Letter to the Editor: In response to the May 27 article entitled, “Comedy Apocalypse XI offers few cringes, plenty of laughs”

Some comments on the Comedy Apocalypse 11 Highlander (May 27, 2014) review:

First, the author states, “Last quarter’s Comedy Apocalypse X proved that the Barn wasn’t about to follow up on bad comedic night with another.” Later, the author informs us, “As a newcomer to both UCR’s Comedy Apocalypse series and the Barn in general, I attended the night’s event wide-eyed and easier to see what my first visit would hold.” So, on what authority or experience does the author’s perfunctory dismissal of CA10 derive? At best hearsay, adrift from the moorings of even casual opinion. The response to CA10 we received was that show was the best ever. You could make a legitimate case against some of the acts in previous shows. It happens.

Other than that, we (the people who put on the Comedy Apocalypse series) agree generally with the reviewer’s sense of what performances worked best. Obviously, we don’t know how good a performance is going to be in advance, because a live performance is an organic thing, influenced by many factors. Therefore the notion of an “uneven structure,” which implies foreknowledge, doesn’t apply. Billing of performers, i.e., the “structure” or order in which they appear is, basically, about who is the most famous, with that person going last. Roberts is on a hit TV show, so he’s the most famous. It just turns out that second-billed Emily Heller was amazing. (Some preferred Bowers, and some Roberts, it should be noted, but the consensus was for Heller.)

Second, it needs to be understood that comedy proceeds from a personal perspective, which may or may not be shared broadly. A comic “voice” emerges from that perspective, a voice which may or may not be understood by a general audience. Many comedians, including black comedians, talk about race. Have you ever heard of Dave Chappelle? In this case, when Mr. Bowers speaks about slavery in a way which is outrageous, it might be helpful to understand his perspective. He is an African-American who was born and raised in the South, where racism and slavery are not subtle or veiled. It’s a confederate flag-flying reality. Bowers, a deeply intelligent man, came up as a comedic professional playing to black audiences in this context. His sarcastic statement re “slavery” and “hair” is patently and plainly absurd. In making it, it is more than likely that Bowers is mocking some nonsense he heard and which would be understood by the audiences he came up playing to. This is a comic’s version of harsh criticism. It is an impossibility that Mr. Bowers would become the increasingly celebrated comedian he has become, playing on Black Entertainment Television and similar venues, if these were views that he actually held. Regardless, although we don’t like to second-guess comics and their jokes are not submitted in advance, it was probably a misjudgment to use this humor on a college audience in Southern California. There’s no way it would be understood and couldn’t possibly work. Although I think Bowers is smart and funny, I certainly didn’t laugh at that riff. And you’re right: nobody did. Awkward moment. Is that what he intended? Something that stark? Sometimes comedians deliberately make the audience uncomfortable to generate tension, which is released by a punchline. Given his perceptivity and control as a performer, it could be so. What he succeeded at was getting us all talking about his set, parsing the jokes this way and that.

Third, we have no disagreements on Heller. She’s so brilliant. Heller’s a real stand-up pro who is original and funny, with great energy and feel for the audience.

Fourth, John Roberts, our first LGBT Comedy Apocalypse headliner, is a great talent, but his acting skill, which was apparent, didn’t connect to the audience like the straight-ahead stand-ups did. So, some agreement there. Still, very entertaining, with all the characters, wigs and such.

Comedy Apocalypse began as a KUCR/Highlander Newspaper/Barn collaboration, which had the goal of bringing professional level comedy-club shows to campus at the end of the quarter. The show is supposed to be a diversion from studies, to give students something to laugh about and, because this is a university, something to think and talk about. There was a lot of laughing, and we’ve heard a lot of people talking about it in the aftermath. That’s OK.

Oh, and best wishes to all the grads.

Louis Vandenberg

Comedy Apocalypse Production Team

 

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