Over the past couple of decades, I've ragged on theater patrons who didn't do right by a show — noisily arriving late, leaving before curtain calls, crinkling paper, hacking one constant cough, unwrapping cellophane covered candy, letting their cell phones ring, texting messages during a show — egad, I could go on and on. And I have. Gone on and on, that is.
So it is only fair that when I do wrong by a show, I should excoriate myself. So here goes.
The event was the Gallagher show at Pasco-Hernando Community College Performing Arts Center a week ago (the Tampa Bay Times was one of the sponsors).
Gallagher is a 65-year-old performer who became famous in the 1980s for taking sledge hammers to watermelons and other splattery things. He told some harmless jokes in between, but the splashes are what made him famous.
I suppose theaters grew weary of cleaning up after him, so he does what he calls the Gallagher Non-Smash Comedy Show these days. And a lot of the show is pretty darned amusing, if not always knee-slapping funny. He promises to make observations only on the truth, saying the truth is funny enough on its own, and when he sticks to that, the show works.
It's when he wanders off that path that his schtick becomes deserving of desertion. As in get up and get the heck out of the auditorium when his rants cross the line.
Hold on, here. I'm not talking censorship or "close down the place" or even "don't invite him back." I'm saying that when a performer does or says something so tasteless it's personally unacceptable to you, then it's time to get up and leave, not only so you don't have to hear any more, but also to show your disdain.
And that was my theater faux pas. I didn't leave when I shoulda.
Gallagher's "joke"? Q: Why was Ted Kennedy happy that he died of brain cancer? A: Because that meant he could die with a hole in his head, like his two brothers.
The audience groaned, but we all sat there, waiting for more. And he gave it to us, lazily attacking all-too-easy, hackneyed, out-dated targets: the French, Arabs, homosexuals.
Hey, Gallagher, it turns out the French were correct about Iraq not having weapons of mass destruction; we're trying to be friends with Arabs these days; and gay-bashing — and racist jokes — are as out-of-date as green and gold shag carpet and out-of-line as the Ku Klux Klan.
What makes something funny is the unexpected, the topical, the fresh, a twist on "accepted wisdom," a new angle on the usual.
And a joke about a celebrity or politician must start with at least a grain of truth — think Jay Leno's monologues and any Saturday Night Live skit — not a total fabrication, whether it's about Newt Gingrich, President Barack Obama or Gary Busey.
Most of all, you can make fun of yourself or your own kind, but tread lightly and carefully when it comes to spoofing others, especially when you're part of the group on top (and, no, Gallagher, we're NOT all Anglo-Saxon; most Americans are proud mongrels, a mix of races and nationalities).
See, Pat Cooper can tell crazy Italian jokes; Chris Rock can tell African-American jokes and even use the N-word; Jeff Foxworthy can tell stupid redneck jokes; Mel Brooks can tell outlandish Jewish jokes. But when a white guy thoughtlessly jokes about people from other groups, he can sound mean and nasty, not funny. Just ask done-for comic Michael Richards (Kramer on Seinfeld) what his "n-----, n-----, n-----" tirade did for his career. That wasn't "edgy;" that was going over the edge.
I talked with Sharon Masters, the events and marketing specialist at PHCC who helps choose the shows for the season, though she hadn't come on board yet when Gallagher was chosen. She said there were 427 people at the show, a nearly full house, and she's gotten "nothing but rave reviews from anyone who commented to me."
Next season's shows haven't been chosen yet, she said, and Gallagher may or may not be invited and may or may not accept.
If he does, it's likely that he'll pack 'em in again.
I just won't be among them.