Public Offender

You-find-it-offensive

As both a stand-up comedian and comedy club manager, I often get complaints from audience members who are “offended” by something I or one of our Punchliner headliners have said onstage. But if you ask me, getting offended by stand-up comedy is like getting burned by the sun: both are easily avoidable. All it takes is a little sunscreen and maturity. Before you go to the beach, lather up; before you go to an R-rated comedy show, grow up. (Or at least do a little research about the comedian you’re about to see.) Whether you walk into one of our adults-only comedy shows beet-red from the sun or leave it beet-red from indignation, my response will be the same: “Well, what did you think was going to happen, you freckled @#$% ?” (See? I purposely censored myself so as not to offend you.)

Although I don’t enjoy offending people, I have little empathy for people who claim to be offended by the words, ideas or opinions of others. In my opinion, being offended is not a real thing. It’s an irrational state of mind that people lacking in emotional intelligence create for themselves by interpreting the words and intentions of others through mental filters based on their personal issues, prejudices, fears and, more often than not in comedy clubs, copious shots of Jägermeister. I believe this because I find myself being offended by things people do and say all the time. Fortunately, most of the time I can catch myself immediately and calm myself down by talking myself through my upset until  realizing that I alone own my feelings. So instead of going off on the person whom I’ve allowed to push my buttons, I’ll quietly walk outside and key his car.

Part of being an adult is being able to react maturely and reasonably to ideas and opinions that differ from one’s own.  In my humble—and 100% correct—opinion, comedy club patrons who express their displeasure with a comedian’s routine by  making a big deal about how “offensive” it is are exhibiting a lack of both reason and maturity and should stop going to comedy clubs and join the presidential race instead.

To clarify, I’ve got no problem with guests who express their opinions politely. For these folks, I’ll go out of my away to be a good listener and say whatever I can to make them feel better. I’ll apologize profusely, suggest another show which may be up their alley, and reserve them front-row seats for that show. What I won’t do, however, is throw the comedian in question under the bus by agreeing with the guest’s assessment of his act should I feel otherwise. If I feel a guest’s criticisms are spot-on, I’ll incorporate those comments into the comedian’s end-of-cruise performance evaluation. If I feel the guest is off base, however, I’ll listen politely for as long as he can keep his critique civil. “I don’t find this comedian funny!” is an opinion I can accept and work with. But as soon as some touchy hothead starts drifting over into “This comedian sucks—he’s not funny at all!” territory, it takes all the willpower I can muster not to pull the pin on a snarky-comment grenade and shout,  “What’s that?! You’ll have to speak up! I can’t hear you on account of our being surrounded by five hundred other people laughing their asses of at that hilarious comedian onstage right now!”

So you see, I’ve got no problem with paying (ahem!) customers expressing their honest opinions about any sub-par comedians I have a hand in recruiting and reviewing. In fact, even when the rest of the room is rolling in the aisles, there may be one lone wolf in the crowd who isn’t buying the crap the comedian is selling and who may very well win my respect by identifying that comedian as a headliner wannabe or, as I call such acts, “The Emperor’s Closer.”

No, my beef is with folks who get on their high horse and demand to either have a comic fired or at the very least be forced to drop the “offensive” bit in question. The problem with these folks is not the feelings of anger, disgust, frustration or indignation they experience when hearing a joke or premise they disagree with; the problem is their thinking that those feelings are more valid or important than either the feelings of release and purposefulness experienced by the comedian expressing himself onstage or the feelings of joy and happiness experienced by the other three hundred or so people in the audience who are guffawing their heads off. In other words, when an irate audience member claims to be offended by a joke she is basically saying that, in her opinion, the joke, which is the comedian’s opinion, is invalid, as is the laughter response of the other audience members, which is their opinion, and so in her opinion, the only opinion that matters in this case is her opinion. Well, in my opinion, people who share that opinion should be playing in a sandbox with a bunch of three-year-olds and not taking up seats in a comedy club.

The most ridiculous aspect of such complaints is the offended customer almost always thinks the comedian offended him on purpose. Few comedians derive any joy out of offending people. Stand-ups are by nature very paranoid people and are worried constantly about not being liked and not getting booked. Besides, although a stand-up’s job is to reinterpret everyday experience from an angle the average person would never consider, his ultimate goal is to make people laugh and feel good. And so, because of that and the fact that most comedians are extremely self-centered, we almost always assume that everyone in the audience is going to agree with our point of view. So if we think something is funny, we assume everyone will find it funny. However, every journeyman comedian knows that the audience is the final arbiter of what’s funny and what’s not, so if we try a bit a few times and the majority of the audience rejects it, we’re not going to keep it in the act. Meaning, every time one or two members of an audience are offended by a bit or find it terribly unfunny, hundreds if not thousands of people all around the country—or around the globe, even—have already laughed at it as opposed to being offended by it. (Of course, hate speech is something else altogether. But that’s where the audience comes in. What these “I was so offended” people don’t understand is if a comedian is truly out of line and a joke really is in bad taste, the whole audience will, more often than not, turn on him and let him know immediately. If you don’t believe me, just ask Michael “12 Years an Outcast” Richards.)

In my opinion (the three most important words in this essay), too many cruise-ship passengers, when watching stand-up comedy shows they neither paid for nor were forced to attend, have the mistaken belief that their opinion is more important than that of the artist onstage or the other cruisers in the audience. And, in some cases, some of them may actually come to a comedy show looking for something to be offended by because the feelings of self-righteousness and outrage they experience get the endorphins pumping more than a bucketful of free ice-cream on Lido Deck. Fortunately, these folks are in the minority. Unfortunately, they can multiply like Gremlins whenever the cruise line coddles them like children instead of treating them like the adults they’re supposed to be.

In a perfect world, our ship’s Guests Services associates would be empowered to answer all complaints regarding the content of our clearly advertised “eighteen-and-over, uncensored, anything-goes, adults-only” late-night comedy shows that are “not for the easily offended” with: “Let’s see here: You know you’re someone who is easily offended yet you still opted to see an adults-only, uncensored comedy show which was advertised as not being for the easily offended, and now not only have  you been easily offended, but you also have third-degree burns all over your body from lying out by the pool all day with no sunscreen?

“Well, what did you think was going to happen, you freckled @#$% ?”

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Book It, Danno!

Book Em Danno

Regardless of how much money you have in the bank or how big your yearly vacation budget is, getting the lowest possible fare on a cruise is always a plus. That way you’ll have some money left over for plastic surgery so that you can shake those IRS investigators off your tail before boarding a luxurious ocean liner bound for the Cayman Islands. Unfortunately, finding good deals can be tough sometimes because a luxury cruise to a popular destination can be a little pricey, so here are six tips to help you prevent your next cruise vacation from costing you an arm and a nose job:

  1. Book through a travel agent. If you’re worried that going through a third party will make your cruise more expensive, stop worrying. Travel agents make their money from commissions from cruise lines, wholesalers and hotels—and from all the marijuana they sell on the side, which is nothing compared to the amount they smoke. Yes, it shouldn’t surprise you that all travel agents are high all the time. That’s why they’re always telling you not to worry: “But what if one of my relatives has to cancel the cruise for any reason, such as being arrested for flying their gyrocopter into White House airspace, will I get the deposit for their fare back?” Don’t worry, dude. Just mellow out and everything’s gonna be OK, dude. “One half of my party has the 6:00pm dinner seating, one half has the 8:00pm dinner seating, and the third half is brown-bagging it. Are you sure the Maître D’ will be able to change our dining times around so we can all eat together?” All this talk of dinner is making me hungry, dude. Stay on the line while I skateboard down to Sam’s Club and snag a ten-pound bag of M & M’s, dude. Because travel agents always have access to righteous weed, they’re able to trade for special cruise deals not available to the general public, and therefore they can end up saving you big bucks on your cruise. And you don’t pay them a dime for hooking you up. Just bring them back a suitcase full of rum cake from the Bahamas and they’ll call it even, dude.
  2. Book at the last minute. If your travel plans are flexible, you should seriously consider holding off until the last minute to book a cruise. The closer they get to the departure date, the more desperate cruise lines become to offload unsold cabins at bargain-basement rates meant to entice you into quitting your job and selling your children (try Craig’s List!) so you can just pick up and go. Since the ship is going to sail regardless of whether it’s completely full or half empty, they figure that they can’t sell nine-dollar cocktails and twenty-dollar Bingo cards to empty cabins. If you play your cards right, you can net huge savings with this strategy. However, keep in mind that some ships with popular itineraries are always going to be jam packed at certain times of the year, so be sure to read my companion piece to this essay: “Hey, Jackass—Don’t Wait till the Last Minute to Book Your Cruise!”
  3. Cruise at the right time of the year. The best time to cruise is definitely during Spring Break. Especially if you’re older, cruising alone to just get away from it all or simply looking for a romantic vacation with that special someone. The great thing about cruising during Spring Break is that the ship will be booked to capacity either with grade-schoolers running around screaming, shouting and peeing on everything or with college kids running around screaming, shouting and peeing on everything. Either way all that screaming, shouting and peeing will make your cruise seem much more adventurous and exciting. You might even pee a little yourself.
  4. Look into added-value promotions. Many cruise lines offer special deals that might include hotel rooms, discounted or complimentary shore excursions and perhaps even included or discounted airfare. Only problem is you’ll have to book these cruises a little in advance, say, a decade or two. You may be able to find even more added-value promotions through a travel agent, such as free Skittles and rolling papers. (If you haven’t caught on yet, all travel agents are high all the time.)
  5. Check out cruise consolidators. If you choose to bypass a travel agent, consider checking out cruise consolidators or “bulk buyers” who buy blocks of cabins at incredible discounts. Cruise consolidators can net you considerable savings on cabins, excursions and such. Just keep in mind that all cruise consolidators work for the Mafia so if you cancel your cruise for any reason you might end up as a sightseeing stop for future divers and snorkelers.
  6. Create a budget and stick to it. Ha-ha-ha! I’m killing me!

So there you have it. Six tips for saving money on your next cruise. As good as money in the bank. Or maybe an offshore account in the Cayman Islands.

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My Two Sense

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My least favorite part of being our ship’s comedy club manager is turning over the showroom between shows. A hard partying crowd of 600 people can leave enough empty beer bottles and cocktail glasses in their wake to make the Punchliner look like Motley Crϋe’s tour bus. So in order to clean the room in ten minutes or less—and to ensure that guests waiting in line for the next show can get good seats without having to shove a fellow guest overboard—we ask the audience to exit after every performance. Not surprisingly, guests are less than thrilled by this policy, because it forces them to do two activities cruise ship passengers are notoriously reluctant to engage in: following instructions and leaving the sitting position. But I find that if I attach a free drink coupon to some fishing line I can usually coax them all out eventually.

I’ve been told I should look at it at from a guest’s point of view. And I have. Their point of view is that they have the right to ignore the rules because they “paid good money to be here.” They paid good money to fill up their gas tank—does that mean they can run a red light? They paid good money to finish their basement—does that mean they can use it as a meth lab? They paid good money for their cellphone—does that mean they can take a photo of their “junk,” email it to unsuspecting women, lose their spot in Congress and then run for mayor of a major metropolitan city? (OK, bad example.)

Not every guest gives me a hard time about our policy, but those who do make my job way harder than it needs to be. These people have been on the ship less than 24 hours and yet suddenly they’re experts in running a comedy club: “I have to leave now that the show is over and people are already lining up outside for the next one and your staff needs to clean up and reset the showroom in less than ten minutes? That makes no sense!”

“Of course that makes no sense to you,” I feel like screaming back, “You’ve never set foot in our club before! But maybe if you were an experienced crowd control expert who possessed firsthand knowledge of the type of traffic flow problems our carefully considered and thoroughly tested policies and procedures have been designed to prevent, instead of a vacationer seeing live stand-up for the first time, perhaps you wouldn’t be so befuddled. You may have paid to be here but I get paid to be here, so whaddya say you keep drinking yourself blind and I’ll keep doing my job?”

I’ve never understood “that makes no sense” as a guest’s go-to objection to our shipboard policies. Of course it makes no sense: you haven’t received the same training that we have nor are you privy to the same information we are. If you were to take a trip to Dick’s Sporting Goods, I’m sure that the machine that drills holes in the bowling balls would baffle the bejesus out of you. But to the guy who has been trained to drill the holes in bowling balls, the ball hole drilling machine makes perfect sense. And maybe if he were to drill a couple of holes into your skull, it would drain enough “stupid juice” out of your noggin so that from now on you’ll no longer demand that things make sense to you immediately and instead learn how to ask intelligent questions that might lead to you having a wider frame of reference, which will lead to better understanding of our polices, which will lead to you realizing that we have your and your fellow guests’ best interests at heart and have no intention of inconveniencing you or ruining your vacation, so please stop thinking that paying for a cruise makes you a senior vice president of the cruise line.

Similarly, when I board an airplane, none of the dials or levers in the cockpit makes sense to me. Difference is, the fact that those dials and levers make no sense to me makes perfect sense to me–because I’m not a pilot! But I’m pretty sure that if I took flying lessons for a number of years, spent thousands of hours in the air before finally obtaining my commercial pilot’s license, all that technology in the cockpit would one day make perfect sense to me. I’m also pretty sure I’d be even less tolerant of idiots that I am now:

“I can’t believe we have to wait an extra twenty minutes before takeoff just because one of the engines fell off the plane—that makes no sense!”

“Yeah, well, go Greyhound next time, jackass!”

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Have Tank Top, Will Travel

Tank Top

When packing for a cruise, don’t forget something nice to wear on Elegant Night. If you don’t own a tuxedo or evening gown, a tank top or sweat pants will do just fine. Just make sure they’re clean.  It is Elegant Night, after all.

Elegant Night isn’t what it used to be. Dressing up is optional now because my cruise line doesn’t want to alienate the lucrative “Duck Dynasty” demo by forcing them to wear anything that needs to be ironed. From a business standpoint that makes perfect sense: disgruntled guests spend less money so why risk upsetting a high roller who won’t even splurge on a pair of ten-dollar dress slacks at T.J. Maxx?

Before making Elegant Night more convenient for the sartorially challenged we need to ask ourselves,  “What kind of nighttime atmosphere do we want to promote on our ships? An elegant atmosphere where guests can delight in looking their very best for a couple of hours?  Or a relaxed atmosphere where guests can enjoy a refined seven-course meal in swim suits and flip-flops? Do we want guests to feel like they’re on a luxurious ocean liner in the Caribbean or at a KOA in Jacksonville?”

I think you know the answer: Viva Trailer Park Chic!

Oddly, my cruise line seems to care more about the wants and needs of our less sophisticated first-time cruisers than those of our more urbane repeat guests. Unfortunately, the more we coddle the common herd, the more we disrespect our classier customers who are more appreciative, more cooperative, and tend to spend more money on board. But because classier guests tend to bitch less, we’ve started to tailor our policies to the complaints and grievances of a few flip-flop philistines who, for example, feel discriminated against because “them treadmills in the guest gym ain’t got no ashtrays.” If I tell some shirtless biker with a giant flaming skull tattoo on his chest that he can’t enter my comedy club before donning the “Who Farted?” tank top he has slung over his shoulder like a Captain Trailer Park cape, he wheels his pimped-out Rascal Scooter down to Guest Services and threatens to have his entire Hell’s Angels chapter boycott the cruise line. Consequently, my cruise director is forced to give in and tell the guest that, because we truly value the patronage of a part-time drug mule who bought this cruise at the last minute on CheapAssCruises.com thanks to the $200 settlement he got on “Judge Judy,” that giant flaming skull tattoo on his chest does indeed count as a shirt.

“But, Boss,” I’ll say, “What about all the wealthy Platinum and Diamond members sitting next to him in their tuxedos and evening gowns, wearing looks of disgust and astonishment on their faces?”

“Well, if they’re so wealthy, how come they can’t afford a nice tank top for Elegant Night?”

Shut Your Face(book)!

Bush Devil

The great thing about Facebook is it allows average folks to express themselves with words without first having to actually learn how to express themselves with words.

Why struggle through a Writer’s Digest book on argumentative essays just so you can submit a polished opinion piece to your local newspaper when you can simply open a Facebook account, open a can of Old Milwaukee, and then open your mouth?

Who has time for reason and logic when we have a “socialist traitor from Kenya” running amuck in the White House? Quick, somebody teach Honey Boo’s mama how to type—it’s about time those of us too technically challenged to block her from our news feeds hear what she has to say about Obamacare!

I have three main uses for Facebook. One, it allows me to promote my comedy career and keep in touch with fans; two, it allows me to write and post daily topical jokes too perishable to take to the stage; and three, it allows my mom to comment on every single status update I make. Nothing makes me prouder than posting what I consider to be a Conan-worthy monologue joke and then seeing Mom’s face underneath two minutes later saying, “Oh, OK, I get it. Ha-ha.”

I can hardly wait to move out of her basement so I can block her.

Fortunately, Mom isn’t the only person who comments on my daily attempts at humor.  I usually get lots of likes and kudos whenever I manage to turn a particularly clever phrase such as “Justin Bieber sucks!” (My fans love this type of insightful social commentary.)

The only time I get negative comments is when I make a political joke revealing my decidedly left-of-center worldview. A worldview that clashes sharply with those of my far-right Facebook friends who have their days free to watch FOX News because they’ve lost their jobs and health insurance and are paying their basic cable bills with unemployment checks they receive from the same government led by the aforementioned “socialist traitor from Kenya,” who is trying his damnedest to give them their jobs and health insurance back.

These people lie in wait for me like Rush Limbaugh stalking a feminazi with a purse full of OxyContin. Two jokes that most recently kicked the hornets’ nest are:

  1. “Paula Dean is opening a new fried chicken restaurant. It’s called KKKFC.”
  2. “Thankfully, President George W. Bush is recovering from successful heart surgery. God bless the exceptionally skillful surgeon who was able to find it.”

I received several negative comments, such as “Boo, hiss—cheap shot!” and the equally soul-crushing, “Not nice.”

Oh, the vitriol!

Regarding the Bush joke, one friend sent me a link to a Washington Post story about Bush’s recent charity work in Africa. His implied question was, “How can you call Bush a heartless person when he’s spending all his time trying to wipe out AIDS in Africa?”

How? The same way the reporter who wrote the story could fail to mention that Bush executed over 150 prisoners while governor of Texas and, as Commander-in-Chief, invaded a sovereign nation that had nothing to do with 9-11. The story was about neither Bush’s reluctance to seriously consider clemency requests from death-row inmates nor his haste to start a war that would eventually kill over 5,000 American soldiers and over 100,000 Iraqi civilians; it was about his noble philanthropy on the Dark Continent. The reporter didn’t want to rehash all the bad things Bush did while in office; he wanted to highlight all the nice things Bush has done since leaving office. Fortunately, this isn’t hard to do because Bush’s leaving office is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for anybody.

Of course President Bush has become benevolent and humanitarian—that’s what all presidents with tainted legacies do once they shed the shackles of partisan politics, find inner peace and hear the call to duty. Retirement offers bad presidents the chance to atone for their sins and become great Americans. President Carter builds homes for the homeless and negotiates peace treaties in the Middle East. President Clinton helps promote democracy around the globe by nailing waitresses at The International House of Pancakes. And, when not stopping the spread of AIDS in the sub-Sahara, President Bush is relentlessly pursuing those “evil-doers” who caused last spring’s tornadoes in Oklahoma.

See? I didn’t really mean to say “W” doesn’t have a heart; I meant to say he doesn’t have a brain!

See what I just did there?

It’s called comedy, “Captain Comment,” so relax!

I can understand if some of my Facebook friends don’t find me funny. Like I said, even Mom doesn’t think I’m funny. Her favorite joke to tell is, ”What’s the difference between a large pizza and a stand-up comedian? A large pizza can feed a family of four.”

Hey, when the woman who gave you life thinks you’re a babbling douche, it’s hard to worry about what Facebook addicts still wrestling with the baffling intricacies of the QWERTY keyboard think about your generic Paula Dean joke. So the only problem I have with friends responding negatively to a joke that awakens their Inner O’ Reilly is that their comments are almost never funny.

Ever since Dennis Miller went over to the Dark Side after getting the boot from “Monday Night Football,” I haven’t agreed with a single word he’s said. But he still makes me laugh. I can laugh at a Michael Moore joke just as easily as a Sarah Palin joke—just as long as a master comedian like Dennis Miller is making it. (Especially, if Dennis were to call Michael Moore a brain-dead, bible-thumping, geographically challenged media whore from Alaska.”)

Everyone on Facebook has the right to his or her own opinion. But not on my wall. Your opinions belong on your  wall. My Facebook wall is for showcasing cheesy and derivative topical jokes that Jay Leno wouldn’t pay 50 bucks for during a writers’ strike.

The dittohead who commented, “Boo, hiss—cheap shot!” didn’t play by the rules of the game. He didn’t counter my joke with a joke of his own. “Cheap shot” is not funny. What he should have written was, “Hey, Fun Dude, the next time you’re at Paula Dean’s restaurant why don’t you ask to borrow some butter so you can grease your ass up enough to pull your head out of it?!”

That would have been hilarious! Not to mention, the pilot episode for my new Food Network series.

I have one Facebook friend who alternates between upbeat status updates thanking God for the tiny miracles in his life and angry posts parroting Rush Limbaugh’s daily attacks on President Obama. In real life, my friend is a great guy—gentle, smart, caring and sensitive; online, he mutates into a Sean-Hannity-worshiping hypocrite who calls Obama a socialist but then tries to censor me as if he’s a colonel in the KGB. And yet even though I think that every one of his anti-Obama outbursts is utter nonsense, I haven’t removed him from my news feed nor have I posted any negative comments on his wall. That’s because I view his Facebook wall as his private sanctuary for speaking his mind against the din of a cruel and indifferent world, within which very few normal people ever get the chance to be heard.

That and I’m usually too busy picturing Michael Moore naked.

I was going to say I’m usually too busy picturing Sarah Palin naked, but I wouldn’t want to get any negative comments on Facebook, now would I?