Sick Humor at Ground Zero?

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

                    One of my favorite anecdotes of the UK comedy scene is the one from late 2002 of an American having a bad time at a gig in London (not me, BTW, I ALWAYS do well!).  As one gag after another lay flat amidst the crickets, tumbleweeds, etc., the frustrated Yank informed his audience, “The last time I had an audience this bad was in New York on September 10, 2001, and within 24 hours, a lot of those people may well have been dead,” One man pipes up for one of the greatest heckler lines ever: “I’ll take me chances, You’re shit!” He and several others then walked out leaving the poor comic even further defeated. 

                     Most of the last ten years, 9/11 has been largely shunned on the comedy stage. There would be humor at the expense of the 2,997 who lost their lives that day ten years ago, but little of it ever made it to anywhere beyond private conversation or obscure websites. Our conscience told us to pretend it never happened. I was fortunate to have gotten back to California from UK only three days before, and thank god I did, or there would have been 2 to 3 unpaid weeks just hanging around waiting until I COULD leave. By the time I woke up that Tuesday morning at about 7:45 Pacific time, all hell had already broken loose two hours prior. Still, it was strange to turn on the computer, and the first image that comes onscreen is the burning towers, which would both collapse soon after. Not much to do that day except turn on the TV and watch a nation suffer. By mid-afternoon, I’d gotten worked up enough that I went to the beach, which was mostly deserted.

                       There really wasn’t much to do or say, and I was shocked that the next weekend, comedy clubs in LA were open with full line-ups. In New York, they’d remain shut for several weeks, and even “Saturday Night Live” waited until the following Saturday, beginning their episode with Mayor Giuliani showing up to decree that “It’s OK to laugh again.” In LA, I worried about “Well, how relevant is my guitar/song parody act at a time like this,” but went ahead and accepted the Saturday (15th) spots at the Comedy Store and Laugh Factory. I needn’t have worried, for when I showed up at each venue, the act on stage was doing the usual crotch humor, so “the less relevant, the better” seemed the order of the day. Well, I can agree that dick jokes were a safer choice than attempting to address the issue. 

                        However, on the day of the 15th, a front page article attracted my attention; it was a list of 150 songs that the FCC, in consort with other radio programming organizations, thought should be avoided in light of the tragedy. Most of the songs had the words “fire,” “airplane,” or “plane” somewhere in the title. At the front was John Denver’s “Leavin’ On a Jet Plane,” and close behind were all the songs with the one-word title “Fire,” encompassing songs by Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen, Arthur Brown, and The Ohio Players. (I think for one-word song titles, only “Crazy” has more different versions). This list was pretty generic, but to me just spoke too much of the political correctness that America had been suffering from for decades by now.

                        I began looking for songs that the list omitted, and two jumped out at me. One was R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly,” which could have been the anthem of the terrorists, who managed to get not only fake passports and entry into the US, but flying lessons without the slightest finger of suspicion seeming to be raised. Shouldn’t an alarm bell have gone off? Didn’t one of them slip during the lessons and admit, “Oh we don’t need to learn how to LAND the planes?” The other song was “It’s Raining Men,” which I heard on the radio shortly after that list was published, and thought “Am I the only one who realizes how sick it is to play this song?” To top it off, only a few months later, a remake of the song by Geri Halliwell hit the top 5 in UK, but thankfully was ignored in the US, sparing us not only the song, but the singer as well.  

                            I was scheduled to go back to UK in mid-October, allowing for airports to reopen, and for the hysteria to die down a bit. The few people I was brave enough to make my observation to thought it was funny, so I incorporated it into the act once I was back there. I knew the US wouldn’t go for it, and may even still have a problem with it ten years later. It was accepted, but not by everyone. I got a personal reaming out by a girl in Cardiff for my insensitivity, and threatened a few times over the next year, one time needing an escort from Jongleurs Camden after one guy had to be restrained from charging the stage. That could have been a career builder, a la Jim Jefferies.  I decided it wasn’t worth the risk, so I dropped it, and though I occasionally call it back if I’m in a feisty mood, to this day I’ve never tried it in the US.

                             UK had its own boundaries, with no comic daring to try any Lady Di material for a good six months after her 1997 death, but by the time I came to UK in late 2000, things had loosened up somewhat. I was able to do my alternative Elton John song, replacing “Candle In The Wind” with “Rocket Man,” and doing an admittedly sick song parody. Thankfully, no one got seriously offended, and I chose to drop it when I thought I’d gotten enough mileage out of it. This is all to restate the main reason I developed an affinity for working in UK. Not that they’re completely insensitive, either, which I discovered in 2005, a week after the July 7 bombings. I had a line which mentioned blowing oneself up, and it was completely unrelated but immediately misinterpreted, so the rest of that evening’s set was my own form of bombing. I later found a way to rewrite the line so it said the same thing while avoiding that scary point of reference. Didn’t help that night, but it stayed in the act for awhile, which admittedly, a lot of possibly dated material has done.

                               My reminiscences of 9/11 are really little more than I stated at the top. I was on the wrong coast to be deeply affected, but there were/are plenty of family still living in the area, including a relative who worked in the towers and miraculously chose not to come in that day. Perhaps if someone related to me or known by me had been among the casualties, I’d have been less inclined to take that “Tee-hee, glad it ain’t me” attitude. Sure it was a sad day in US history, but most of us have moved on in ten years, including those who lost loved ones.

                      Gotta hand it to ex-Vice-President and possible war criminal Dick Cheney for his moxie, though. The man actually went on national TV and praised the success of the Bush administration because there were no further attacks on US soil under their watch. Dumb ass! You had to go back 60 years for the last one, and that was Pearl Harbor, which in 1941 was a territory that wouldn’t officially become US soil for another 18 years.  Yep, big freaking success, you and Dubya. Say goodnight, Dick!  

 



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