Is the Valley Humorless?
I think of the Valley as being many things but, for some reason, it just doesn't make me laugh. Compare the typical Valley weekend to the experience I had in Chelsea on Sunday.
First off, I went to a performance of improv comedy at one of my favorite places in the world, the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater on 26th St. There, for just seven bucks, I was treated to an hour of fully improvised comedy done by performers from VH1 and The Colbert Report. In the past, I've seen an assortment of cast members from Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock on that stage, including Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch, Horatio Sanz, and Jack McBrayer. (There was one glorious time I saw Jason Bateman there, and it still sends my heart aflutter.) There were no ladies performing on Sunday, so the comedy very quickly descended into jokes about the male anatomy, but I still left with my sides hurting.
When that was over, I had a friend who was doing a politically-themed sketch comedy show at the Magnet Theater on 29th St. Their prices were even cheaper: only five bucks. No stars were in attendance, unless you count a savage caricature of Joe the Plumber. (“Joe, you make more than $250,000 a year? Hey everybody, the next round is on Joe! And he overcharged you for those urinals.”)
After that, I had to go home. But I did pass the People's Improv Theater, which was also on 29th, on my way to the subway.
So, that's three improv or sketch-comedy venues in the span of three blocks. People flock to them, too. Comedy is hot. (SNL just had its best ratings in 14 years. They say it was because of Sarah Palin, but I take some credit for that.) I know so many people doing comedy right now that a friend, faced with the prospect of going to yet another friend's improv show, remarked that improv groups are the new garage bands. Everybody's in one.
Of course, getting up in front of an audience and coming up with immediate jokes or sketches really hones a comedian's skill, and a lot of people leave these theaters and move on to great careers in television. Just look at the current crop of UCB performers. You'll see a lot of familiar faces.
But people I know who have no interest in performing still take improv classes. Sometimes they think that it'll help them in their careers because they'll be more confident in their public speaking. (A friend spotted her HR rep at a show.) Others believe that having to do improv gets them thinking on their feet and looking at the world in a new and different way, trying to find the joke in every situation.
So, what's the Valley's problem? How come we have no equivalent of the UCB Theater, the Magnet Theater, or the PIT? Is it that we're skipped over by talented comedians in favor of the bright lights of the big city, where television jobs are more plentiful? Or are we just…not funny?
I hope someone changes things soon. With the world the way it is now, we all could use a laugh.