Monthly Archives: April 2010

Haterism: More Thoughts

It can’t be a coincidence that the day after I went to see Dane Cook do comedy I awake up to a sudden flurry of interest in the “Haterism” article I never had time to finish my thoughts on almost a year ago. My original piece on haterism was mentioned in a Huffington Post article here and on an impressively researched and written blog I just discovered called Just Above Sunset here. The universe seems to be conspiring to encourage me to expand my thoughts on Haterism.

Dane Cook happens to be the perfect case study. Dane Cook is a great comic, but that’s not a popular opinion these days. It’s an opinion that would land you out of favor pretty quickly if you ever let it slip to the comedy-rati that you laughed at one of his bits. Dane Cook is probably the most widely detested comic on the scene today. Why? Because he is very good at what he does. And he’s popular (at least he was). And other comics can’t stand that.

Dane Cook is one of the biggest stars to make it out of the insular world of “comedy” (the kind practiced in small clubs in New York and L.A.) and into the larger world of mass pop culture Comedy. Probably the biggest to cross over since Chris Rock.

Wherever there is success there will be some extent of jealousy and hate, but there are certain factors that can amplify that hate and make some success stories even bigger targets. The major factor in the haterism equation is the community of the achiever in question.

In a healthy community the high achievers are praised, congratulated, and allowed to continue. In an unhealthy community the high achievers are targeted, ridiculed, and dragged down by their connection to that community. There is a reason all the rappers, dealers and hustlers that rise out of the ghetto to any kind of success not only move away but, if they last long enough, also distance themselves from their relationships to that community. Ghetto communities are ones where haterism is deeply entrenched.

So too, sadly, seems to be the world of comedy. You’ve heard the stereotype that underneath all that joking comedians are deeply bitter angry people, and it is true to an extent (see David Letterman). They have not been quick to cheer the mainstream success of stars who crossed over like Dane Cook or Chris Rock or Jay Leno (a lot of comedy community hate flowed his way during the NBC fiasco this winter). A star like Dane Cook is to the comedy community what 50 Cent was to Southside Queens. Both have success. And both have plenty of haters.

So what do the ghetto and comedy communities have in common with the current Republican party?

A lot. At least psychologically speaking. The hater effect is alive and well in the pundits who would rather tear down Obama than watch him steer this country right, in the politicians who stubbornly obstruct rather than engaging in productive dialogue on the issues, and in an entire class of Americans who don’t seem to understand that their well-being is directly tied to the success of Obama’s domestic agenda and would rather see a political victory by their party than an increase in their own quality of life.

As a country we need to stop the hate. We need to pull together and realize that the tension produced by politics is natural, but we should all agree on the end goal being a better America to live in and turn over to our children. That means taking care of the people that live here with basic things like healthcare that every person can access. And protecting civil liberties so that every Hispanic person in Arizona doesn’t have to live in fear and carry papers with them everywhere they go. That means putting aside some of the political struggles that have come to define this excessively partisan era in American politics and focus on the outcomes we want. Republicans and Democrats aren’t that far apart: we all want to use the resources of this country to make it a strong country and a great place to live. That includes fixing a badly broken healthcare system. And fixing a badly broken immigration system. Let’s stop looking at the differences and start coming together to fix the problems that both sides know we have.

Haterism, after all, is based in fear. And fear is the enemy of progress. So let’s quit the hate, all of us, and get on with fixing what’s broken.

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Conan, Comedy, and Entertainment

It’s been three months now since the ugly divorce of NBC and Conan O’Brien and almost as long since the last Culture Wharf update. The Culture Wharf has not gone away, we’ve just been busy saving the world with socially astute observation elsewhere.

So after this hiatus for both The Wharf and Conan, CoCo is finally beginning to re-emerge into the public consciousness with his live comedy tour. It’s a smart move for Conan to keep his buzz up this summer while he’s shopping himself for a show (which he almost certainly will get on one network or another) in September.

But the re-appearance of Conan got me thinking about the real crux of NBC’s Conan fiasco: the difference between comedian and an entertainer.

Conan is a comedian. Jay Leno is an entertainer. The real difference? An entertainer is an evolved comedian, or perhaps an evolved singer, somebody who can fill a room with the force of his or her personality. For a comedian its about jokes and humor. For an entertainer it’s all about the show. That can make some entertainers weak on comedy, but they always make up for it in showmanship. That’s what Conan couldn’t do on the Tonight Show. He’s too much of a comedian.

When the entire comedy community came out against Leno for being a sellout and an NBC shill the difference had never been more clear between comedians and entertainers. Comedians are, by nature, anti. Anti-corporate, anti-culture, anti-self. Entertainers are pro. Pro-laughter, pro-audience, pro-self in a big way.

Conan got his start as a writer, and not as a stand-up, and I think that tells the whole story. Conan was an anomaly in Late Night, a gawky non-performer thrust into a performers role. And it worked because Conan was great at comedy. He evolved the meta-comedy of being a non-performer, a goofy big-haired writer that some idiots put on television! It was Late Night for people who prize pure comedy over showmanship, weird off-beat comedy for insomniacs, writers, and intellectuals. As nervously self-aware, deconstructed, and self-deprecating as the people that watched. It was a likeable schtick, but someone other than me should have realized it could only ever play at 12:30. The Tonight Show, always and forever, will be a seat reserved for a confident performer. An entertainer like Jay Leno. Love him or hate him, Leno knows how to put on a show that his audience will want to watch.

So it’s good to see Conan taking back to the comedy clubs. TV changes comedy, TV entertainer-izes comedy. And the more popular the show and timeslot the more it has to be done. That’s why Conan’s comedy could work at 12:30. And I hope, for comedy’s sake, that he lands not at 11:00 on Fox where he would be as neutered as he was on The Tonight Show. Conan belongs somewhere like FX at midnight when nobody will be expected to watch. Only in a situation of similarly low expectations will he be able to do his thing, his way, and build a real audience and a real space for his comedy on T.V.

And in the mean time I hope all the bitter Conan fans out there will stop crying (see previous post entitled “Fragile Gen-X Syndrome”) and realize that this was the best thing to ever happen to him.

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