"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

...It's starting to smell...: The writer who once described Hanson as "uncompromisingly artistic" was not fired and has recently published her first feature article, entitled, "Brie Johnson Takes Her Shirt Off...and Thinks It's Funny." Or something. Focused on Brie's struggle from Wal-Mart shopping to comedy fame, the article did less for female comics than Jerry Lewis. By her choice to promote a female comic who relies purely on shock value, she has confirmed what is already suspected: Women aren't funny.

As a female comic, I take personal offense to both Brie (I hope your tits shrivel up and fall off) and Julie Seabaugh (I feel sorry for anything that has ever been in your mouth).

Please do not misconstrue my intent. There is no jealousy involved. In fact, if ever asked to pose naked for an article about female comics, my response would have been, "Interview over and I hope your whole family dies." So in the future, Julie, try to read a book and get some taste before picking up that pen. You may be young and without enough experience to judge things, but the least you could do is realize it. Spare the rest of the pain of your misfortune. To get you started, there are two things you should look for in a comic: material and the ability to keep a shirt on.

Best of luck. You'll need it.
Andi Smith
St. Louis

...Besides...: Until I saw your paper, I was unfamiliar with the stylings of Brie Johnson, "local laugh riot." I have been involved in comedy for a few years, including a stint running a club in Union Station called Laugh Tracks. Some of the names who performed during my tenure are Jamie Foxx, Jon Stewart, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle and Adam Sandler. I spent two years as tour manager with the Kings of Comedy (Bernie Mac, Cedric, Steve Harvey, DL Hughley) and a couple more with Def Comedy Jam. I worked for Contemporary's comedy division a few years ago, helping to produce shows with all kinds of famous comedians. I mention this to let you know that I have some valid experience in the comedy business.

I am friends with Matt Behrens, who books the Funny Bone comedy club chain. In my opinion Matt is a great comedy booker. After reading the article on Brie Johnson, I asked Matt if he was familiar with her, and he is. She has not been booked to perform in any of the Funny Bones throughout this great land. Draw your own conclusion.

I was involved in a comedy search a few months ago. I saw a bunch of local and regional comedians and was impressed with many of St. Louis's own. There is a guy named Tommy Johnegin, who looks like he could be a star. Andi Smith, a woman, is terrific and absolutely kills me. There are many others, and because it is no longer my business to know the names, I don't remember them all. Greg Warren, Jeremy Essig and veterans Dan Chopin, Joe Marlotti and Dan O'Sullivan are all well-respected in the comedy community.

The jokes Seabaugh quoted from Ms. Johnson are interesting because there are so many references to anal sex. According to her, white men and women go around having anal sex with such frequency that women have to hold their butt cheeks together to avoid the accidental (and likely embarrassing) feces fallout. Wow! Now, that's comedy! Well done, Brie! Give yourself a "reach-around"!

Ms. Johnson also seems offended when people compare her to Sarah Silverman. First question: What dumbass is comparing Brie Johnson to Sarah Silverman? And why would Brie find that anything but ultimately flattering? I've met Sarah Silverman, and I am thinking of tracking her down just to let her know that there is a new comedy force, and to "get out of the way, here comes Brie Johnson!" I may also send a note to Maria Bamford, one of the stars of Comedy Central's Comedians of Comedy and let her know that Brie Johnson says it's okay to be dirty. Fear not, Brie's got your back, Maria!

It's good to know that Michael Roberts Jr. is thinking of signing Brie to a contract. Roberts says Brie has the potential to take it all the way to a world level (not sure what that means, but I'm guessing it's a world with a lot of jokes about anal sex). He's never seen anything like her.

What puzzles me is why the writer would not place a phone call to somebody at the Funny Bone to get an opinion. If not about Brie Johnson, but to find out if there might just be some other comedy talent in St. Louis.

I want to compliment the photographer. Those are some very funny pictures. Nothing makes me laugh like a picture of a woman with her finger up her nose. Or a good old-fashioned joke about anal sex. There is gooey substance on her face in one of the pictures. What happened? Did Brie get a little too close to the subject?
Tom Clyde
St. Louis

...That was the one...: I commend you on publishing a piece on comedy in St. Louis and especially for featuring a female comedian. What disappoints me is your particular choice of comedian. There are many people in the St. Louis area trying to succeed in the business. I attend the Funny Bone's open mic on a fairly regular basis, and while many of the comedians on that stage are hit-or-miss (it is an open mic, after all), I have seen some talent that definitely deserves greater recognition. I saw Brie Johnson's performance at the Funny Bone last spring, and it just wasn't impressive. Granted, she may have just had a bad night, but I've seen countless other comedians deliver a better show on a consistent basis.

Her focus appears to be on her ass and not her comedy. For someone who claims to be getting ahead on pure talent rather than sexual appeal, I find it ironic that the majority of her accompanying photos were done topless or in suggestive poses. If you are really interested in featuring great aspiring local comedians, I suggest you check out the following: Jeremy Essig, Ken Jr., Arvin Mitchell, Gabe Kia and especially these female comedians: Andi Smith, Janine Brito and Nikki Glaser. I hope that in the future you will make an attempt to showcase the best talent and not just the "biggest ass."
Lauren O'Niell
Clayton

...I was going to tell! Where do I begin? Julie Seabaugh must know this girl Brie Johnson as a deep, personal friend to write such a long story and give her such a huge spread in the Riverfront Times. I saw her act last night at the Improv and it sucked! I am not making this statement to be mean or a "playa hater"; it really sucked. The crowd was mixed. If there were 50 black people, there were about 15 to 20 white people, and she still sucked. She was on stage for three minutes! The article mentioned that she has to know her audience, but if the crowd is mixed, then you have a 50-50 chance of winning the majority.

I really question her as a comedian. I mean, to read jokes (if you can call them that) in a newspaper article and then to hear them on stage loses its appeal. Unless, of course, the person has earned their comedic stripes and/or the joke is just really funny. But I venture to say that she has no strong arsenal of comedic material. I mean, does she tell that "My daddy might be black, my last name is Johnson" joke at every venue? Come on! And speaking of that, she builds her image on being a white girl with a "ghetto" booty (which I find offensive, seeing that I know a plethora of black people with big or healthy behinds that have never lived in the ghetto, but anyway I digress). The booty thing is tired. I mean, that is a norm for African Americans, who by the way do not all have big butts. Just like many whites have big noses, blacks have big butts — big deal! That material gets old.

Chris Rock, Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle are intelligent; that's not to say that Brie isn't. They have insight and a handle on human nature. They study their material and then deliver. They also speak (or spoke) on issues that truly effect race and how that affects policy, mentality, bureaucracy, capitalism, etc. And they made it relative and funny. Connecting with black people because you have a round ass is ridiculous. I mean, do whites think blacks are that simplistic and superficial? Hell, no! We come to relax, have a good time and to release tension that we tend to armor ourselves with to face the world. I know comedy doesn't have to entirely be academic, but to pick a topic that is a staple of another race's dialogue and turn that into a comedy routine just has no merit to me. This "comedy" is also indicative of how tired St. Louis is. I don't know why black people make a big deal about someone of another race having "black" blood. I could come up with a few possibilities, but that is another subject for another time.

I was very disappointed with Brie Johnson. A friend I was with said he didn't think she even tried. And the fact that people pass her a business card doesn't necessarily mean she is great; she may be a means to their end. The last comic, a white guy who was hilarious (and not because he is married to a black girl but because he knew how to deliver and be funny), said that word of mouth is the best form of advertisement. If that is true, Brie is in trouble. I am waiting to see the Brie that Michael Roberts Jr. said he has never seen anything like. Is he kidding (or again, is this a means-to-an-end deal)?

By the way, I liked Seabaugh's article from a literary/review perspective. As biased as it seemed, the article was better than the stand-up. Yikes!

Please don't publish my name; I am in the entertainment business (not comedy), and I don't want to leave this impression in case there are people I may need to do business with in the future.
Name withheld by request
Spanish Lake

Errata
In "Sweet and Lo-Fi," Mike Seely's January 12 feature about vlogging, we misspelled the names of Bill Streeter's cohort Brian "Bowls" MacLean and nouveau-rockabillyers Johnny O and the Jerks.

Additionally, an alert reader of Annie Zaleski's "A to Z" column points out that while J-Treds did guest on two tracks of Company Flow's 1997 album Funcrusher Plus, he was not a member of the group.

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