Thinking about comedy, art, and creativity

I have been watching Jerry Seinfeld’s show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. It’s so entertaining, and I laughed out loud many times during some episodes, especially with Chris Rock (one of my favourites), Brian Regan, and Patton Oswald.

I think the episodes I liked the best were the ones where Seinfeld and his guest talked about their careers, and about comedy and some of the common things they all faced when they were struggling, or getting started. This often led into some interesting conversations about creativity and being an artist. In the episode with Fred Armisen (Jerry meets him in Portland, and wow, I’m dying to visit there again!) they talk about how the word “art” is reserved for finer arts like painting or the symphony, but people don’t use it for comedy. And comedy really is an art. You have someone who creates something, (usually from their soul, whether it’s apparent or not,) and present it to an audience. Sometimes it gets appreciation, and sometimes doesn’t, and sometimes it’s misunderstood.

After watching more episodes in one night than I care to admit, it got me thinking a lot about creativity and the insecurities about creating something and then setting it out into the world. You as the artist are baring your soul through your art, hoping people like it, and like you; sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t.

In another episode, Jerry meets up with Margaret Cho, and she shares about a show she did that went really badly. She is candid about being a sexual abuse survivor, and she made some rape jokes in her show that went over pretty poorly with the audience, resulting in a fight, and the club even had to shut it down. She talked about how comedy is supposed to be where you can laugh at things that are heavy and awful. She said, “But there’s an idea, ‘Oh, I can’t laugh at that. I’m not supposed to laugh at that.’”

She and Jerry later appeared at a follow-up show at that same club, and invited the audience to come back to talk about what happened. (My civic engagement hat on – my soul was thrilled so see that face-to-face dialogue, with the audience members telling her what they thought about it and she explaining her challenges and what she had faced that day that affected where the show went that night.)

I could see where Cho was coming from. When you face awful things in life, one outlet is laughing about it. I think comedy is one of the last places where you should be allowed to say anything and laugh at it; our world is too difficult, too sensitive, too offended. Comedy is art. It’s looking at things in different ways, expression of self and experiences, and challenging your audience, and sometimes making them uncomfortable. That’s what art is, and in any other form, no one would question that. But to make people laugh at difficult subjects is somehow taboo, because it’s comedy.

The other thing that really struck me while watching (*cough* several *cough*) episodes, was that comedians are sensitive artists. Even the ones who seem rock solid, you can tell they have a raw soul somewhere. I think art comes from that raw soul, because that person has seen or experienced something, been through some struggle, and are willing to put that art out there, and even if it isn’t received well a few times, they love it enough to keep trying and keep going back and risking it again and again, just to get that appreciation for that piece of their soul. How raw is that?

As I’m working on my creative soul this year as an “artist,” I saw some themes throughout the show that I’m recognizing in myself. Getting to that raw soul is hard and scary. As I’m working my way through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, I’m seeing that that is the heart of every artist’s struggle for creativity and flow. So here goes – I hope if you are an artist starting out, or maybe a successful artist who has seen or learned some things, you will post your advice/challenges/kind words and join me on this journey. Welcome 2018!



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