Why comedy doesn’t matter

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Joshua Scrimshaw, serious comedian

Being a “theater geek” comes with its own stereotypes and social pitfalls, but who knew that within the world of theater there exists a whole other pecking order.

On minnesotaplaylist.com, local comedian Joshua Scrimshaw writes of how he’s handled the criticism of what he calls “Local Theatrical Luminaries” (LTL) who tell him a) it’s time for him to do something “important” and b) he’ll never be “taken seriously” if he keeps performing at the Bryant Lake Bowl.

What ensues is a serious, important and hilarious essay that rips apart the notion of labeling something as “smart comedy.”

“Smart” is the adjective of choice whenever an LTL gifts a work of comedy with his or her praise (although so far it’s always “his”). This is a backhanded compliment of epic proportions. The only reason to label comedy as “smart” is to delineate it from the rest of comedy, which, by implication, is not smart. When was the last time you heard someone talk about “smart” ballet or “smart” chamber music? Even mime (the most hated art form on the face of the planet, people!) is never subjected to this kind of caustic compliment. Why? Because we give other arts the benefit of the doubt– they enjoy the presumption of intelligence while comedy gets stuck with the burden of proof. In short, comedians must accept the laws of a kangaroo court and defend their I.Q.s against a predetermined verdict of You’re Stupid.

Scrimshaw goes on to argue that all comedy is important, whether high-brow or low-brow:

ALL comedy says something dark and true about the human condition. I don’t care if it’s Terry Gilliam’s Brazil or a YouTube video of some fat kid farting the 1812 Overture. Actually, I think the farting kid says more. Every time we laugh at flatulence we’re really laughing at the strange and disturbing machinery of our own bodies. We are wonderfully and fearfully made, yes, but one day we’ll be unmade and that knowledge lurks at the heart of every joke, every laugh, every absurd bodily function. We don’t whistle past the graveyard, we lift a cheek and let one rip.

Scrimshaw says ultimately, comedy is ordinary – just like life – and that’s what makes it so great. What do you think? Is comedy important? Even fart jokes? Will Joshua Scrimshaw ever be taken seriously? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

You can read the rest of Scrimshaw’s essay – and it’s very much worth the read – here.

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