Monday, July 27, 2009

George Lopez, kinda funny, kinda not

This saturday, comedian George Lopez was performing at the Santa Barbara Bowl. I'd never been to the venue and thought it seemed like a good opportunity to check it out. I did my usual last minute strategy of buying the tickets from the box office on the day of, hoping that good tickets would be dumped back into the system. (I figured worst case scenario was an afternoon and dinner in SB. Not too shabby either way.) I got an excellent ticket - better than I'd originally wanted to pay for, but I jumped at the chance of an aisle seat. Turned out I also paid for not having to walk up another 40 to 100 steps - a bargain.

I should probably say up front that while I've enjoyed GL's standup, I'm not a fan of his show. I've tried to watch it a couple times. It has never held my attention long enough for me to get into it and I channel surf right past it. My assumption was that a live show allows more leeway for adult topics and other things that aren't getting past the FCC and could be worth trying out, and his commercials were funny, so I went.

After a couple of hours on the road to get there, which was over an hour longer than it takes without traffic, I finally got there in the late afternoon. For the SB Bowl, you can park on the street for free or at the High School for $7. Since I was there early, I parked on the street figuring I could walk to downtown for dinner in 20-30 minutes. Since it only really takes 10-15 at my pace, that was a great decision. However, that was 10 from the *car* not 10 from the *Bowl*, for those who might do like me and just use the public garages downtown. I didn't get to my original food plan as I was distracted by shopping for a new water-friendly shirt at the outfitters.

If you saw my twitter, you know I was liquored up pretty good at this place called elements which had a great happy hour until 6:30 with really original drinks and the best fish (yellowtail) sandwich ever. I staggered over to the show in a fine state of amusement. I drunk dialed 2 people and talked with some neighbors out drinking on the porch. It was fun.

The walk up to the bowl killed a lot of my buzz but not all of it. There's a pretty steep hike up to the lower seats and then again to the higher seats. High heels were ok on the way up, but I really felt for the ladies in stilettos on the way back - 4-5" heels normally were 2-3" up and 7" back... The heart was pounding and I was sweating, and he did the joke I expected about having a new shuttle to take people up who couldn't make the walk.

Anyhow, the place was packed. I staggered in midway through the opening act who was pretty funny, in a geeky way. He was a nerdly white guy - I felt he was trying a little too hard to advance his "latino cred" with the audience, but he's done this for a while so I guess it works for him. For some reason the joke I remember best is "My wife's a Martinez, which means she's related to roughly a third of Mexico" which affected things like birthday meal planning and his ability to live through talking to any other woman.

Then... we watched a commercial. It was reasonably entertaining being full of celebrities we like to see including Obama, but it was a commercial. A loooong commercial for his upcoming late night talk show and how great he is. Um, ok, but I kinda want $10 off my next show for having to sit through the infomercial.

Then came the prime comedy. I'm not sure I'd pay big bucks to see George Lopez again. I did laugh a lot, but on the whole, I was turned off by enough stuff that I'd rate the show 3 of 5 stars. Good enough if you like him particularly, but not good enough to spend a lot of money on it, and don't take people whose senses of humor you're unsure of. He tried to do a theme of "Hey we're great (fine), kids these days are pussies (ok if handled well) but we sure don't want 'em to be homos (not cool), I still hate Erik Estrada from one incident in 1977 (WTF? Get a life), Latinos can be chubby (funny) and take a bunch of menial jobs (could be funny, wasn't so much), I used to be poor (some funny, some not), live life while you're young (fuck you), and hey aren't we great (fine)".

The "Hey aren't we great" message didn't mesh with the "they can't deport us while they still need us to raise their kids and water their lawns and do all these other jobs with low status and crappy pay" jokes. That was more depressing than funny. Although he was mostly positive about a strong work ethic, he kept telling an audience of 4000 people paying an average of $60 a head how they "have no free time or extra money". Uh-huh.

And I suppose necessarily the idea of growing up Latino in America is mixed up with growing up both poor and Latino in America for him because he grew up both. Some of the humor came from the culture, some of the humor came from growing up poor, but the two were strangely conflated. This would have been fine, but he seemed to think that being poor somehow made one a better person but only if they were Latino. He should be old enough and experienced enough to sort this out. Maybe he was just overplaying to a vastly majority Latino audience, but the experiences that EVERYONE shares from not having enough are pretty universal so I think separating the experiences of being poor from being Latino could help reach a broader audience. Doesn't mean they can't be used in the same joke, just don't mistake being poor for being Latino or vice versa. This has the added benefit of not ascribing the state of being poor to the group of people you're trying to elevate and motivate.

Probably one of my favorite riffs was "stupid things the police are doing to catch Latinos": 1) tasers - "we all grew up with cords that didn't match the appliance like the red cord on the black lamp; shocking will not work on us." (funny, doesn't necessarily exclude others) 2) "Now they have something that shoots a bag of beans as a stunning mechanism. Um. It's beans. Aimed at Mexicans." He mimed getting hit, taking the beans for evaluation, and being sent back to get more for dinner. Got one of the biggest laughs and deserved it. Another big laugh was white people's weird food ideas like being vegan and how a Mexican cook will push food on you because if your belly doesn't stick out past your chi-chis, you haven't eaten enough. (Huge laugh, especially from the row of women with bellies out past their chi-chis in front of me.) Plus he kept talking about chi-chis which was entertaining too.

As to the grudge: Apparently EE didn't shake GL's hand at a public meet-n-greet when he was a teenager and he holds a grudge to this day. I don't know what any of the details were because he didn't say. But dude. Get over yourself. Be a better man. Shake hands with the brown kids and white kids and black (oh, I'm sorry, Dominican) kids so they never have to feel what you felt, but that little job of hate was extremely unattractive. Are you sure you're not Italian? They have a love for vendetta that you would be very comfortable with.

And he might want to reconsider the dumb-ass gay jokes, especially in Santa Barbara. Even in a Latino crowd the laughter was patchier for that. Seriously, "Don't name your kid Cody or he'll be gay" is funny? Totally lost me. Partly because who the fuck cares and partly because Cody is a perfectly normal cowboy name with a long cowboy tradition. Ragging on funky names is fine, but choose actual funky names, and rag on them for being something besides gay. He could have stripped out all the "gays are bad" references and only taken out about 2 minutes and not lost anything. It came off as old fashioned.

My biggest beef with the show was that he didn't build up Latinos by saying how great they were (aside from the work ethic and ability to craptacular jobs without whining), but by ragging on gays, blacks, and vegan white women. The vegan white woman is fair game because being vegan is a choice made by adults, but dude, the rest was just trying to say "see, we're not the lowest rank of the minorities" by reinforcing negative stereotypes of other marginalized minorities who are *born that way, you asshole*, which is just bullying behavior and not funny. At all. Trying so hard to paint Latinos as other rather than a great part of this melting pot didn't do your show any favors. Especially since I was sitting in a giant theater filled with successful Latinos who sure as shit aren't cutting anyone's lawn for slave wages, but are living (presumably) decent American lives while perhaps eating more beans and pork than some of their neighbors and having bigger family reunions. I suppose there's a fine line between "celebrating differences" and "reinforcing separationist ideas" and his show didn't fall on the right side of that line for me. I think it would only take some very slight tweaking to put it on the more inclusive side of that line.

I dug the fart jokes. They were part of his riff on growing older which for the most part I enjoyed. But the mixed message of "the youth of today are wussies" (could have got a LOT farther there instead of devolving to "gay names") along with the very clunky public service announcement delivery of "enjoy your youth", a message I've loathed since all those motivational speakers came to tell us that High School is the best time of our lives (fortunately not true), was just weird. You both revere and mock the youth? Ok, but do it better. That rah, rah youth message took away from the "growing old can be hilarious" message. Maybe if he tried harder to be funny and less hard to be a motivational speaker his routine would play better. And didn't overlap "youths suck" with "I wish I still was one".

The show as a whole just seemed a little too rough edged and bush league for a comedian of his stature and accomplishment. And for what I paid. I really think a couple of tweaks to the "themes" and it would have been a great show. As is, it was mediocre.

George, if you ever read this, try:
- "getting old is hilarious" not "your life is over when you age"
- "Latinos have great culture, but some of it is funny, or results in funny things"
- Try not to base your "Latinos are great ideas" on the theory that "other minorities suck more"
- keep the "we still have to worry about 'running while brown' and other police interaction jokes. FYI, the black guys are gonna get that too.
- food jokes are pretty universal, feel free to make fun of various choices but don't be a hater.
- stop with the Erik Estrada grudge. Be the better man and ask him on your show. Don't force an apology. Maybe get an explanation. Maybe you were super smelly that day and there was a prettier woman in line behind you. Maybe he was just an asshole. But give it up.
- what the fuck was with that commercial for your show? Half of that would have been totally fine and still a little much. Keep the Obama bit, but don't then go on to dis black people.
- really think about trying to reach a broader audience with the food and the growing up poor with grandma riffs. Separate poor from Latino as much as you can. Don't do such a great job of reinforcing stereotypes. (or if you do, use them for the cheap laugh up front and make the joke grow up through the show).
- Be motivational by NOT giving the dumb motivational messages, but by living the example and bringing the example into your comedy. If your joke is about how awesome it can be to be Latino despite all the other static on your life, the motivational message will come through.


donnamac said...

George Lopez is not funny anymore. The HBO "comedy" special sucked. If he thinks the USA is so bad he should move to Mexico. He does a dis-service to hard working Hispanics by being such a jerk.

Anonymous said...

I thought he was great,and as a Latina we know how to take jokes.
You cant take his jokes personel,and no its not the USA that sucks its all of the republican jerks!!!!!

Anonymous said...

George Lopez is an ass. That is the only shtick he knows. Come on, George, get some new material already.