M.A.S.H.

Being a Comedy Snob

I am a comedy snob. And worse, for years I thought that was an asset. God help me!

I have always been a comedy snob since I was a third grader at Joseph Sears School. I couldn’t understand why my friends would watch Three’s Company over comedies like M.A.S.H. or Bob Newhart. I secretly thought “What is wrong with them?”

As I got older and started studying improv, it got worse. When I was in college, I studied with the legendary improv guru Del Close who would preach in his booming voice to “play to the top of your intelligence.” Back then, we at the Improv Olympic had a chip on our shoulder, feeling somewhat over shadowed by Second City. Long form was not really accepted yet, so we thought of ourselves as purists, though that was an exaggeration. We were improv snobs. It was like we were from the Ivy League of improv, and we carried ourselves with a little swagger and a lot of superiority.

Even though I was green and did not have a clue what I was doing, it did not prevent me from standing in the back during improv shows and criticizing the players on stage. I cannot tell you how many hours I wasted in smoky bars or at all-night diners eating stale pie and drinking burnt coffee ripping other people’s improv.

Unfortunately, I’m still a comedy snob. Although I don’t do it as much in my performing or teaching, I have found it showing up in my everyday life.

If you haven’t figured it our already, I am in therapy. I go to group therapy twice a week. My therapist is a brilliant man with one of the corniest senses of humor. He loves a good pun, and when he comes up with a “good one” his face lights up like a Christmas tree. He’s so fucking proud of himself, and it’s so annoying I cannot contain myself. I roll my eyes in the back of my head. I have a running joke with him. Since most of us in the group are addicts in recovery, I say, “Looks likes you’ve had a comedy relapse.”

If that’s not enough, there is this older guy who I am friends with. He is very wise. I have a lot of respect for him, except when he tries to be funny. He’s one of those people who thinks he’s funnier than he actually is. It’s actually a disease. A couple of weeks ago we got together and as we joked around he could not resist and opened his mouth with one of his typically flat jokes that was dead on arrival. But this time, I watched his face. It lit up when he told it. He was filled with joy. And for a of couple seconds, this old, wrinkled, worn face transformed into that of a giddy 14-year-old boy. He was playing. He was having fun. I had never seen this before. I was too busy being a snob. I had missed the best part.

When I realized this, I felt sick. I felt sad. I had this insight that I was criticizing how people play. What an awful thing to do. And in the process, I was squashing their joy, their fun, their passion. Much like my parents did to me growing up. I do not want to be my parents. I don’t know many people who do.

Improv is all about having fun. So if maybe you’re a snob like me and say long form is better than short form, or Johnstone is better than Del Close, or UCB is better than the Annoyance, or musical improv is better than scenic improv, remember that what you’re judging is how people play. The next time you go to the park or playground and see children playing, my guess is you are not going to critique how they are play. You accept them for who they are. Which is something I could learn. Because being a comedy snob has gotten me nowhere in my professional career, or, most importantly, in my everyday life.

Last chance to study with Jimmy Carrane in 2014! Sign up for his Advanced Ensemble Class, taking place on Saturdays from 12-2 p.m. at Stage 773 starting Oct. 25. Early Bird Special ends Oct. 13!

7 replies
  1. Jack Schultz
    Jack Schultz says:

    I’ve had a similar experience. Like most young performers, I’m very self conscious about how “good” I am. I can be an improv snob and heavily criticize myself and compare my scenes to others. But isn’t it silly to worry about how good I am at pretending? Whenever I get self concious I find comfort in telling myself, “This is all just a game, don’t take it too seriously.”

    Reply
  2. Fad23
    Fad23 says:

    My ideas about snobbery come mostly from the swing dance world. About fifteen years ago factions arose, based upon which old school dancers we were taught to have allegiance toward. Perhaps some caution was justified in that dancing with someone with limited or opposing technique can be uncomfortable or even injurious. Well, at least if you’re unskilled at adjusting.

    However socially or even aesthetically, I see little to be gained from snobbery. It might help with brand building, so to speak, but that approach doesn’t appeal to me creatively. In my last year in Chicago I’ve observed some of the us vs them mentality that sparked with so many in the comedy world today, and even in younger students. Maybe my prescriptions are incorrect.

    I feel like there are many unexplored territories. When it comes to exploring these, snobbery seems like more handicap than help.

    Reply
  3. Joshua B
    Joshua B says:

    Unless you think less of someone, as a human being, because they laugh at inane shit, then you aren’t being a snob. If another person finds something that you think isn’t and you question their “taste” you’re still not being a snob. I cant understand why people think Dane Cook is funny. I think his comedy is hack and he is an immature jackass. You could be my best friend, but if you like Cook, well, I am gonna look at you a little sideways. I’ll still love you, buy you a cup of coffee and let you cry on my shoulder when you one. But I am forever going to bust your balls for laughing at his hack comedy.

    Reply
  4. Gregor
    Gregor says:

    It’s the Harold. No, wait, it’s Ding. It’s “Screw Puppies.” No, wait, it’s “Last Waltz Around Rage Mountain.”

    It’s fun being judgy-wudgy. Early on, it’s part of how you create an identity on stage. But at some point, to be yourself on stage, you have to let it go.

    All the movies, all the hours of episodic TV, all the improv ensembles, all the improvisors, all those nights in all those coffee shops, sitting around, pulling apart players, what I was doing, without knowing it, was trying to verbalize a prayer for myself.

    This is kind of player I wanted to be: kind like Jack McBrayer, aggressive like Stephnie Weir, smart like Ed Herbstman, vulnerable like Jen Nails, playful like Michael Delaney, unashamed of myself for consistently failing to rise to the top of my so-called intelligence like, well…me!

    Mercifully, what I didn’t know was how long it was going to take. Being a comedy snob is just another way of being a comedy lover.

    Speaking of which, you’re an improv treasure, Jimmy Carrane. Thanks for writing this.

    Reply
  5. Allison Black
    Allison Black says:

    Your blog post reminded me of this, “isn’t it great that we all aren’t alike?!” We have different experiences that shape who we are and are not, and that makes us each unique. And so what we find funny, such a cool thing that only some of us creatures do, is as unique as we are. The joy in the laughter unites us. When we laugh, at what ever tickles us, that joy is the same. And that is pretty cool to me. Do I judge, sure. Mine is over the 3 Stooges – which I admit I do not understand. It doesn’t tickle me, but I cannot deny the joy that it brings someone else.

    I love your comment about judging someone else’s play – that really struck me. It was illuminating and crystallizing for me. And helped me to think that it is play and to judge it seems really ludicrous. That to judge it seems to suggest there is only a limited amount of play in life and therefore we should work to do it best and correct – wow! What a belief in the scarcity of play and fun?! There is enough to go around, no need to hoard, just play and if you are lucky, laugh… and repeat.

    Reply
  6. Catherine Cole
    Catherine Cole says:

    Well, if it’s any consolation, kids do judge how other kids play on the playground. It’s a sad aspect of human nature. And it’s one that we teachers are constantly attempting to modify. The good news is, Jimmy! You are not a snob in real life! You yourself are a great teacher and a fascinating, and compassionate human being!

    Cat

    Reply
  7. Clare
    Clare says:

    I can certainly identify with being a comedy snob. I’m on a troupe with a lot of people less experienced with improvising than I am, and this doesn’t help my sense of “being right” about comedy. But there’s a member of the troupe who is one of the funniest people, and best improvisers, I’ve had the fortune of working with. He is great; but has the dumbest taste in comedy-esque stuff. Stuff I thought had no business even being produced, let alone enjoyed. He redefined “dumb” comedy for me. Because, at the end of the day, whether us snobs think it’s good or not, any comedy that gets produced benefits the whole community. And the people who enjoy the bad stuff aren’t doing us any disservices.

    Reply

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