It's all about bouncing back

Monday, June 29, 2009

Crowd Control

Last year, not long after Bernie Mac passed away, Todd Jackson over at Dead Frog posited that this brief Def Comedy Jam performance -- taped when Mac was quite young -- was, quite possibly, one of the most perfect little bits of stand up on record. The canonical example of how to turn a hostile crowd into a worshipful throng.

Recently I was thinking about this bit again and pondering: was Todd's observation (with which I agreed at the time) just hyperbole born out of our collective grieving? It's an interesting point to debate, especially for me. Because I'm someone who wants to spend hours in scholarly analysis of comedy, dissecting jokes line by line and wondering how each will be remembered -- how each will impact broader society. And there's just no room for that here. This is very simple and base material. As a scholar, it leaves me cold. As a woman, it makes me swoon.

Because what this performance has is power, timing, commitment, raw charisma and audience control at a level I've never seen in a comedy club -- a level reserved for a handful of the greats (and Bernie Mac was most certainly one of those). How does he do it? Can skill that intense be taught or cultivated? I am dubious. Some people are just born with it -- and it's always a joy to behold.

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