A Thicker Skin: Failure On Stage and the Gay Joke Dilemma

One part of standup comedy is joke-writing, and another part is stage presence.  Perhaps overlooked in its importance is the portion of standup that involves developing a thicker skin. 

This can refer to the confidence needed to get on stage and espouse your opinions and experiences before a crowd.  There is no character to hide behind, just an exaggerated form of yourself - a persona.  If a joke or set succeeds, your connection to the audience can be a real high.  If you fail, you fail alone.  Somehow, the high of that connection keeps you coming back for more, despite the failures.  You thicken your skin and bounce back from those evenings of rejection.

And there is another way that comics have to toughen-up, especially those of us that are part of a minority group.  A few nights ago I hit an open mic with my girlfriend.  She is not a standup novice, in that she attends far more shows than your average non-comic, but she doesn't often come along to open mics.  As I've said before, the scene at an open mic is generally more outrageous than at a booked showcase.  Open mics are a venue for more experienced comics to work the kinks out, and for less experienced comics to get some valuable stage time.  Mics breed a ton of comraderie and are really fun, but their "anything goes" nature can also require a thick skin. 

I realized just how thick mine had grown while watching that mic.  I went up early in the evening and saw a few really excellent sets from established and newer comics alike.  I didn't expect to be comfortable with every joke every person made (I've yet to meet a rape joke I find funnier than it is offensive), but I was disappointed by a gay joke made just a few comics after my set, a set in which I had referenced my girlfriend. 

The premise of the joke was that gays are the only minority to fulfill their own stereotypes by wearing chaps and marching around at outlandish pride parades.  I'm pretty sure that this guy had never attended the sort of parade he was joking about. (Aside: Because chaps aren't quite so plentiful. I'm the first person to question how so many folks got to the parade in their underwear -- the CTA? -- but chaps, not so much.)

I'd also point out that a lot of folks wear green shirts and hats and drink their faces off at the St. Patty's Day Parade.  And a lot of Americans wear red, white and blue, and eat hamburgers on the 4th.  And a lot of Ferris Buellers shake it up baby, now.  Gays aren't the freaks.  Humans are the freaks.  And some freaky humans have more rights than others.  
It wasn't a wildly offensive joke, and I'm sure I would have paid less attention to it had I been sitting alone that night.  But, as it was, it was told directly into the faces of a gay couple.  I couldn't help but feel responsible as I watched my girlfriend become more and more uncomfortable; I had gotten her into the situation.  Perhaps this is when I should refer back to that thickened skin, but I can't help thinking that what was a throw-away joke to him meant something to me, his colleague.  I just wish he had been as aware of this as I am.



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patrick chase said:

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Great Article. I'll bet the comic in question probably will be doing open mics for a long long time. Chaps??? Let me guess he followed that bit up with something about Black People liking chicken or that white people can't dance. If you're gonna do a stereotype bit, make sure it's funny so that the people you're stereotyping can laugh too. Otherwise it's unfair. And if you don't know how to do that, then try joking about airline food.

Bob said:


As a gay man, I can take a gay joke. But a lame gay joke is just a lame joke, and he should be judged accordingly.

sLickRic said:

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Cameron, let's refer this comic to the podcast ROFL on Revision 3. There are a lot of straight comics on there who tell some hilarious jokes about gays and lesbians without being offensive. You're correct, you can't just throw it out there without considering context. Love ya!

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