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Funny business a funny business

Perhaps you’ve read my bio and noted I claim to have performed stand-up comedy in “another lifetime.” OK, the other lifetime reference is figurative if you hadn’t already guessed. No allegations of being a comic as someone who has passed away from this mortal plane.

Ironically, comedy has many references to death. “You should have seen me, I killed!” “Best 20 minutes of my career! I slayed that audience!” Then the all-too-common flip side of that coin, “Please tell me you weren’t in last night’s audience — they were dead. Me? I died, too! Someone should have put a gun to my head and pulled the trigger — I was that bad.”

Few other professionals would dare speak this way for fear of being misunderstood. If a neurosurgeon came home and her husband asked how things went in the operating room today and she said flatly, “I killed,” she’d have some ’splainin’ to do. Pilots, same thing. Police officers, doubly true. You get the point.

It’s important to provide some context, and to keep it real. I “performed” comedy. Like someone who spits paint through a straw onto canvas shouldn’t call themselves an “artist,” I would never claim to be a “comic.” Although several times I was paid a modest stipend, it was obvious early on that I would never be successful as a performer and did it more or less as a hobby.

As a comic wannabe, I always had a full-time job in broadcasting and comedy was an avocation at most. However, I took each of about 100 performances very seriously. Never once did I go on stage without a pat act, a prescripted routine with jokes. That meant thought-out setups and punchlines.

Even though my dreams of becoming a professional comedian were dashed after realizing I had another path to follow, I never lost my appreciation for — and admiration of — people who made me laugh. Yet comedy as a profession, has taken an entirely different tack than what I’d imagined for myself. And at this point in my life, I know beyond any doubt I was blessed that things turned out as they have.

This is not the classic “The Fox and the Grapes” tale of being unable to reach the fruits of my imagination and declaring they were sour after all. It’s a matter of great relief that I escaped being one of the tortured souls who depended on making folks laugh for a living in a day and time where nothing escapes the “wokester’s” lens.

Comedy, since the beginning of time, has thrived by broaching subjects too sensitive for polite company. Or revelatory of society’s underbelly, of crooked politicians or money-grubbing bosses, of norms and mores that reeked of hypocrisy.

Classic comics made fun of people’s differences: their size, weight, color, religion, lifestyle, the clothes they wore, the things they liked, the sayings they’d use. And the audiences paying good money to see the greats were honored to be singled out for ridicule. To have Don Rickles call you out as a “hockey puck” was a high honor. For the youngsters, Dave Chappelle making fun of who and what you are would cause you to want that going viral on the web.

My how things have changed. Without over-exaggeration, I can say with confidence that the vast majority of things considered funny and fair game for comedians are completely off limits. Nowadays, calling someone a “hockey puck” would likely launch litigation, cancellation, job loss and to be thoroughly ostracized by one’s societal betters.

Many will perform historic postmortems of what killed comedy as we knew it growing up and coming of age. They will have the benefit of seeing what it was that caused us to believe even the mere possibility of causing offense — to anyone — as a reason to self-censor and regulate.

Thankfully, there are several positive takeaways. One, people have always found things funny that they did before, and today they are becoming less apt to hide those things from public view. Two, slowly but surely the shackles placed on comedians are falling away. Best example: the aforementioned Dave Chappelle.

His latest Netflix “politically incorrect” show caused me to laugh until my sides ached. Watching him do what he does best was truly cathartic. It felt good to laugh; yes, at another’s expense!

The final takeaway is how thankful I am I was an utter failure at comedy. If I hadn’t packed it in when I did, who knows how much heartache I would have had to endure. Now, I am a consumer of comedy, happy to laugh at others’ material, to appreciate their creativity.

I know I am not alone in believing we are beginning to see a renaissance in comedy. And, it couldn’t come at a better time.

The opinions expressed above belong solely to the author and do not represent the views of the Boulder City Review. They have been edited solely for grammar, spelling and style, and have not been checked for accuracy of the viewpoints.

Ron Russ is a Los Angeles transplant, living in and loving Boulder City since 2020. His career in commercial broadcasting spanned more than four decades including a brief stint as the announcer for Fox’s short-lived “The Chevy Chase Show.” In another lifetime Ron performed stand-up comedy in Los Angeles. He can be reached at russbcr@outlook.com.

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