I was roughly 14 when I discovered Bill Hicks. I was about 15 when I found George Carlin and Richard Pryor. I was 16 when I performed my first Stand Up Comedy set.
It’s been a little over 13 years (at the time of this post) since my very first show at the high school talent show. And since I started I’ve always wanted to talk about political, social and philosophical issues on stage. In part due to my influence of watching Bill Hicks, George Carlin & Richard Pryor and how they addressed it with poise, honesty, passion and knowledge. But also in part because it’s just a part of who I am.
In fact when I was 19 I didn’t want anything to do with Stand Up Comedy because I thought it didn’t do anything to help people. The real problem was that I didn’t know how use Comedy to talk about issues. I was still green and forming my own beliefs. Not only that but I was also still figuring out my own voice on stage. At 19, I was in what I like to call my “Dane Cook” phase. A lot of my material was about family strife, television shows and the oddities of food performed with more bravado than audience at my shows.
By the time I graduated college I was talking a little bit about religion and race, but it mostly still doing the accent and addressing television shows I like. Around 21, after I graduated college, I became really comfortable about my beliefs and using them as a vehicle for my Comedy. It was a start to my Comedy evolving a little closer to what I’ve wanted it to be.
It’s been about 5 years since I started writing the way I do now. With the help of friends and mentors like comedians Stewart Huff & Lee Camp I’ve been writing full, hour long shows that have a thesis or theme to work on. Usually the material takes a political or philosophical twist. This feels right to me.
But talking politics, especially these days, can be difficult. Because of our inability to have appropriate discourse, talking about political subjects on stage can lead to shouting matches, excessive & unnecessary profanity and alienation. But I think this is the most important time to talk about politics and issues.
Comedy is probably one of the best ways to address these topics. It grants levity to something pretty serious. It makes you realize that there’s flexibility in what you believe. If we laugh about something, we’ve dropped our defenses and are better able to have some discourse, discussions and dialogue. That’s what all the comedians I looked up to did.
I get quite bit of flack for addressing issues and talking about philosophy on stage and I always have. To that I say: you can use your platform any way you choose. I choose to address the social, political & philosophical issues that I think are important. When I first started addressing it and other comedians would give me flak about it, I would just politely walk away, but now I feel like a good enough response and am a lot more confident in my material, my skills and my beliefs.
People also claim that politics isn’t relatable to people. I’ve heard this from other comedians, club owners, family and audience members. That statement couldn’t be farther from the truth. The nature of healthcare affects your health and wellbeing. Immigration affects the status of jobs, racial slurs and scapegoating. How we deal with education affects your kids and the future of these issues. Will history repeat itself because each generation learns the same lessons over and over again? Or will we try to learn from the failures of past generations and build off their successes? These affect our day to day lives. It’s probably the most relatable thing there is.
This is why I’ve found Fringe Festivals and DIY venues to be a great place for my shows. They’re a place for someone to express what they want to express the way they want to express it. There are no restrictions on what you can and can’t do. I’ve been rejected by several Comedy Clubs because of the direction my material has taken. Even certain groups I’ve reached out to say they don’t want to be involved in anything remotely political. There are some Comedy Clubs are looking for something different, but usually these Clubs are ones have a DIY aesthetic behind it.
Fringes and the DIY world are different than mainstream Comedy Clubs. They’re ready for a challenge on all fronts. They’re inviting to all groups. We’re now living in a world where complacency isn’t an option. We need to be engaged with the unfolding events of the world. We all need to help everyone in order to build a better society. And it can all start with just one laugh.