Saturday, December 2, 2017

Standup in the Fifties

Some of you know that before I became a playwright I was an actor (do people say actress anymore)? When I worked at the Renaissance Faire in New York, I met a woman named Lois who wanted to be a stand up comedian.

One day on the bus to the Faire, a friend of hers asked if she was going to "work out" after the weekend. It turns out "work out" meant doing stand up in a comedy club when they opened the floor to newcomers.

I loved this idea and still wonder at the courage it took for Lois and her friends to stand up in front of a (hopefully) large-enough group of people and try to make them laugh. In earlier years, comedians had police to deal with, too.

This week I started watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and it's hitting a lot of sweet spots for me--set in the 1950s during Beat Generation days, with a great female comic character at its center. (And yes, I'm partial to funny ladies.) She is also in scenes with some extraordinary comics from the era--Lenny Bruce being one of them

While the 1950s are often thought of as super-squeaky clean, comedians like Lenny Bruce, Beat Generation artists and a raft of other people proved otherwise. Bruce, for example, was arrested multiple times for using "obscene" words and had to endure an obscenity trial. He was found guilty (though later pardoned after his death).

In the first two episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the lead character is arrested for obscenity as well. She too, is found guilty in court. I found all of this interesting as I am working on book 2 of the Beat Street Series, which centers on a female comedy writer who loses her job due to the Blacklist. (See last week's post for more on this).

In any case, seeing what happened to Lenny Bruce and what other writers and comedians went through in the 1950s makes me think the word "standup" has a double meaning. Comedians were standing up in front of audiences baring their souls while trying to be funny. They were also standing up for something else--the right to free speech.

Which mostly means (to me, and I'm not lecturing) that they gave us quite a gift -- whether they themselves were gifted or not. So by the time my friend Lois went to "work out" her monologues in front of an audience, she didn't have to worry about being arrested for using certain words.

I hope that's always true from now on... for all of us.

If you want to talk more about his, please join me at "Holiday Happiness" on Facebook next Saturday, December 9 at 4 p.m. Central time. We can talk about anything, really -- and you can win a free paperback of The Beat on Ruby's Street or a $5 Amazon gift card.

Performer: Blewt Productions