stuff and I found this from about 11 years ago:
That’s an envelope sent to me at college in 2001 from John Allison, the UK based webcomic creator behind Bobbins, Scary Go Round and now Bad Machinery. He’d held a Christmas fan art contest that year and I’d runner-upped, so he sent me a sketch. A few actually: One he’d done specifically as the prize, a page of some half-done work he’d thrown in with it and that sharpie doodle on the envelope up there. What I’d forgotten was also there was this:
He had signed it “To Jon – Do some more comics!”
Earlier that year I’d emailed John as a fan and as somebody who was feeling really frustrated with my own efforts to get my comics projects off the ground. Anyone who’s met me in the last few years maybe knows I do illustration and posters but probably wouldn’t really associate me with making comics, but the truth is for a very long period of my life that was the career I very much wanted to have. I made comics in high school, I ran the comics sections for two publications in college (I’ve been posting new, better versions of my old A Major Way strips from that period on the site, I’m itching to do more but if any geniuses out there know how I’d set up a webcomic archive on this site rather than just putting them up as blog posts that’d probably be a lot better). Before I got hired by Second City for a few minutes in college, and suddenly writing and performing comedy – the only other thing I’d wanted to do for as long – went from being a thing I did for fun to an actual possible living, I was serious enough about the comic stuff that I had made a 40-page Part 1 of a self-published series, then redrew it once I got better at drawing, and knew how to do colouring on a computer. It was actually sort of good, you might see some other incarnation of it one day though likely not as a comic of either kind.
All this instead of putting out a Part 2 of course, which leads into the point. Which is, even though my artistic focus has changed I feel like the same old rotten habits are refusing to die. At the time I was calling on John for advice, the first really big webcomics had been around for a couple years, his was one I enjoyed very much as well as things like Diesel Sweeties and Exploding Dog. Achewood was a couple months away from being born which would go on to be a favourite of mine for years, as would Dinosaur Comics when it came out a year or two later. Meanwhile, automated webcomic services suddenly made it easy for a million web-design know-nothings to put anything that was basically a rectangle up and have it published as a webcomic and at the time I was one of them (this one was NOT good and you will NOT see it later, in fact I think I remember contacting them to wipe it once I got any good because I didn’t want it to be found when I pitched future work). But at the time, I was still trying to keep it up, keep posting on a regular basis and keep coming up with ideas. And it was not working out. Granted it was crap, but I didn’t know that at the time so I can’t really cite is as an excuse. I’d written up John and explained my situation – that I’d started the project, put a few weeks in, and “put it on hiatus” – and wondered what he did to produce good work so consistently. I’d asked him this because he stuck out to me as a very consistent creator and still is; some 12 years later his comic has undergone two rebrandings and tons of changes in direction but has constantly been there and constantly improved, Bad Machinery probably being his best stuff to date. I, conversely, had (and have) more half-started projects than a… warehouse for… well, I’ll finish that analogy later (comedy trombone).
Anyway, as kindly as he could, he sorted me out: I hadn’t put anything on hiatus, I’d simply started doing something and stopped after two weeks. He told me the same thing I tell other people now when it comes to sketch writing: You just have to do it, you just have to stop hitting the snooze button and drag yourself over and sit down at the blank whatever-blank-thing you’re supposed to be making marks on and make marks on it. The thing is, the fact that I’ve been writing and performing new sketches every week for almost four years with Sunday Night Live certainly makes it seem on the surface like I don’t generally slack off. But when it comes to the projects that aren’t scheduled to go on at a set time every week, the ones where there’s no group and it’s just me and only have myself to answer to, there are a hell of a lot of things stalled in the driveway. I’ve already listed two or three things I’ve been meaning to do with this site in this post, and I have my pilots and spec scripts to finish churning out as well (this sentence has been edited for typos, as “spec scripts” racks my body with a shudder that only otherwise happens when you sit in the same chair at the same time as a ghost). And that’s not even all of it, I have “main” sketch comedy projects I feel are slowing down because I’m taking on too much on the side.
So what is it? Do you eventually have to stop trying to be all “renaissance” for a bit until you get established enough at one thing that you can afford to do the other stuff? Figure out what the smallest/easiest project is and just get that out of the way? Or trash it because it’s easy and small? I love the stuff I’m doing now and haven’t tired of it at all, but sooner than later I’m going to need to really be focusing on projects that are pretty much all my own, and if that’s the case I’m going to have to get much better at being my own J. Jonah Jameson. I haven’t even brought myself a decent picture of Spiderman in like, ever.
Hi guys! So I meant to link to this at the time, but was too busy going to all sorts of speaking engagements and stuff as a result of this article. The Grid did a writeup about the Rivas Brothers’ monthly show Rap Battlezz, which I was a part of last month and will be again next Friday, and was actually quoted in it! For rapping!
You can find the article here, if you’re so inclined. I rarely get any press that involves my actual name (I’ve been in a few listings and reviews as Batman), so this is a little odd for me, and more so since I never thought there would be an article involving me that was like “Blair then went on to rap this…” But! I’m happy about it and I’m happy about the show which is one you should definitely check out when it goes up again on June 3rd at Comedy Bar!
UNRELATED: New video going up today! Around lunchtime-ish? It’ll be uploading while I’m at work. Fingers crossed (cross them all morning please)!