Camp Happyland

April 29, 2015


So I broke my rule. The “never drive to a gig that is more than 5 hours away” rule. I had been pretty successful at following this little travel law for years, but recently I’ve found myself driving from, say, Erie, Pennsylvania to our house on Long Beach Island in one 6-hour bout of insanity.

Last weekend I drove to Waldorf, Maryland and back on Friday; then drove past Fredericksburg, Virginia and back on Saturday. It’s inane and stupid. Not to mention death-defying (I-95 for more than three hours at once is flirting with the grim reaper – who, himself, drives a tinted-window Prius, I believe).

Coming back late Saturday night, I drove through our nation’s capital on route 395, which was beautiful because there wasn’t the daytime nightmare of traffic-meets-bad-drivers. It was raining, but the Washington Monument was lit up and majestic, as was the White House, and upon seeing it I turned on the radio for no particular reason, just hoping to catch some news.

Cecily Strong at the White House Correspondents Dinner

Cecily Strong at the White House Correspondents Dinner

I got to hear Cecily Strong, the Saturday Night Live Weekend Update anchor, skewering politicians, celebrities, media people and the “news industry” at the White House Correspondents Dinner. This has become a rite-of-passage, apparently, starting with Dennis Miller and Seth Myers – and now Ms. Strong. She’s very funny. I was impressed with more than her excellent jokes, because she’s obviously worked with writers (some of the best in the business work for SNL), but her delivery and working knowledge of her audience and the zeitgeist was plainly evident. She’s really, really good.

We have very little in common, Cecily Strong and I. This night was a dramatic example of just how different – but also how similar – our careers in comedy are.

Strong was working for an audience made up of many races, creeds, backgrounds and birthplaces. The news gathering and reporting industry is, if nothing else, painfully PC. Her audience reflected that.

My audience was similar: Black, Caucasian, Latin, Asian, Native American.

Both Cecily and I played to the general base of reference that our audiences understand. We tapped into the things they find important, and had fun at the expense of people there. In both cases it was all in fun, it was taken as such, and the evenings can both be filed under “success.”

The similarities stop there.

The Correspondents dinner is all about celebrities – many of them went to pristine colleges and universities. The folks I worked for may not have finished high school. Where Cecily had an attentive group who admire and respect her for what she has accomplished as a woman, a comedian and a fellow “VIP,” most of my audience didn’t know – and probably doesn’t know today – anything about Taylor Mason. Ms. Strong focused on politics because that’s what EVERY dinner in the metro area is about. I stayed away from politics except for one line: “Hillary Clinton? Liar, liar, pants suit on fire!”

Many, if not all, of your TV and Internet news readers/reporters do not have journalism degrees. They would, in fact, be hard-pressed to define the word “journalism.” And they certainly aren’t aware of the “yellow journalism” so prevalent in the USA, what  … decades ago? A hundred years ago? A century ago? They couldn’t tell you! Today’s media people are often “theater” or “mass media” majors in college who turned from acting to settle for acting as political “journalists,” reading scripts or the copy they were given/found on Wikipedia earlier in the day.

The people I worked for just wanted to take their mind off their troubles for 90 minutes, troubles which often are personal and very significant. Cecily Strong had TV and movie celebrities in her crowd, and I can imagine the conversations of “correspondents” and Hollywood A-listers:

“Love your work! No, really I L-O-V-E your work! You’re so… edgy!”

“Thanks, it’s not about my ego now. It’s all about Dostoyevsky’s selfish dream.”

“I quit Screen Actors Guild to prove that I have become objective!”

Stuff like that.

My audience was good-natured and sincere. There was a healthy lack of snobbery and pretension. They gave me more than I gave them, and I am thankful for the work and their responsiveness.

I am, without question, a Cecily Strong fan. And the “Washington Correspondents” need to be made fun of. She did a really good job.

We both had successful nights. I’m glad I got to catch her performance.

You can catch mine this Saturday night in Marlton, NJ, at The Comedy Cabaret!