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Episode Summary

Comedy has always been about pointing out the absurd and unjust things in life, but lately, a lot of veteran comedians have taken to complaining about their business more than anything else. Long-time standup comics like Dave Chapelle and Ricky Gervais are oftentimes at war with their own audiences, accusing them of being intolerant of dissent and killing off comedy.

Is there anything at all to that critique? Or is it mostly about older comedians not wanting to update their material? In this episode, I’m joined by Lisa Curry, she’s a standup comedian who’s performed in 13 different countries, written on Comedy Central’s Jiff Jeffries Show, and she’s the host of “Long Story Long,” a weekly show on SiriusXM. You can also find her on Instagram and Twitter.

The video of our December 21, 2022 conversation is below. The full transcript of the audio follows. Please register for the Flux Patreon to read the entirety. Thank you for your support!


Video


Transcript

MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: Welcome to Theory of Change, Lisa.

LISA CURRY: Hey, thanks for having me.

SHEFFIELD: All right, well, so. So you, you, how, first, I guess let’s just talk briefly. So how long have you been in the comedy business, quote unquote?

CURRY: I would say 14 years, because I, I started Second City. I started improv in 2008, and I’ve been doing standup for like, 11 years. And it is my full-time job. I tour around do you know, I write for TV when I, whenever I get a TV writing job.

And other than that my entire living comes from standup.

SHEFFIELD: Okay, cool. All right, well, so, and I guess this whole– it’s, it’s, it’s really weird because I mean I used to work in a very strange form of right wing comedy. We’ll have to talk about that another time.

But like, the thing about comedians is that comedy’s always about complaining about stuff, but on the other hand, usually it’s not complaining about your own business. Like when do you think this all really got started as a common complaint? A public thing that they were whining at the audience?

CURRY: I don’t know. I don’t really remember because I know at first I just tried to ignore it. And I was like, oh, this is so stupid. And I do still think it is so stupid, and maybe even more so now that it continues to go on. Here’s the thing, being a woman in comedy, I have heard, I don’t know how many times, countless times: ‘Well, I don’t think women are funny,’ or ‘I don’t think women are funny, but you’re funny,’ which is also not a compliment, guys. If you’re going to a comedy show and you see a female comedian, don’t then go up to her afterwards and tell her all the female comics you don’t like, and that you actually like her.

It’s not a compliment. A lot of us are friends, it’s rude. And I’ve forever heard nonsense criticisms. And I’ve had people that don’t like my material. Matter of fact, my entire family doesn’t like my material. And you know what? I don’t care. That’s what I cannot understand is the number of grown men in comedy that are crying about people not liking their comedy, and then they have the nerve to say, well, they’re too sensitive.

I’m like, well, you are the one that’s sensitive. People don’t like my comedy. I don’t care. I keep it moving. I’m still working. I’m still writing jokes that I like to write. I don’t pay them any attention. And so it’s, it’s so silly to me to hear people complain that people don’t like what they have to say, and then accuse those people of being too sensitive.

Who cares? You’re a millionaire. Just do your fucking comedy and keep it moving.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And I think, if you listen to Chappelle or you listen to Gervais or some of these other, kind of 50 something plus comedians, they will claim that this is all, they seem to think that it’s all about, trans people.

But I don’t think that’s right. I think it’s more that people are just tired of the same joke. I mean, and especially like a lot of these guys, they have been telling the same damn jokes for 20 years, like Adam Carrolla.

CURRY: Yeah. There’s also this thing of, yeah, people don’t like when you just attack trans people. Look, and I’m somebody that I like mean jokes. I like really fucked up jokes, but also write a joke, first of all.

And secondly, a lot of what happens with these older comics is they’re in their fifties or whatever and they’ve stopped watching other comics, so they don’t realize all the quote unquote jokes they’re making are being said at open mics.

It’s like, you have to be better than that. I’m sorry. If you’re 20, 30 years into comedy, you need to be better than a random open miker.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and it’s not just that, it’s also that a lot of, I feel like a lot of comics they got by for a long time with sort of stereotype jokes.

CURRY: Mm-hmm.

SHEFFIELD: Which are really not that more creative than ‘what’s the deal with airline food?’

CURRY: Mm-hmm.

SHEFFIELD: From my standpoint. Because again, while people might say: ‘Oh, well, I’m not meaning everyone, I’m just making generalizations and it’s funny.’

It’s like, well, how is that funny to make the same generalization, even if it’s not mean-spirited? Do we need to hear it for the 20th or 30th time?

CURRY: Yeah. It’s just tired.

SHEFFIELD: It’s not fresh. It’s not new.

CURRY: And there are people doing jokes like that still and making, I guess, a living. But they’re just like people that are just kind of dying out on the road, nobody knows of them. And if you look up these, there’s some of, like the lower level comedy clubs, if you look up their lineups, it’s like, who are these guys?

And then you see them and you’re like, oh, this is really bad. But there’s still pockets of the country that, that they find that really entertaining and God bless, let them, let them have it.

SHEFFIELD: Mm-hmm.

CURRY: I guess I just, it’s just not for me. I think– Kat Williams did this interview and he’s fantastic, and he, he did an interview not too long ago where he spoke on it and he’s like, yeah, what’s good about comedy is there are sometimes parameters. Like, parameters make you better because it makes you work within a certain space and it challenges you.

And it’s not, it’s not hurting you to do that. It’s the notion that it’s hurting you is absolutely absurd. And also, a lot of these people are crying about free speech, which they conflate with– they don’t understand what freedom of speech actually means. It doesn’t mean freedom from backlash.

It also means we have the free market. So if somebody doesn’t like my comedy, and they stop coming to my shows, that doesn’t mean that I’m being silenced. That means that people don’t want to buy tickets for my show? Cause I don’t like what they’re doing–

SHEFFIELD: Someone thinks you suck.

CURRY: Okay?

SHEFFIELD: Yeah.

CURRY: Yeah. It’s like, I think Spirit Airlines sucks. I’m not buying tickets from Spirit Airlines, and that doesn’t mean I am infringing on their rights to run a business, it’s like that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.

We are running a business. If you’re a comedian, you’re a business, you’re, you’re a performer, you are the product, you are selling your product.

And if people don’t want to buy your product, I don’t know, update it, refurbish it or, or go away.

You know what I mean? We don’t have rotary dial phones anymore because we updated. So why wouldn’t you update it?

SHEFFIELD: Were they canceled? It was canceled.

CURRY: They were canceled.

SHEFFIELD: For the rotary phones. .

CURRY: Yeah. And if you look in the Constitution, there is something that says that we need to use rotary phones. And we are all just, I can’t believe Congress is ignoring this. So we, we should take it to court.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, I guess so. The other thing also though, I think, is that to some extent comedy, especially as it sort of grew as an industry, because it, it never was real an industry until like the seventies basically.

CURRY: Um mm-hmm.

SHEFFIELD: Like that didn’t exist as a commercial for profit thing.

CURRY: Yeah. Not stand up as much, yeah.

SHEFFIELD: But it was, there are two things that are interesting about it is that in the seventies up until like, maybe the early two thousands, the political issues that existed, they were kind of, they kind of had a religious undertone. In other words, at that time in the seventies, Lenny Bruce and all those guys and

CURRY: Mm-hmm.

SHEFFIELD: The controversies that existed were kind of about can you say bad words on tv. Mm-hmm. , can you say the f word in public? Or

CURRY: even, yeah, just even in a, in a bar. I mean, Lenny Bruce was getting arrested–

SHEFFIELD: Yeah.

CURRY: –for saying curse words just in front of people, which it’s like that he was fighting for people’s freedom of speech.

We’re not anymore. You can say whatever. You can say any kind of insane shit you want whenever. If people don’t like it, they’re not infringing on your rights. And these are people who think of themselves and sell themselves as the biggest brained people in the industry.

And it’s like, you’re, you, you are either knowingly misleading people or you are stupid as hell. That’s, those are the options. There’s no in between.

SHEFFIELD: Well, okay, so, but what do you mean when you say they’ve sold themselves as the biggest brain? What do you mean by that?

CURRY: I mean the– a lot of times some, when someone is a contrarian or when somebody is saying, simply saying rude shit or stupid shit, there’s like this thing, this phenomenon that’s happened now with the internet now that everyone has a public voice. Everyone can hold court in the public square essentially on Twitter or whatever service. There’s now this thing where when somebody says something wild, they present it as though, oh, I’m saying this because this is something no one else has thought of because I’m just so smart.

And it’s like, or no one else is saying it because it’s dumb and it doesn’t make sense. People will say the most offensive things and then they’re like, ‘I’m just saying the thing everyone else is thinking.’

And I’m like, no, we’re not all that stupid. We’re not all thinking that. We’re thinking of better things actually.

SHEFFIELD: Mm. Yeah. I think there is, that’s definitely a lot to it. And the other thing also though is that I think a lot of comics, they’re used to criticizing other people

CURRY: Mm-hmm.

SHEFFIELD: But they’re not used to being criticized themselves because that’s different from music or art. I mean for hundreds of years, there have been art critics and music critics.

CURRY: Mm-hmm.

SHEFFIELD: People who will go to a concert and be like: ‘Well you know what? This thing sucked. And the musicians were terrible and the composition was trash.’ And whatever.

Like people have trashed performing arts outside of comedy for hundreds of years. People are used to it. Like if you’re a musician, everyone has been used to this idea that there will be people who think your shit is horrible.

CURRY: Mm-hmm. And well, I think the difference is like people, I think comics are used to, up until Twitter and everything, comics are used to all of the criticism remaining in the room.

And you don’t have people following you home and telling you that you’re an asshole. Where now you open up your phone, and it’s like, oh, everyone thinks I’m an asshole, wow!

(Laughs)

CURRY: And there’s, there is also this thing I will, I will give people this. There’s also this thing where like, if somebody starts screaming, oh, I don’t like this person because they said this and this, there are a lot of people that will glom onto that and say, yeah, that’s right. I don’t like them either. And I never did.

And it’s like, did you think of them before this or did you want to be part of this conversation? And there’s definitely some people, I have some notes for them, but I’m not thinking of everyone all the time. I don’t care.

Like, I just don’t care.

SHEFFIELD: Mm-hmm.

CURRY: So, so much of this, if it doesn’t affect me personally, I’m like, well I can’t waste my time obsessing over this, and other people’s careers and what they’re doing or thinking.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Also is there something to the idea that, to the extent that there was criticism before Twitter and whatnot, it was, as you said, it was people in the room. It was, it was the heckler.

CURRY: Mm-hmm.

SHEFFIELD: And like for a comic, that type of criticism, that is bad faith criticism. Some drunken shithead standing up, oh, yeah, you’re a sh you’re a dumbass. Get off the stage. And they’re not used to this idea that, well, no, actually we’re thinking about your ideas and they suck.

CURRY: Yeah. . Yeah. Or like, we just don’t like this. And we don’t want to see it. And wait, what do you mean? In what, in what way?

SHEFFIELD: Well, I mean, in other words that, so I mean, if you do stand up, anyone who’s done standup will have gotten heckled, like,

CURRY: Oh yeah, absolutely.

SHEFFIELD: Like you have to understand how to handle it. Right? I mean,

CURRY: I only have perfect sets, so I don’t understand what that feels like.

SHEFFIELD: Sure. But no, what I’m saying though is like, when you’re dealing with the heckler, it’s like, it’s bad faith.

Everyone knows it’s in bad faith, including the person doing it, right?

CURRY: Mm-hmm.

SHEFFIELD: And so that’s the only kind of criticism that a lot of comics, especially older ones are used to, is just, some drunken moron screaming at them.

CURRY: Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: And they, it’s hard for them to understand that no, these are people who are not people high out of their mind just trying to be a jerk. Like, these are people actually who may have a point.

CURRY: Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: And I mean, so that’s what I’m saying in, in other words, they got the habit of just saying, oh, anyone who criticizes me is a asshole.

CURRY: Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: Do you think there’s anything to that?

CURRY: I mean, look, there are people that criticize you, they are assholes. I mean, I’ve definitely had some weird shit go down in shows. But also, I have people that just straight up don’t like my jokes and I don’t care. I’m doing just fine without you. I can’t imagine spending five minutes of my time caring. If somebody doesn’t want to come to my show, because they don’t– if somebody were to write me an email and personally say, I don’t like your jokes. You’re an asshole, you’re a hack, whatever. I’d be like, okay, have a great day. Maybe I just have a thicker skin than these guys?

And I think that there was also like this really unfortunate resurgence in like, comedians are being attacked and like that, that narrative after Dave Chappelle was attacked at the Hollywood Bowl, which was fucked up, that was not okay. That was awful. And I’m sure it was scary for everyone involved and everyone around and on the periphery, especially like, everyone’s on , at least I, at least I’m on edge when shit goes down because I’m like, oh, there could also be a shooting.

So, but there was this like resurgence of that conversation in that people were saying like, oh, and now comedians are being attacked for what they’re saying.

And I’m like, I don’t think he was attacked for what he was saying. It was a, it was a mentally unstable person who maybe, maybe something Dave said triggered it, but it’s not, it wasn’t a normal person that was like, I have to, I have to fix this.

And, and also, and also, he’s not the first, second, or even 100th comedian to be attacked on stage. The comedians have been attacked on stage since there have been comedians on stage. It’s not anyone, and it hasn’t always been publicized. It hasn’t always been filmed. I mean, there was this woman, Ariel Elias, who recently, and she’s very funny.

She was on stage and she happened to be filming and this guy chucked a beer at her. Like, meaning to hit her. And then she made a joke about it and she picked it up and she chugged the beer. And anyway, she posted the clip online and it went viral when that happened.

She’s attacked in the middle of nowhere, there’s no security, no one comes to help her. She’s a young woman, attacked by a fully grown man in his forties or fifties or whatever, none the people that were crying this whole time about. And it went very public. Like she, it was very viral. She ended up performing on Jimmy Kimmel after that. Like she got all these big opportunities.

Her, her followers shot through the roof, and great, good for her. But all these people that were like, but everyone’s getting attacked on stage now, none of them had anything to say about it. None of them, because she wasn’t, it’s like she was just doing her set and she’s a woman and she’s not famous.

She wasn’t in the midst of saying something offensive and it’s– I have so many, I have so many– I haven’t been attacked on stage, but I have so many friends that have been like, somebody will just rush the stage and slap them or push them down or whatever. And it’s, nobody’s crying about it.

It’s something that happened and it sucks, but it’s not like now we’re in danger because we’re truth tellers. It’s just so corny. I can’t take it.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, now the whole political dimension to all this, because

CURRY: Mm-hmm.

SHEFFIELD: I mean, standup has always had a political component certainly.

CURRY: Mm-hmm.

SHEFFIELD: Lenny Bruce, as I mentioned earlier, I mean, George Carlin obviously big–

CURRY: Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: Political guy, certainly. So like–

CURRY: Elaine Boosler.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. I mean politics has always been a thing that was there in the mix. But do you think that comedy has become more politicized?

I mean, to some degree I think you could say that given that like, you look at all these tv comedy shows that were launched on the air, I mean all these, Daily Show imitators basically. And they’re all very political and, even the broadcast network ones have gotten more political.

CURRY: Mm-hmm.

SHEFFIELD: I mean, do you think that that’s maybe has made people more attuned to some of this stuff or, I don’t know, what’s your take?

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