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Hating What You Love

I’ve been doing comedy for ten years. I’ve performed on over 1000 comedy shows and I’ve heard tens of thousands of jokes told onstage. I’m pushing into the outer limits of comedy jadedness. These days if I happen to hear an original take on a subject at an open mic I consider it a noteworthy event. It’s not that comics are all hacks—although hacks are definitely a solid majority—but there are only so many ideas floating around in the hive mind. We’re all working from the same source material.

One thing that still always cracks me up is watching people bomb. There’s something so real about a brand new comic bumping against the suddenly very tangible limits of his abilities. It’s even more amusing when a funny friend is bombing, someone who knows what they’re doing up there but just can’t seem to get the crowd on their side. That dawning look of panic in their eyes, the first trickle of flop sweat: hilarious. It’s a reminder that standup is a fickle business. You’re not gonna win em’ all.

At the root of this is good ol’ schadenfreude. Comedy is such a subjective art form that it’s nice to be shown now and again that you aren’t the absolute worst. Nearly every comic I know was empowered to try their first open mic after they saw someone bomb and thought, I could at least do better than that guy.

The other operating principle is “familiarity breeds contempt.” When you see your craft defiled night after night—and defile it yourself—you develop a special hatred for the thing you love, this magical, liberating art reduced to a cheap parlor trick over and over.

We revel in art’s awful outliers. Look at the millions of people who delighted in the botched Spanish fresco restoration, which ended up boosting tourism in the small town in which it resides. People love this stuff. Type in “Bad” and then add your chosen genre and you’ll probably find a Tumblr about it, from bad theatre PR pictures to bad book covers to Why I Deleted Your Band’s Promo Email.

The top tier in comedy self-loathing is the Twitter account @OpenMicComic. Whoever runs it—they remain anonymous and have only confirmed that they’re male—has a firm grip on the mic-geist. The timeline is a parade of hacky first-takes on current topics—Hodor, Harambe the Gorilla, recently deceased celebrities, gluten—as well as the perennial tired attitudes and affectations unique to the subculture. Like other genre-specific satire accounts—Guy in Your MFA and Dystopian YA Novel come to mind—it’s addictive and engrossing if you’re in the know. It’s not necessarily funny; it’s more like a delectable awfulness, an acquired distaste.

 

@OpenMicComic is the world’s largest repository for lazy jokewriting and it provides an important public service. If you’re a comic and you scroll down the timeline long enough you will definitely recognize some bit of low-hanging fruit that you’re guilty of trying to foist off on an audience at some point. That pang of recognition can be a teaching moment. Sometimes it’s worthwhile to take a step back and ask, “Do I suck?” Whether that question spurs you to make better art or convinces you to find a new hobby, it’s always reassuring to know that no matter how bad you are you’re still not as bad as that guy. Sometimes that’s all you need to keep going. 

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