Do comedians get enough respect? Or any?

In ancient times, courts and aristocratic households employed Jesters or Fools to point out the "foibles, flaws and hypocrisies" of their master, mistress and their guests. The King's Fool was the only person in the court who was able to deliver personal observation without fear of death. They were not highly regarded as contributing members of society, and occupied similar status in the household as lowly servants, but they were afforded respect and license to speak their minds.

The Fool is the genesis for today's modern comic performer. A comic is the only performance artist who is "licensed" to poke fun at his/her self and the world in which we live. Sometimes it isn't pretty - but when have we ever been comfortable with our own reflection? However, I believe that now, in the 21st century, comedy is still considered the lowest form of spoken word performance on the artistic totem pole.

Consider this anecdote: a female comic I know was pulled over for speeding. When she apologized and admitted that she was rushing to get to a gig because she was a comic, the cop replied, "Oh yeah? Say something funny." 

I'm not trying to paint everyone with the same brush, but I have to say that in my experience, the comedic performer is misunderstood by most. But wait, you say, look at the plethora of movie comedies! Box office sell-outs, highest grossing numbers, famous comedians making everyone laugh. Ah yes -  but can you remember the last time a person in a comedic performance won an Oscar? 

Take a look at this article about comedians nominated for Oscars. The results aren't pretty, and the article notes that comedians are so rarely recognized for their contributions to film that the Academy eventually awards them Lifetime Achievement Awards in compensation - after all, where would cinema be without the contributions of Charlie Chaplin, Bob Hope and Groucho Marx?

I was asked once to provide a list of comedians to a producer who wanted to "throw out a topic, give the person 20 minutes to come up with something funny, and immediately perform". I was shocked.

"Would you ask an author to do this?" I asked. "Or a painter? Or a composer? Why on earth would you think it acceptable to ask a comedian to come up with new material based on your topic and comfortably perform it in 20 minutes?"

"Yeah but they're comics - they're always funny".

Oh boy. Well, that's a nice idea and I suppose some might find that comment flattering, but I hear nothing but disrespect and a complete misunderstanding of artistic merit. Art takes time.

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