I'm so happy my joke bombed. This is the first time I ever felt that way. I held up my drink onstage and said, "I usually drink White Russians, but I have imposed sanctions so I'm drinking a screw driver in protest. The audience erupted into laughter of about 250 people for a private company event at the Sioux Historic Pavilion in Ortonville MN. Feb 25th, 2022. Russia just invaded Ukraine, it's been non-stop news coverage on every channel for the last 3-4 days. Stand up comedians are the first responders in terms of testing and gauging audience reactions throughout the country. It's a craft of eliciting a reaction. After a while you get good at it. Most of what you see, or what I see in the media is a slow growth from what I've seen another comedian do years ago. We are the test lab rats of ideas. Advertising execs regularly boast they go to comedy clubs frequently for ideas, that they can re package to a high dollar client. It was a special show, coming out of the pandemic, the audience wanted to laugh and they were ready. Combined with the invasion of Ukraine, tensions were high. President Zelenskyy of the Ukraine has quickly won the hearts of the entire World with his quick witted responses like, "I don't need a ride I need ammunition" and "It will be our faces you see, not our backs". I asked the audience to pray for the Ukraine, and everyone instantly fell silent. He has won over the Country and every comedian with his warmth, wit, bravery and speaking the truth.
I had a lot of fun going out into the audience talking to the young couples, one couple in particular seemed so in love that it always warms my heart to see. So, I encouraged them to have a baby tonight! The crowd burst into laughter and I even offered to give them a 100.00 dollar incentive. One of the company Owners, Wade VanDover stood up and offered 200.00 the crowd went crazy and this continued to escalate util the pot was up to 1000.00 for the next company couple that announced a pregnancy. The show was going so great, that I went back into material. I had talked earlier about flying and airlines, but it was all going so well I figured I would throw in my airline joke that has been killing for the last 20 + years. It was my 9/11 joke. When the 9/11 disaster happened every working comedian had the same thought. Whats the joke? What could you say? What could you joke about that would be permissible? I was performing in the Bahamas Atlantis Resort Nassau. I had several jokes, but one worked exceptionally well. I said 'Its scary getting on a plane, personally I think they should play middle eastern music on every flight, and the first person that taps his foot is...OUT! Killed. I remember the owner Manager Richard Bethel, and Naughty, the other comedian were like, wow! That's a great joke. I didn't think it was all that great really, it was a thought I had for a long time.
The dividing line between middle eastern me, ( My Great Grandfather was born in Lebanon) and middle easterner's from the middle east was the music. It's horrendous. If thats your idea of joy no wonder you want to blow up stuff. The 9/11 disaster would eventually die out and everyone would go back to the way it was before. I even told a friend of mine, Thor Ramsey, he could do my joke because I thought it would have a short shelf life. Little did I know that flight travel would be changed forever, and my joke would continue to get bigger and bigger laughs as the years marched on. I kinda felt like I was throwing my people (Middle Easterners, under the bus)....still it's a good joke.
I flew back home, to Los Angeles, I went to Largo which was this new hip club on Fairfax booked by my friend Josh DiDonato. I was disappointed I wasn't on the show, to make matters worse I spotted the guy from that new hot tv show "Friends" standing right next to me, David Schwimmer. We were all excited to be out, as we had all come out of the recent disaster 9/11 that affected the whole country deeply. We needed to laugh. I saw Louie C.K. for the first time onstage. He was somewhat monotone. Wasn't really doing a lot. Very casual onstage. Had a matter of fact manner about him, still he was getting a decent response, which was not easy there. Louie C.K. said "the whole world stoped. For most of us, I think things didn't go back to normal until... "He delivered his punchline and boom. (No, I'm not going to say it) He wiped out the room with that one joke. One of the longest sustained laughs I've witnessed.
I remember the next day, all my comedian friends were talking about it. That's it, that's the joke. And to me, if there is such a thing as a comedian becoming famous from one joke, it's Louie C.K. at least in my world. Louie had said exactly what others were thinking. Little did I know that spots in my show/act would never get the same laughs again after 9/11. The public perception had changed overnight. I used to do this bit that included a character voice of angry Arabic gibberish, that would always kill. After 9/11...nothing. Not funny. Nothing funny about an angry Arab. But the audience loved my joke making fun of middle eastern people. I felt a little guilty at times, making fun of my people. Then again, all people are my people. The reaction over the years, it just got stronger and stronger corresponding to the fears people had traveling, and in particular with middle eastern people.
I derive some comfort in remembering the story written by the great Groucho Marx, He had worked Vaudeville delivering his jokes with an over the top German accent. When WW II broke out and the Horrors of Hitler became public, no one laughed at a German accent anymore. So he had to drop it. I always thought Groucho had a unusual delivery. His comedic delivery sprung from doing thousands of performances and removing portions of a german accent that audiences could recognize, but leaving a few traces in here and there that supply the funny. Tonight I did my 9/11 joke in Ortonville Mn that I have been doing for 21 years. Nothing. Silent. The public perception has changed. We have a new enemy. Russia. I hope this doesn't mean that anti - Russian jokes will become popular. Maybe it was a fluke. We have a new hero too. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Ukrainians for their bravery. I will continue to test material and ideas in the comedy stage laboratory. Nothing is off limits for comedians, they will try out anything. Zelenskyy and the Ukrainians have inspired us all. We must continue to support them. Comedians can laugh at some dark stuff, but don't tell him you saw some advertising agency execs in the back of the room when they were onstage. That's not funny.