A Call To Mics

As a somewhat reluctant comedian, but enthusiastic filmmaker, I know that if I am to pursue either in any artistically successful way, freedom of expression is essential.

I first heard the word “woke” two years after I graduated film school. I was a Second City student in Los Angeles. It was 2017. Trump was in and the jokes were all the same. I only did a few open mic stand up gigs in LA. Two at a bagel shop in the Valley on a Thursday night. And then I did the Laugh Factory on Sunset. I lined up for hours on my 29th birthday to get my name down to perform to the people I was lining up with, a week later.

Back in Australia, in the glorious month of February 2020, my mate handed me the mic again. Together, we ran twenty minute shows for ten bucks in a caravan at the Adelaide Fringe. At first I just sold tickets, until I started doing my own twenty-minute show on weekends. We took it in turns to sell tickets or perform, which was a choice between trying to make people laugh or trying to make people laugh.

I was shaken by the bad gigs, the silence. I got so depressed by them my mate said if it affected me that much, maybe I shouldn’t be doing it. But I knew I could be just as debilitated by a long, hot day as a bad gig. Life affected me that much. And I still had to do life. Avoiding stand up had not improved it, so I got braver and better at comedy. We ending up killing the Fringe. I started to kill some of my gigs, too. I brought the house down one night. Literally, when all the fat punters sat at the back of the caravan.

I was planning to go back to Edinburgh when Corona cracked the shits. On the last Friday of the Adelaide Fringe 2020, the crowds were eerily thin. Melbourne was suddenly going into a lockdown, the Comedy Festival cancelled. The artist bar filled up.

The Adelaide Fringe occurred before the lockdowns of March 2020, and it went ahead in again in 2021. We’re lucky. Some cities around the world will lose their Arts/Fringe/Comedy festivals for two years in a row. They’re important for society. Enough people want to hear dark, unwoke jokes (as well as stupid dad jokes) for me to get by as a live comic. Just. Might not get me on the telly, but standing up and saying whatever you want is a good job, worth doing and worth defending.

I did a disabled bit recently and a loud Karen said “really?” as she looked pointedly at a quadriplegic man, sitting in the audience. Yeah, I’d seen him and I’d decided to go ahead with the drool line. Because it’s funny. And because he’s a person, too. Maybe even one with a sense of humour.

I wish I’d responded, “he’d laugh if he could!” but I was thrown by the heckle. It’s funny that my jokes are often considered insensitive as I am an overly sensitive person. Stand up scared me enough to make me stop for years and years. Now I’m back and there are woke cunts in the audience!?! I don’t love it enough to get woke. I have to tell a joke the way that makes it funny. Enough for me to justify demanding people’s time and attention for it. Contrary to Karen, another punter stopped me after that same gig and told me she had loved my set. She also told me she had wanted to laugh but she was scared of “the millennials” next to her. We laughed.

I see a lot of battle weary comics out there. Not just from lockdowns, but from quiet audiences. From punters self-censoring their own laughter!

Wokeism and being stuck in Australia nearly broke my fighting spirit recently. I was ready to throw in the towel but the unborn child in my belly helped change my mind. Thanks, baby. I’ve decided I need to do my bit. I don’t want my kid to grow up in a world where we have lost our sense of irony. Humour is important. Without comedy – free comedy where no subject, word or point of view is out of bounds – our collective IQs and levels of tolerance are surely going to suffer. This in turn affects the film industry.

This war might only be won one show at a time.

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