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Death of a Comedian: George Carlin — Overrated?

Posted by lifestyle On September - 23 - 2008

Mr. Robinson’s opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the management. Really, we might want to make this a standard disclaimer for this column.

Ben Robinson

I’ve read Albert Goldman’s racist, sexist, and homophobic biography, Ladies and Gentlemen: Lenny Bruce! At one point it mentioned that a young George Carlin was arrested for obscenity along with Lenny Bruce. “Wow,” I thought, “this guy must be really hardcore.” Some of my nerd-snob friends already were talking about George Carlin, quoting lines of social criticism that were quite poignant. I decided to download his discography. This was around 1999.

I started with his first albums from the 70s. The stuff was really tame. It was stoner “observational humour.” Jerry Seinfeld, if he was a hippie. For example, he has a routine about being stoned in a supermarket. I already hated Seinfeld, and hated him more now that I realized that he wasn’t truly a pioneer of that hack brand of comedy. Carlin’s early work is all observational humour. And observational humour tends to suck.

I watched an A&E Biography about George Carlin, and it described how Carlin started his career as a really square kind of comedian. Suit and tie. Playing to middle-aged people from the 60s. Not the cool 60s we remember, but the 60s that still believed they were in the 50s. The biography went on to say eventually Carlin adopted the hippie movement, lost the suit and tie, grew his hair long, and started being a radical. Listening to his albums from the 70s, I can tell you that Carlin was not that much of a radical. Just because he talked about doing drugs doesn’t mean his humour was hardcore. It was silly stoner humour.

Of course his most famous routine from the 70s is “Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television.” This bit is better than most of his other bits from the time, but if you get down to it, it is just an excuse to say a lot of dirty words all at once. It is also highly derivitive of a Lenny Bruce routine. Lenny Bruce arguably died to fight censorship. George Carlin didn’t even go to jail. He just got famous.

Perhaps Carlin’s greatest achievement was being an early opponent of the Catholic Church. He was raised Catholic, going to school and everything, but became an atheist. This is not such a big deal nowadays, but back in the day it was impressive to be a public figure who took this stance.

The general consensus is towards ignoring George Carlin’s 80s work (and incidentally, that of a lot of other famous artists) because he was doing so much cocaine. You don’t really get even the mild chuckles you get from his 70s work in the 80s. He’s just too messed up. He admitted it himself, and he allegedly stopped doing cocaine around the end of the 80s.

In the 90s, he pretty much became a movie star. First, in 1989 he was in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Then he was the conductor on Shining Time Station. He appeared in a few Kevin Smith movies. In all of these roles, his part is small. He plays the part of “famous dude who- OMG I can’t believe he’s in this movie!” But famous for what? I suppose one should give him credit that he had been working at a career for so long, but I think he’s a little over hyped.

In the 2000s, until he died, he focused more on standup. Suddenly he was the wise old man who disapproved of society. He was an undisputable intellect. He used big words in combination and without finesse. His big words were his new dirty words. “Oh, look at me, I can string together a bunch of important words that vaguely make grammatical sense! I am a prophet!” He was really full of himself, and his fans ate it all up. Then finally he died, of old age. What kind of social martyr dies of old age? A fraud, I tells ya.

In 1997 George Carlin was honoured by some television show. Jon Stewart was the host. Jon bowed to George’s magnificence and said nothing but good things about him. I can accept this. George Carlin was working in the business for a long time, he does deserve his gold watch. Towards the end, George Carlin turns the tables and gives his pope-like blessing unto Jon Stewart, saying that Jon will be the next torch holder. When I watched this, I was like, “What? Really? He’s alright but…”

But since then Jon Stewart has built a career that is truly respect worthy. His work on The Daily Show will make him a legend. He is already hot, already one of the big ones, but when it comes time for Jon Stewart to die (a true test for an artist), Jon Stewart should be, and I hope will be, remembered as a greater comedian than George Carlin ever was. Curse you George Carlin, I piss on your grave.

Death of a Comedian: My Step-Grandfather

Posted by lifestyle On August - 29 - 2008

How the past informs the present

By Ben Robinson

My grandmother is a lover of men. She has been married five times. Three of those times, it was to someone named Bill. My dad’s name is Bill. Creepy.

Currently, she is married to a Bill. He has 20% of a stomach and a huge nose. Huge because when he was in the army, he got some polyps up there. A polyp is a row of beads. It kept him from breathing and stuff. You gotta breathe. Wise men once said, “You don’t breathe, you don’t live.” So he had to get those buggers taken out. So the army doctor reaches down into his nose and pulls out the polyps. The procedure permanently enlarged his nose. So he sits there on the Lazy Boy with his large belly – somehow bigger than his small television despite the fact that he only has 20% of his stomach intact – he sits there on the Lazy Boy, with his large nose, he sits there in front of the television, and when he’s awake, he talks about grandfatherly things.

Things like how things nowadays cost too much money. He bemoans the value of his house. “My house is worth $80,000! I wouldn’t give (sic) anyone $80,000 for my house!” Now keep in mind, this is a grandparent house, so it’s nothing fancy, but if this same house were sitting in Toronto, it would be worth at least $200,000. It’s got a decent front yard, a large backyard, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a dining room, a spare room, a living room and a kitchen. It’s a good house. It ain’t got no internet (grrr) but one can’t complain when you are in grandma territory. Oh, by the way, did I mention the bomb shelter in the back yard? Alright, I’d make a joke about the absurdity of owning a bomb shelter, but bomb shelters are pretty cool.

He’s there on his Lazy Boy, watching the TV, and asks me if jobs are scarce in Canada. “No, not really…”, I edge. My mother comes to my defence.

“He doesn’t work because he has health problems…”

“Health problems!?” Then he remembers that I’ve been hospitalized five times for mental disturbances. “Well, jobs are scarce here. It’s the Mexicans. They’re taking all our jobs!”

My jaw drops. Did he actually say that? Do people actually say that outside of late-night television satires? I have encountered an endangered animal. The American Racist. I thought they had gone extinct, or were forced to live on the fringes of society. Perhaps I really do live in a bubble.

CNN comes on the TV. “Ack, that Barack Obama! I’m not voting. John McCain is just going to increase the price of gas and that Obama will get killed as soon as he’s elected.” Because he’s black. He’s not not voting for Obama because he’s black, but because he’ll be killed because he’s black. Sure, Grandpa. What’s the point? He’s just going to die anyway. In a way he’s standing up for the black man, because he’s keeping him from being killed. He’s keeping him safe.

The telephone rings. It’s his daughter, from another marriage. “What? Again?” His daughter doesn’t have a job, no doubt because the Mexicans took it. She needs more money to pay her bills. Apparently there’s not much of a social safety net in the United States. “Greatest nation on earth, I tell you those Japanese woke up a sleeping giant in WWII.” He’s mad as hell at his daughter for asking for more money. “What does she think I am? A bank? Geez, next time she calls her I’m going to tell her to put her mouth on a gun.” Oh yeah, that reminds me, I’m in America. Land of cheap guns.

While I am writing this, my grandmother just walked in to put some clothes away in this room. Can these Americans read my mind? Do they know what I am writing? By the time this is published I will be back in the safe arms of Canada. The safe arms of my girlfriend, where I will impregnate her with my half-American seed, and will raise big strong children who will leave Canada for France. 65 years from now, their children will come to Canada and post on their version of the internet (“Ah, grandpa Ben’s internet, what an antiquated notion”), about what a backward, perverse beast I am. Then they will ask to borrow $6.2 billion dollars to pay their cell phone bill, and I will fly into a dizzy rage because the Germans took all our jobs.

Death of a Comedian: The Good Comedy Movie

Posted by lifestyle On August - 8 - 2008

Ben Robinson

What is it that makes a comedy movie funny? Well, off the bat, I would have to say it has to be pure. I need that concentrated humour. 87% pure, laced with just enough lame to help you breathe. When I bring that comedy to my vein I want it to cut home, cut deep, make me laugh, make me weep. I want to laugh so hard that I stop being aware of the guy next to me. I want to stop worrying – if I laugh at this, will my friend judge me? In short, I want anything but a romantic comedy.

So what are the good comedy movies? In my eyes, there are certain players who own the genre. SNL Studios. You got your Mike Myers, the live action godfather of Family Guy. Adam Sandler, the perfect representation of all of our childhoods. Chris Farley, the fulfillment of that fat-man-martyr. Rob Schneider, the weirdo sycophant who made the grade by working hard. Chris Rock, the outrageous black man who, despite his energy, is clearly smarter than you. And most recently, Will Ferrell, the mediocre comedian who is famous because someone from SNL in every era has to be (see the 1994 movie It’s Pat).

Then there is the old guard: John Belushi, the Jesus Christ of the SNL star factory. Dan Aykroyd, a very good comedian who has made very good movies, yet many people don’t remember his name. Bill Murray, who gets better with age. Unofficial cast member Steve Martin, who was born old. Eddie Murphy, sellout. Chevy Chase, sellout. Billy Crystal, sellout. All of the above have made movies that are worth watching. SNL is often referred to as a university for comedy. Or maybe you have to already be funny to get into SNL. Or maybe, especially in the case of Will Ferrell, it is merely the case of a certain studio having momentum.

I also kind of consider The Kids in the Hall as part of the SNL crew. Producer of SNL, Lorne Michaels, also produced KITH. Bruce McCulloch and Mark McKinney were writers for SNL at one time, and Mark was a cast member for a season or two. Bruce directed the SNL film Superstar and Mark had a small role in it. As for Kids in the Hall, Brain Candy is the finest work of cinema ever made. The Wrong Guy starring Dave Foley was also a fine piece of work.

Then there are the other sketch breeding grounds. SCTV is the Canadian SNL. Joe Flaherty, imo, is the funniest of the SCTV alumni, though his work seems concentrated on television. Eugene Levy is probably the most successful, which is annoying, because I think he’s one of the least funny. Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis were early achievers with Strange Brew. Ghostbusters was the legacy of the Second City stage shows more than SCTV, with Harold Ramis among the cast members. Harold Ramis would go on to be the director of a lot of major comedy movies.

In Living Color gave us Jim Carrey and the Wayans family. Every member of the Wayans family is hilarious. Starting with Keenan Ivory Wayans and his movie A Low Down Dirty Shame. Ending with Marlon Wayans and the Scary Movie francise. In Living Color allowed Jim Carrey to make a transition, from monologue driven standup to the free for all style sketch humour, that was needed to develop the madness of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.

Mr Show brought us the movie Run, Ronnie, Run. Bob Odenkirk was a temporary part of the SNL team, in a similar way to Mark McKinney. David Cross deserves better than what has been given him. His parts in Arrested Development and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind are below his talents. Jack Black got his start on Mr Show. Sara Silverman, who is not a movie star per se but probably will be eventually, also appeared on Mr Show.

Then there are the independents. I’m not quite sure where the 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad, and Walk Hard guys are from, but they are good. Ghost World was good and so was But I’m a Cheerleader. It is good that the little guy wins from time to time, because then we get people like Kevin Smith. Innovation usually comes from movies like these.

So what makes a good comedy movie? I’m not allowed to tell you. It is a secret. A good movie is like pornography. There is no scientific description that a robot mind could use to separate the good and pornographic movie from the bad and merely mildly arousing movies. I do find I can usually tell just from the commercials. Either a comedy movie is good all the way through, or it is bad all the way through.

Eat pasta. Be merry.

Death of a Comedian – Bill Hicks

Posted by lifestyle On July - 25 - 2008

This week, the column’s title can be interpreted in a fairly literal sense.

By Ben Robinson

Bill Hicks restored my faith in Texas. George W. Bush had just been elected President and my prejudiced notions that Texas was filled with nothing but a bunch of hicks seemed to be confirmed by Bush’s Presidency. King of the Hill was mildly funny, but their main joke was that Texas is an awful place to be. Then, late one night in the summer of 2003, I came upon the website of Shecky Magazine — an internet rag for comedians, by comedians. And reading its sacred pages I found that these comedians had something in common. They were in love with Hicks. I held my nose and downloaded his album Rant in E Minor.

Rant in E Minor was the first comedy album that I listened to on a regular basis. I watched Chris Rock’s Bigger & Blacker a few times, but once you knew the jokes they lost a lot of replay enjoyment. Rant in E Minor was a rock and roll album. Not only did it have guitar riffs in it, but he played from his fucking heart. There were jokes, to be sure, but the main appeal of Rant in E Minor was the philosophy, the character, the attitude. Each listen would soak you deeper into the world of Bill Hicks. Bill Hicks died of cancer in 1994. But the world he lived in was not that different from the world we live in today. A President Bush is about to leave office, ending a long reign of terror. “What about Clinton, you sure hope it’s Clinton? I hope it’s Clinton.” Here’s how Bill Hicks views politics: “I think the puppet on the left chair suits my beliefs. I think the puppet on the right is more to my liking.” Would Bill Hicks be gay for Obama? Doubtful.

I liked Rant in E Minor so much that I got my parents to take me out and buy me a genuine Bill Hicks CD. I hadn’t bought a CD since Radiohead’s Kid A. I was kinda morally opposed to the idea. The CD I bought was Arizona Bay. At first I didn’t really like it. It wasn’t that powerful and it wasn’t that funny. “Curse the RIAA!”, I screamed, as I clawed desperately at my facial features. But the CD had been paid for and I was obliged to listen to it again. It grows on you like that green stuff grows on me when I stop showering. First there’s a small patch on my bicep and I ignore it as just some lint. Eventually my entire body is covered in it and I can’t stop loving Bill Hicks. Arizona Bay is the cranky older brother of Rant in E Minor. It is less funny, and more angry. Hicks describes how he quit smoking. He walked down the street of New York and found a dead body. “Hey look, a dead body! You know if I hadn’t quit smoking I would have just walked right past it!”

Bill Hicks’ earlier albums are Relentless and Revelations. These were made before he found out he had cancer. He talks less about injustice and more about sex. He has a character called Goat Boy, his horny alter ego. He enacts how he gets a woman to put her legs on his horns while he licks her vagina like a feed bag. This “joke” is purely shocking. I hope it got him laid. In the Sane Man video, he says he’s on the flying saucer tour, because like UFOs, he is visiting small towns. These videos and albums are initially funnier than Rant in E Minor and Arizona Bay, but they do not have the same replay value.

Sam Kinison toured with Bill Hicks before Kinison made it big. I was very pleased to hear this; I’ve seen his work on TV and loved it. When I found out he worked with Hicks, I went and downloaded the first full-length Kinison album I could find. I found one of his stadium shows, where 90% of his jokes ended in the punchline, “cocksucker”. Nonetheless, you can hear Kinison’s fury in Bill Hicks. Bill Hicks is Sam Kinision with an English degree. Instead of making the punchline, “YOU COCKSUCKER!” or, “my wife! AAAAAH AAAAAAH!”, which is kinda funny, Bill Hicks shouts something intelligent that you will want to come back and listen to again for the 15th time.

Still, eventually I got bored of Bill Hicks. Time passed, and someone wrote a biography of him, American Scream. It is not very good. In fact, it is downright boring. All the good parts of the book I had already gleaned from the internet from various articles. The first time someone asked if they could borrow the book, I told them they could keep it.

I wish Bill Hicks was still alive today. The person I see currently holding the Bill Hicks torch is Doug Stanhope. Stanhope is still in the Relentless phase of his career, but you can hear the fire behind his words. Some people say Joe Rogan is the next Bill Hicks. (Bill Hicks is the next Lenny Bruce, by the way.) Joe Rogan is good, but I don’t think he’s quite sharp enough. Don’t get me wrong, I would cream my pants if I met Joe Rogan, but my money is on Doug Stanhope. Die, Doug, Die.

Death of a Comedian: Seán Cullen – The Comedian

Posted by lifestyle On July - 4 - 2008

Comedians often age. Usually, this results in them becoming old.

By Ben Robinson

Seán Cullen first broke through into comedy consciousness with his musical comedy group Corky and the Juice Pigs. I was too young and nerdy to be a part of that scene, but my friends assure me they kicked a lot of ass in their day. According to Wikipedia, Corky and the Juice Pigs were active from 1984 to 1998. That makes Seán Cullen an old man. Old men are not to be respected. They are to be feared. Hear me children: old men are to be feared!

I first learned about Seán Cullen from his appearences on Just for Laughs and his Comedy Network special: Wood, Cheese and Children. Seán mixes improv, music, and traditional absurdist standup into a high energy combination that sadly has not made him famous. Oh, he’s Canadian Famous, but that’s not really famous, is it? Listen children: Old men are to be feared. In his Wood, Cheese and Children show, Seán has a sketch called, “The Food of Your Choice (Will End Your Life).” In this sketch Seán asks audience members to tell him their favourite food. Seán then improvises a song about that food and how he will use that food to kill that audience member. In situations like these, it would be easy to have stock responses to popular favourites, such as pizza, but it is clear from Seán’s stuttering delivery that he is not content to repeat tried and true lines. Instead, each night Seán truly improvises, creates a new variation on old suggestions, and most of the time the result is hilarious.

The first time I tried psychedelic mushrooms my friend took me to see Seán Cullen at the Rivoli. We ingested the shrooms and then walked to the show. The moment I sat in my seat the shrooms began to take effect. As it came closer to the start of the show, the energy of the audience started to build. People talked louder and more excitedly. Being high on shrooms I could feel their energy and feel it build inside me and I became as excited as the whole room combined. I twitched in my seat. The show began.

Seán killed that night. The whole room was in hysterics and no one laughed louder than me. I knew this because Seán got a pained look on his face and kept looking in my direction whenever I howled in delight. My friend told me to contain myself but I couldn’t. I tried and it just made it worse. I gasped for air and my throat hurt. Then two-thirds through the show Seán’s guitarist did a solo rendition of the Coldplay song “Yellow.” Coldplay had just released the single a week ago and I had never heard of them. I was not biased in thinking that Coldplay sucks and “Yellow” sucks, which they do. It calmed me right down and it was incredibly beautiful. Then Seán hit the stage again and smashed the show to a beautiful finish. I don’t remember any of Seán’s jokes, partly because that was six years ago, and partly because I was laughing so hard. I became a lifelong fan. Old men. Fear.

Unfortunately I stopped watching TV around that time, so I was Seánless for quite awhile. I had memories of him burned into me, but I had no fresh teat from which to suckle. I started doing comedy of my own, but Seán was many levels above me and never appeared at my lowly open mic nights. I saw other musical comedians and I looked down on them like most warm hearted Canadians look down on Carrot Top. Actually Carrot Top isn’t that bad. But most musical comedy is. So there. As you may have read in my earlier improv article, I don’t have much respect for your average improv performer either. Seán transcended both of the genres. Musical comedy to me is half music and half comedy. Seán is whole music and whole comedy. Add the improv element and Seán clocks in at 220% entertainment.

Then a few weeks ago I got a Facebook invite to see a free Seán Cullen “Shau” at the Drake. I invited the same friend I went to see Seán with last time. The Facebook invite said it started at 8 but it didn’t start ’til 9:30. My friend and I went to a bar while we waited and my friend got very drunk. Then we got to the “Shau” and my friend ordered two pints for himself so he wouldn’t have to get up during the act. My friend cheered and yelled and shouted encouragement the whole way through. The show itself wasn’t as good as what I remembered from the one I went to six years ago, but then again this time I was stone cold sober and this time it was free. The musical guest was fantastic. My friend bought the musical guest’s CD and I bought Seán’s new CD. We both got them signed. After listening to Seán’s latest work I told my friend his CD might be more entertaining, but my CD will be worth more on eBay in 20 years.

Apparently Seán has written three books. They are a trilogy and they were only selling the third at the show. I have faith that at least the first book is good. His new CD, I Am a Human Man, is really mediocore, but I paid $15 for it and I’m going to listen to it ’til I like it. Seán has a child now, and I think you can tell in the material on his CD. When comedians get children, they often become very unfunny. Then again, maybe the CD is especially funny to people who have children. All I know is I do not respect Seán, I fear him. Old man.

Death of a Comedian: Dasha’s Response

Posted by lifestyle On June - 20 - 2008

In this article ,”conservative” is used synonymously with “prejudiced.” A double-edged sword?

By Ben Robinson

Two weeks ago, I wrote an article with some questionable humour in it. A reader named Dasha posted a comment that said I had crossed the line. I had offended Dasha. That was not my intent. Here is what I wrote:

“Maybe if you had said you had just hit your girlfriend because she wouldn’t shut up about being on her period, you would be allowed to continue to exist spiritually with your brethren, but owning a blog — and what’s worse, advertising its existence — were capital crimes.”

This is Dasha’s response:

“Good point about blogging; I agree. Although I’m not at all crazy about the reference to violence against women as an acceptable conversation topic. It is my understanding that this was a joke, but it was a stupid one indeed, one that might alienate a sizable portion of your audience. Keep that in mind, son.”

The point of my paragraph was that violence against women is unacceptable. More accurately, the point was that talking about it is unacceptable. When writing this, I thought to myself, “What is something one could say that would be so shocking that one might not be allowed to continue to speak?” Violence against women sprung to mind. I did not mean to imply that violence against women, or talking about violence against women, is acceptable. I meant to mention something taboo as a way of illustrating how taboo blogging was. The joke was that blogging isn’t as bad as violence against women. The joke was not that violence against women is funny.

Inside the joke about how talking about violence against women is unacceptable, a joke is made about violence against women that is unacceptable, and the unacceptable nature of the joke within the joke is what makes the main joke humourous. I apologize that reading my article brought up something that evoked such a negative reaction in Dasha, and possibly other readers. My intent was not to offend. I encourage more comments about how I sometimes cross the line and how I can prevent myself from doing so in the future.

I consider myself a comedy junkie. I watch a lot of comedy. A relatively new style of comedy that I have noticed in the past ten years is something I will refer to as “The Double-Edged Sword.” This may be a very old technique, but I have only noticed it in comedic media that has appeared since the late ’90s. The Double-Edged Sword is a bipartisan style of humour that typically deals with political correctness. In my mind, it was pioneered by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of South Park. It was also employed by The Man Show and to a lesser extent other youth-oriented comedy shows such as Politically Incorrect, Sara Silverman, SNL, and MadTV.

How it works is this: someone says something blantently racist, sexist, or homophobic as a joke. To liberals, the joke is funny because the joke is so offensive. The butt of the joke is the teller of the joke. The fact that the teller is being unashamedly racist, for example Cartman in South Park, is funny because racism to liberals is seen as a sign of stupidity. It is a form of slapstick. On the other hand, to conservatives, Cartman is funny because he’s being racist, and the butt of the joke is the category of people Cartman makes fun of. Both liberals and conservatives laugh at the same joke, for different reasons.

In my opinion, what politicizes the joke is the person telling it. It seems to me, most comedians who use The Double-Edged sword are liberals. That’s how the sword gets its two edges. If a conservative told a Double-Edged joke, it would be purely racist, sexist, or homophobic. The true intention of a Double-Edged joke is to make fun of prejudiced views. The power of the Double-Edged joke is that no spin is necessary, a straight telling of the old kind of joke is funny because it is ironic.

If I may be so bold, I told a Double-Edged joke in my blogging article. I think a lot of people tell these Double-Edged jokes, but they are usually apolitical. For instance, if you act like a baby, and try to make someone laugh the exact same way a baby would, that is funny both because baby humour is genuinely funny, and because you are not a baby, so you are making fun of the baby. The goal of these jokes is to make the original edge of the joke seem stupid. If you are Cartman, you are making racism stupid by being racist. If you are a baby, you are making babies stupid by being a baby. Or more accurately, you are making adult baby-aping behaviour seem stupid and unacceptable outside the confines of a joke.

Perhaps this kind of joke is dangerous. Maybe it shouldn’t be done, because the wounds are still fresh. But I believe The Double-Edged Sword has an important place in modern comedy. I believe it is an effective tool in combatting prejudice. In the future I will try to make more clear whose side I am on when using this humour. And I apologize if just reading about abuse against women was offensive. I apologize for your hurt feelings. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I want to be on your side.

Death of a Comedian: Blogging Humour

Posted by lifestyle On June - 6 - 2008

Remember: chances are, your mom IS reading it.

By Ben Robinson

Time has passed. It is once again “in” to have a blog. I know this because of the way I was motivated to resume my own.

Blogs experienced a trend-overload a few years back. Once it became easy for the average person to own a blog, the blogosphere exploded and every moderate to heavy internet user out there was pontificating daily about their depressing, fucked up lives. And each one of them craved attention more than my six-year old niece who, coincidentally, I babysat last night. I am an only child, and the concept of having a young girl yearn for every second of my time was foreign to me until recently — but looking into her dark, souless eyes as she cried, “let’s play Barbie!”, I was reminded of the early days of blogging.

Blogs are a misleading adventure for the uninitated. People go into it thinking, “wow, I read newspaper articles all the time and discuss them with my friends. Now that I have a blog, I will be the columnist. I will be an underground sensation. People will hang on my every word. And every word will be about how much love I desperately need and how much love I am desperately not receiving.” The problem is, nobody likes to read blogs. People LOVE to write blogs, but reading a blog is a step below reading coupon ads while waiting for the bus. Thus came the backlash against the blogging phenomenon.

It came to the point where if you innocently mentioned that you owned a blog while interacting in civil company, you would be immediately pounced upon and excommunicated from further participation in mundane conversation. Maybe if you had said you had just hit your girlfriend because she wouldn’t shut up about being on her period, you would be allowed to continue to exist spiritually with your brethren, but owning a blog — and what’s worse, advertising its existence — were capital crimes.

I myself started blogging towards the beginning of this dark era of blogging history. I was in a writing course in my final year of high school and for some unfathomable reason, my writing was attracting the attention of the opposite sex. Oh, how I hate what women can do to you. These literary vixens ganged up on me and suggested that I join livejournal. (benjabol.livejournal.com btw) My head swelled three times the size of my heart and I gingerly stepped into the world of posting my feelings for everyone to see. I started off trying to be clever, hiding my true emotions as any self respecting human should on the internet. Then, once again, with ginger steps I forayed into saying what I really felt.

Immediately the literary vixens flooded me with comments of sympathy and, like a monkey introduced to crack cocaine, I was locked in a vice grip of self-mutilation. My posts became emo-er and emo-er, my self-indulgence became legendary, and craving the comments, needing to know that SOMEONE was listening to all this, I posted as often as my marijuana-soaked cerebellum allowed. My mental health began to deteriorate and I chronicled my decline for the world to see – including my parents.

After I got out of the hospital for the fourth time, I cut myself off. I was no longer being funny at all. I was squealing like a pig in heat in an empty room. I allowed my blog to die – incidentally, when one returns to livejournal after a period of absence, former patrons of your blog will post a comment along the lines of, “you’re alive!” This is more than just word play. Many blogs end with real life suicide. But I digress.

It is once again “in” to blog. I know this because the kind of anti-trendster friends who I am lucky enough to associate with are the ones who have brought me back to blogging. It has become so uncool to blog that people don’t really blog anymore. Therefore, it is cool to blog. I am locked in a competition with two of my anti-trendster friends who have taken up blogging and they say I am kicking their asses. I have experience on my side. They are stuck in the beginning stages of posting blog entries that are heavily structured and premediated, while I have resumed my old habits of barfing on the computer screen and calling it a post. Strangely, the shame formerly associated with this practice is gone. I receive positive feedback whether I post a 2000-word mini essay on Kant (which I don’t), or a 200-word cry-for-help snippet on how my feet have changed colour in the past three years.

For people new to blogging, I have this advice. Blog as if no one is reading. I doubt that I do this myself. 90% of your posts won’t get any comments. It is very easy to become a comment whore. If it makes you feel any better, there is probably at least one person reading your blog at any given time. If it makes you feel any worse, that one person is usually your mom. Just write for the sake of writing, as if — gasp — you were writing a real journal with pen and paper. Also, say no to drugs.

Until next time… Ben Robinson, signing off.

Death of a Comedian: Facebook Humour

Posted by lifestyle On May - 23 - 2008

Perils of humour in the age of information

By Ben Robinson

I consider myself to be a Facebook humourist. So far I have created four groups geared towards making people laugh.

It is a tough business, Facebook. Don’t have to leave your home. Don’t have to look anyone in the eye. Whenever you get bored you take some pictures of yourself and post them online so all your…”friends” can see. Or in my case, create a zany new group. I was raised on RPGs, and there is a collection element to Facebook. It’s like you get a point for every member who joins your group or posts on your wall. Let’s go through my groups in reverse order.

Who Is Hotter? Kevin or Carlos?
Members: 18
Wall Posts: 10 (+2 Photo Comments)

This is my least popular group. But 18 people. Get those people in a room and you have a party. This all started when Carlos got himself a new laptop with a webcam. I was telling him he could use it to get the ladies. He said he didn’t want the women to be able to see him. I told him he could put Kevin in his place in front of the webcam while Carlos did the talking. Carlos was offended. “You think Kevin is hotter than me?” A group was born. Four people voted for Carlos, one was undecided as he wanted to vote for Kevin but thought Carlos would beat him up, two people did vote for Kevin, and Moke voted for the baby-head candle holders that I used as the group’s picture. NEXT GROUP!

Don’t tell the police Tristan has a shipment of Guns
Members: 26
Wall Posts: 13

“Tristan is receiving a shipment of guns to his house tonight. For every person who doesn’t tell the police that Tristan is receiving a shipment of guns tonight, I will give 50 cents.” I had just got home from Tristan’s house and I was bored. I liked the idea of advertising the fact that you are not supposed to tell the police about something illegal. Drugs are too played out, but guns are nice and sexy. I expected the group to be more popular. I did have a good back and forth with a 17-year-old girl who said she wanted to buy the guns to sell crack to crippled children. When making these groups, a large number of people join the group but never say anything. That’s fine with me. Every comedian needs an audience.

Teach Ben Robinson to be Less Creepy
Members: 50
Wall Posts: 54

“Ben Robinson has a tendency to get very creepy, very quickly. Most of the time he is not even aware of it. The purpose of this group is for friends of Ben Robinson to teach him to be less creepy. Also, pancakes.” I almost lost a friend when I made this group. A good friend of mine was shocked when he found out this group was a joke. He thought I seriously had a problem about being creepy and it was insulting that I was making a joke about it. I made the group because a lot of women call me creepy. They say it to me so often that I started to think it wasn’t an insult. But my friend assured me there is no good kind of creepy. This is one of my major groups. I took pictures of me with sunglasses on and ketchup smeared over my face. I posted a link to a YouTube video of the Radiohead song “Creep.” I recorded a video of me stroking my beard while listening to an audio recording of Christopher Hitchens. People seem to really like this group. People like it when you give them an excuse to insult you to your face(book). Oh, great fun.

For every person who joins this group I will drink 355ml of cocacola
Members: 109
Wall Posts: 72

This is my most successful group. It is a parody of groups like, “For every person who joins this group I will donate $1 to a cancer charity.” Well… I guess it’s not really a parody but a cash in, since a lot of people make groups like this. The same friend who was offended that the “creepy” group was a joke jumped on helping me with this group. He set the rules that for every member who joins I must drink a can of Coke, not a glass of Coke from a 2L bottle. That way it would be more accurate, and that way I would be accountable. I taped the name of group members to the Coke cans and took pictures of the cans. People went nuts over this group. They invited their friends who I had never heard of. I was drinking about six Cokes a day. Luckily I didn’t get diabetes. I think. Pretty sure. I also uploaded a video of me drinking Coke really quickly. I am an artist.

Okay. That was a terrible article. Now I know why people hate Facebook. I’m sorry I put you all through that. I’ve been drinking lately and well… it’s a problem. I’m drunk right now. It’s 10 AM. I told my mother if she didn’t give me more money for my GD JD, I would break her television. Have you seen Requiem for a Dream? It’s like that, but with booze. Sometimes I wake up and I just want to die.

Just kidding!

Death of a Comedian: Improv

Posted by lifestyle On May - 9 - 2008

“…Such a deceptively seductive harlot this game is…”

By Ben Robinson

Improv.

Improvisational Comedy, or Improv, or (as Keith Johnstone spells it) Impro, is an absurd waste of time that makes many young men drop out of math class. Theoretically, Improv helps build the dramatic skills needed for serious theatre. Even more theoretically, Improv is a challenging set of games of wit that are capable of “amusing” audiences and also capable of producing very inexpensive television.

Like all art forms, the old school is better than the new school. The British Whose Line is it Anyway? is better than the American version. Second City gets progressively worse the further you trace it from its point of origin. The Bible, the greatest book ever written, is clearly a work of improvisational ass-pulling-out-of-ism that has never been defeated in the centuries of people-pulling-things-out-of-their-asses.

Young men, such as myself, drop out of math class because of the curse of Improv. Such a deceptively seductive harlot this game is. Here is your choice: memorize equations that have no use to your life, or, play a game where you are only allowed to speak in questions. The choice is simple. Simply stupid. Which is the essence of Improv.

I began taking Improv classes at Second City when I realized that I wanted to become a comedian. Successful comedians are hustlers who are self-motivated and have the ability to create something out of nothing. Most comedians say comedy cannot be taught. So what should an aspiring comedian do? Get his parents to shell out $250 so he can take a 20-hour Improv course.

There are different spheres in the Second City Training program. The big money maker are the business seminars. Second City business seminars are what happen when managers at large, faceless corporations want their employees to build teamwork. A bunch of men in suits awkwardly try to come out of their shells and be spontaneous, all the time knowing full well that if they say anything too risqué they will be fired.

You may have noticed by this point that I refer to students of Improv as always being male. I am not being sexist; Improv is a very male-dominated “sport.” Actually, despite the label adopted by the prominent Improv company Theatresports, Improv is more similar to Dungeons and Dragons than it is to football. Like DnD, Improv is full of emotionally insecure, geeky boys, and the reason why most women stay away is because when these guys get within a 50-foot radius of a girl, all of the hidden, underground creep-o-meters explode in pools of misspent semen.

Back to the spheres of Second City Improv: after business seminars, the next level is that of student classes. During the school year, these courses are advertised as educational seminars that enrich the lives of their students. During the summer it’s camp. Big, dumb, have-fun-camp. There is no difference in the curriculum between the summer and winter courses. In fact, the summer courses are a little more intensive, since the 20-hours is condensed into one week, as opposed to a few months.

Once you get to a certain age you can start taking the adult courses. There are seven levels in the adult Second City training centre class. Each one is supposedly more difficult, but keep in mind that the core of these classes is “pull it out of your ass.” After completing the highest level of the adult courses, you can apply to the conservatory classes. After that, you can apply to the Second City touring company. If you do well in the touring company, you can make your way to the mainstage. Basically, Second City set up a system where you pay thousands of dollars in order to be hired by them. Talk about a school of hard knocks.

I took a number of the student courses, then grew bored of the repetition. For a game that is supposedly based on innovation, people really get into a rut, fast. I was still too young to seriously consider doing standup, so I pursued my Improv career in other forms. I attended a single Theatresports class in a church basement.

One of the main selling points of Improv to parents is that it will improve your child’s self-esteem. Improv attracts the loser boys who play a lot of video games and know what the word “mage” means. Theatresports is a post-apocalyptic horror scenerio in which those nerdy, young boys grow up and are still doing the game. Unwarrented compliments fly off the shelves like buttered corn in a corn-eating supermarket contest. The previous sentence was an example of a joke you would hear at Theatresports. Wasn’t that a funny joke? Yes, it was. Yes, it was. Aw, you’re so cute.

I became a minor celebrity in high school as a result of my Improv efforts. I was on the school Improv team. I craved attention, and in my senior year when it was my turn to be the big dog, I finally got a taste. I let the praise of five of my teammates go to my head. I had fulfilled my destiny and stopped trying. Eventually, like King Lear, I was stripped of my crown without being aware of it. Improv was a hated pastime by then. I remember young Sam Linton came to my dressing room one day and said, “It used to be about the music!” I threw a whiskey bottle at his head. Someone in the audience yelled out that we were ripping off The Simpsons. I had a heart attack and died, never to be reborn.

CURSE YOU IMPRO! 

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