"I hope your tits shrivel up and fall off."

Week of January 19, 2006

Not Funny
That joke is so old...: As a comedian, I am always excited to find my medium featured in print, as good press for one of us is good press for the business. That said, after reading Julie Seabaugh's "Girl Walks into a Comedy Club..." [January 5], I experienced a feeling that must be akin to how Ron Howard felt when he saw Kindergarten Cop on American Movie Classics. Comedy is rarely featured in the Riverfront Times, so when a comedian makes the cover, that sends a message to your readers that "this is the apex of comedy in St. Louis," in much the same way that calling something an American Movie Classic sends the message to a foreigner that "this is the peak of American cinema." No wonder the French hate us. Am I blaming the article for our poor social relations with France? Certainly not. However, I do find it interesting that your article was published the same day that Iran declared it was restarting its nuclear program. Coincidence? I think not.

The "joke" most prominently featured in the article is the one in which Ms. Johnson expresses her desire to have a man "put it in her butt." While I do not doubt the sincerity of Ms. Johnson's desire for the love often only spoken of in prisons, it's not a joke per se, but rather an expression of preference. The reason this preference gets a laugh is it shocks the audience, but that itself does not a joke make. For it to be a joke, Ms. Johnson would have to then explain why she likes that, and explain it in a funny way. I would wager that anyone could go up on an open-mic night with no setup and just announce that they "take it in the butt" and get a laugh; it's shocking to housewives. Why this troubles me is I think most people misunderstand the art of comedy, thinking that all we do as comedians is shock the audience by saying something dirty, with no point or purpose behind it.

All this article did was reinforce this stereotype of comedy, which in turn might keep intelligent people (read: people who read alternative newspapers) away from comedy clubs. In reality, St. Louis features a number of very interesting comedians with well-thought-out material, material that might elicit laughs from people that have gotten past the point of finding the phrase "butt sex" worth a giggle.

The article also discusses Ms. Johnson's problem with being taken seriously as a comedienne, claiming that most male comedians would give her their number, but for the wrong reasons. Well, I admit, some male comics are sleazy, and I think the best way to gain their respect is to do a photo shoot without your top on (I think most female comics would respect this as well). I really have to admit that the picture of her naked back and prominently displayed buttocks really said to me, "Hey, I care about my craft as an artist, please do not see me as someone who will sleep their way to the top." I still remember the first time I was given a paying a gig, the booker calling me and saying, "I watched your tape and it was funny, but do you have any pictures where your forearms are crossed over your nipples?" What a stupid question. Of course I do.

Some may read this letter as jealousy and I promise it's not that. I'm not writing for my own publicity, I'm just saying that there are more appropriate local comics for any of the angles the story was going for. If you were looking for a crossover act, why was there no article on Kirkwood native Greg Warren when he was a runner up on BET's Coming to the Stage (you can find a link to Greg at www.jeremyessig.com)? If you were looking for a female comic, Andi Smith is probably one of the most respected female comics in the Midwest (she also designed my CD cover, which can be purchased on www.jeremyessig.com). Or if you were looking for a newer comic, perhaps Dwayne Ingram, who was quoted in the story, would have been a better topic, as he has progressed by leaps and bounds over the last year. Again, this is not about me, I just think you could have found a subject who represented St. Louis comedy better. (For more about St. Louis comedy, feel free to go to www.jeremyessig.com.)

I'm not trying to take anything away from Ms. Johnson; I just feel that the article portrayed St. Louis comedy in a negative light. Nor am I attacking the author of the piece. It's just that if an article is going to make the cover of the Riverfront Times, the author should be more familiar with the art of joke writing and the comedy scene in general. Now if you will excuse me, I'm trying to get work at a club in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I think sending the picture of me deep-throating a cucumber should do the trick.
Jeremy Essig
St. Louis

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