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Comedians And Truth - Op-Ed Piece


 

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Comedians And Truth - Op-Ed Piece


As you go through your life, you will be presented with many things that many of us come across as well. Despite the masses’ opinion that we are very different in looks and wealth, there are universal things we all want; whether we wish to admit this to each other is another matter altogether. One of these areas you will hear about is truth. Now, what exactly is truth? I feel like I should be a teacher right now, writing on the board and asking the students this question.


“Okay, kids, now do any of you know what truth is?” Either no one answers, leaving me questioning my life decision, or someone gives a stupid answer, making me question my teaching ability. Is it really that hard to teach a bunch of kids some philosophical questions that can enhance their own awareness of the world? Yes. Yes, it is.

Like many ideas, such as love, or hate, you can’t touch truth physically. It’s a concept and not a place on the map you can go to or a product that you can buy online. You can’t hold the truth in your hand. You can’t punch love. You can’t grip hate. They are ideas that are bigger than any single act or item.


The ramifications behind truth are more than other ideas. If there is a universal truth, then that can lead to other conclusions we make of the world. That would mean there is right and wrong. That there are some things that we are doing in this world that are right and wrong. That means large portions of our population could live lives either in favor of truth or against it.


And if there is no truth, we then need to take a good long look at ourselves in the mirror to determine which direction to go forward. If there is no truth, we have to base our opinions on our own reasoning and numbers, and experience, which takes more time than some of us may care to take. Each decision is to be carefully chosen since we have nothing but ourselves to go off of.


The question of truth is not a simple one. Rely it on us; the modern technology advanced literate to rely on performers to be the ones to go looking for it.


Attainment of truth, or lack thereof, requires trust on the person’s end. Whether you think that there is truth in our world, you have to trust that your opinion on this is correct. But that isn’t good for our world since there is a premium on trust today. The price on truth makes the gas prices look normal.


You don’t trust the media. They lie with their biases. You don’t trust the government. They lie about their policies. You don’t trust yourself. You don’t know what is real. You don’t trust big businesses. They are after more than they claim. After a while, we have to start asking ourselves if perhaps we are being paranoid of the world around us; not trusting any in it can only lead us further from any truth we seek, creating more paranoia. Reasonable skepticism is okay for a society to have, but once that very society questions everything about itself, the skepticism is an obstacle to overcome as much as any question originally posed by that society.

In a world where trust is getting ripped apart faster than presents at Christmas, there is a field that thrives on the audience, viewing them as a sort of truth-seeker, a sage of our world, a voice of reason in all the confusion. We think they are intelligent for exposing the media’s lies, the government corruption, and much of the same world we don’t trust. We like them because they speak of those we hate.


Comedians: the fast-talking, microphone holding, the witty amateur philosopher is popular because they talk of truths, according to their subjective view of the world.


Let’s take a step back, though, and get a quick history lesson on comedy. How did we even get here? Why is it normal for a popular comedian, who has a level of education that is less than his audience, to stand on stage, with a microphone in his head, dressed like you and me talking of the world? There is no singing, or dancing, or other forms of entertainment here. The guy is up there talking no different than you or me.


The first modern comedian is Lenny Bruce. He used this very basic approach to public entertainment. An approach that I am sure his predecessors would disapprove of. Many know the popular ones are George Carlin and Richard Pryor for their highly entertaining and often controversial takes on the world. Today, people speak of comedians like Dave Chappelle in the same regard. All of these guys are comedians, not entertainers. You won’t find any videos of them being talented other than their jokes. Believe it or not, there were people before them who put their total performance ahead of their jokes. We call those people Vaudeville performers, or for those of you who don’t know what that means, they are kind of like circus performers mixed with Broadway stars; it is why so many old-time movies have people dancing and doing slap-stick humor as if they were in the circus. Yeah, because they were from the circus.


Around the 1970s in America, the disco clubs emptied because there was no more disco and they needed people to fill them. Enter the modern comedian with his punchlines and microphone. Ever since then, the act of telling a joke has been the act of the comedian. You don’t find any who will go out and sing as part of their act. He won’t do a dance number in between telling a few jokes. That is not why he is there, and many of us are accepting of this change because the individuals are very funny, a trait not found in many.


This leads to an interesting point, in my opinion. The Vaudeville performers couldn’t put much seriousness in their jokes because they were getting a pie to the face right after the joke, and then they had to sing a song. The modern comedian doesn’t do that. It seems like at a certain point in the performance; the performer/comedian has to decide on asking questions or entertaining the crowd. So both eras, the Vaudeville performer and the modern comedian had very different takes. Neither of which are necessarily wrong.

We all hate philosophy and critical thinking, viewing them as outdated topics that the Greeks did back in the day, not worthy of the time for an average modern always-on-the-move individual. Who has time to think of philosophy? Who really cares about thinking anyway? (Watch out about that last one, cause I am sure that some of these companies will pitch that very idea to you. “Don’t want to think? Too busy to bother with your own original thoughts? Let us do it for you! Who has time to think anyway!”) How many of us are going home and learning more about political philosophy? You mean that you aren’t raising the question of; respect vs. popularity? Weird, I thought everyone did that after we all pondered if we live in the Matrix or not. Despite our reliance on these subjects as proof of our superior intelligence over other primates, none of us want to discuss these sophisticated topics in our spare time. We’d rather spend those hours working out or watching Netflix, basically doing anything that doesn’t stimulate our brain cells. Yet we are more than happy to watch a complete stranger whose education and knowledge of those fields is questionable go on a long rant using those very skills because they make us chuckle a few times.


The modern comedian wants us to view them as an intellectual, a scholar of the world, yet not be subject to criticism or standards of an intellectual. They want to talk of very serious issues, like politics or religion or major social issues, but they don’t want to actively participate in them, alleviating themselves of any true responsibilities. Let’s be honest; if these comedians really wanted to change any of those fields, they would join them. If you don’t like politics, run for office. No one is stopping you. If you are upset with the church, become a priest or pastor. They won’t turn you away. If you have a take on a major issue, start an organization for it. A few jokes on stage aren’t really going to change anything if that is what the comedian is actually after. It is like that joke on Seinfeld when even the title character admits the pointlessness of comedy compared to other fields. Keith Hernandez, a professional baseball player, was a part of the most important game of the year, that being the 1986 World Series between the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox, while Jerry Seinfeld, a standup comedian, was in a nightclub making some wisecracks. It’s funny, but there is a level of truth to that. Let’s be clear here: we have a bunch of men talk of war, who never fought in a battle, speak of government, yet never hold a position. They talk of God, but they don’t go to church. As much as I like comedians, and don’t get me wrong, I love comedy; there is a certain amount of hypocrisy in their very careers. They are very much like these businessmen who wish to have the power of a politician yet, not the restriction of government a democratically elected politician has. They want to have a say in our way, form public opinion, yet have no way to kick them out of their position. They talk of democracy and freedom while living like kings. They can’t have it both ways. You get why the medieval kings would get rid of the jester after he didn’t make him laugh because the jester has no function outside of the joke. He isn’t a knight at the round table or a crusader on the front lines. Disposing of him is not that big of a deal in terms of the larger kingdom. Sorry to all those funny people out there, but you just aren’t that important compared to the real world.


If a comedian wants us as an audience to take them seriously, then they have to get rid of their humor and let their words speak for themselves. Cut the funny accent. Stop with the running around on stage. For the love of God, put down the guitar and quit singing. In a word: stop being a comedian.


Comedians don’t want to do this, though, and for a good reason. There is no money in philosophy. Can you even name one rich living philosopher? How about just a living one? You can make a good living telling jokes and wisecracks, much more than you can ever be talking seriously on subjects. So the modern comedian is left being two people, like Jekyll and Hyde, a smart analytical person capable of dissecting the problems of our modern world through an objective lens, and then a quirky, zany performer willing to say what is needed to entertain the crowd.

The problem with this is pretty obvious: What’s the joke, and what’s the truth? What am I supposed to laugh at exactly? In a world where the lines between good and evil are blurry, the comedian using this approach is making it harder for the audience to tell the difference.


I’m all for truth in jest and disguising harsh truths to tell them to the audience without controversy, but it gets to a point where you gotta come right out and say the damn truth and not expect a laugh or witty remark from your audience. I like to think of the moment in the book of Mark when Jesus asked his followers the question everyone was thinking, “Who do you say that I am?” That is a serious question. He is not a performer or magician; then, he is genuinely asking his followers what they make of the situation before them. Important moments aren’t supposed to be funny. Sure, you can view a minor detail that is funny because there are many ironic things in life that an observational individual could describe, but as a whole, the moment is not funny. Going back to the Mark example, can you say a few funny things about the ordeal? Yeah, but the moment, the larger story, what is actually happening, is not funny and isn’t supposed to be. If you are joking after hearing it, you are kind of missing the point.


When you joke about everything, you not only lose sight of the truth, you present it as if there is none. Go through our history, and you will begin to see that we don’t joke about it for a reason. It’s our past which means a lot to us. Everyone is up for a laugh every once in a while, but no one wants punchlines to be what we are remembered for. All the wars we fought, all the progress made, all the time spent, and we don’t want to chuckle from it as if we are Peter Griffin, “Ha, That’s funny.”


This strange combination of truth and comedy in our pop culture leads us to a few questions.


First off, why is that even a thing? Since when does the truth of the world have anything to do with telling a punch line? Did I miss something? Just because someone is funny doesn’t mean he is the guy you should be asking for wise advice. Aren’t there people whose very job it is to do just that? We may be confusing a comedian’s attempt at pointing out our flaws with the search for truth.


Secondly, who does the comedian think they are? To what authority do they have to input any sort of amateurish reasoning on our own society? As I said, they want us to sit there and take it. You even see comedians complaining that they have shows where the audience talks back when they say a joke. So when the comedian talks about the media feeding you information from a biased standpoint, you are supposed to stand there and be quiet; am I the only one that sees the irony there? When the TV is biased, the comedian is right for pointing it out, but when the comedian is biased, you are wrong for pointing it out. It seems to me that there is a larger joke being played on all of us there.


What can appear to be seeking truth can only be the comedian searching for the humor in the situation. We shouldn’t think that is the same. I mean, there is a lot of funny things in the world, but that doesn’t make you wiser for knowing them. I’d go as far as to say that the comedian can interfere with a person’s search for truth. By mocking multiple viewpoints, the comedian can easily sway the audience from finding the meaning in the search. Nothing matters, so why ask the question?


Truth is not a subject matter that comedians should concern themselves with, yet, time and time again, I will hear people talk of a comedian as being smart for being honest, and there are many who do see them as beacons of truths and knowledgeable spokesman for our time.


The ironic part of all of this is that a comedian actively seeking truth can only do so by not being the one thing they are; a comedian. Cause the truth isn’t funny, no matter how much they try to tell you otherwise.

 

 

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Greg Luti is an editor and blogger on pensandwords.com. His favorite writers are Robert Frost and Charles Bukowski. He enjoys reading up on history, watching comedies, and playing video games, when he is not writing down a few notes for his next piece. He started this blog out of his love for literature and hopes that the reader shares that same passion.

 

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