I’m so fucking CLEVER!
Can we take a cleaver to clever? Clever will do, at times, for the easily amused. But clever also kills. Lately, racists are being Ku Klux Klever. I would never sever clever. Seems we’ve reverted to quip, that stings like the snap of a whip.
See, it’s so easy to be so schmoltzy and insincere, yet make a bit of a point. Cleverness might be the biggest joke a comedian can play on themselves. You’ve rehearsed the high-minded bit with your low-hanging “ob-ser-vation-al hu-mor”. How nice for you.
I used to live in Las Vegas, and while I was there, got to be part of a very close improv and comedy community, mostly formed during the time the Second City had a theater on the strip for nearly seven years. Fortunately, I was an understudy and instructor for Second City for the two years I was there. I got to know just about everyone there was to know in that community. This community lives on, even after Second City left the historic Flamingo Hotel and Casino. There was this self proclaimed “comic” in the mix. Let’s call him Buford. Buford wanted to tell jokes AND do improv. Tall order for c. 2006, but no one saw the harm. The community was supportive. Buford became this regular emcee for a Monday night improv/comedy/music/character/Jam show we had off-site at The Las Vegas Little Theater! I have a lounge act, Velvet Tom. Velvet Tom, also lives on. Occasionally, I would perform Velvet Tom at this Monday night jam. Velvet Tom’s intro is “Lover. Loser. Legend.” Those three words, in that order. I swear. Very simple, nothing grandiose. “Lover. Loser. Legend.” Buford is emceeing this particular night Velvet Tom is going on, in Vegas. Buford snarks, “How can I introduce you?” I respond “Lover. Loser. Legend.” “Lover. Loser. Legend.” he says. “Yes” I say “In that order”. He’s an awkward sort as you can imagine, with a fake name like Buford. He bares a skin balled head wearing a Kangol hat backward, dawned with a patterned bowling shirt (one of many in his collection). His attitude reeks, local open mic’r, which is fine. He peels off muttering the words in order “lover, loser, legend, lover, loser, legend…”
GO TIME! He hits the stage with lackluster enthusiasm, makes some opening remarks, a few housekeeping notes for the theater. I’m on after this. We are in place and ready for my intro.
There’s a long silence. “Uuuuuuuurrrm, and now the LOSER. (nope) The LEGEND. (nope) The LOVER. (nope)…velvet tom.” You’re 0 for 3 “Buford”! It was three simple words, placed in lyrical order, alliterated with “L’s” for easy memorization, heard, repeated, engrained and yet you STILL couldn’t be bothered to remember them in said order. You failed at emceeing Buford! F-F-F! Three F’s for easy memorization!
That was 9+ years ago! Las Vegas is a place I visit on occasion now, and I haven’t really thought about Buford, until last Thursday. I was sitting down to some Velvet Tom business, because I have recently relaunched the act! In case you’re wondering, my intro has not changed. Now, I write it down for emcees so they don’t fuck it up, because, they will. I recall that night in Vegas as I’m posting pics and vids from some of my recent shows. I picture Buford’s face. “You had three words to say, in order! How could you fuck that up?” I say to myself!
A few hours later, I head to the “Get A Room Mic at The Hollywood Hotel” to do just a regular joke set! The room is hot! For an open mic, people are killing it. There’s a crowd of tourists, people are laughing and drinking! I see so many familiar faces! Fist bumps and High Fives all around, and THEN, I see….
Noooooooo. Could he be? Here? in LA? I observe his shiny hairless dome, as he robotically sits toward the front of the stage accompanied by a guitar case. He doesn’t laugh at any comics, even though they are crushing it. Yet, he sits there, contrary and stone-faced, proudly displaying his comic-to-comic stoicism. This type of doucheiness is all too familiar and a feeling I’ve not felt in a long time. Long time.
I hear his name: Buford Mudbutt (fake last name too). He hits the stage with the same lackluster enthusiasm, guitar case in hand. He goes into a “well rehearsed” bit. A live instruction manual bit about open mic comics, basically shitting on open mic comics, thus instantly alienating 1/2 the room. Because we know we suck on a certain level. You don’t need to spell it out. It was a bit for bit’s sake, and…well, it wasn’t that he bombed. He did. But, HOW he bombed! He bombed the moment he exhaled into that mic! He bombed when he wasn’t embracing the spirit of the mic. He bombed when he chose his “very clever” (ah, callback!) and very rehearsed bit over working the room. Instead, he walked the room…and if you’re unfamiliar, that means people who were having a great time, up until that point, decided to call it a night. The power of bad comedy. And he wouldn’t switch gears either. The guitar bit was the finale and he didn’t even play anything. What a tease. What an unfunny tease. I respect whatever a comic wants to do with their time, it’s their 5 minutes. If they feel they really have to get through a bit, I get it. But c’mon!!
Clever took another life, that night.
The real odd take away from all of this, is that I gave Buford 6 seconds of thought on one day, and by that very same evening, I had manifested him in real time, before my eyes, for the first time ever in 9 years. And I don’t believe in any of that stuff. Vegas is 6 hours away. The Hollywood Hotel is a legendary space for comedy open mics. Too many givens for it to be a “cosmic retribution” of sorts. But if it was, I sure loved watching Buford Bomb Beautifully. Three B’s.
“I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever nowadays. You can’t go anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing has become an absolute public nuisance. I wish to goodness we had a few fools left.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest
“A clever man commits no minor blunders.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe