You work your whole life trying to perfect what you do, overcoming hurdles and obstacles, wending your way through the intrinsically byzantine labyrinth of the industry surrounding your passion. Then one day, the gate keepers who purport to uphold the standards and quality to which you aspire – to which you have been aspiring your entire life – lower their escutcheons. They let through someone who has never spent a minute doing what you have bled, sweat and cried tens of millions of minutes doing. They create a mockery of all you hold dear.
Had it been on any other show, it would still represent a brutal beatdown of your dreams and hopes. But The Tonight Show? For ages, The Tonight Show was the holy grail for stand-ups. It launched careers and made stars. Today, even with the plethora of other television opportunities on myriad networks drastically reducing the impact a single appearance on Tonight once had, it remains a grand feather in the cap of those who appear on it. This was nothing short of a betrayal.
After chatting with host Jimmy Fallon about wanting to try comedy, Madonna was then given the opportunity to indulge her whims. Fallon even had a microphone with a stand set up in the middle of his stage, as he would when a legitimate comedian performs, and introduced Madonna, who was then waiting behind the curtain.
What happened next, as the internet likes to say, will blow your mind. The Material Girl came out and hemmed and hawed her way through what seemed like an eternity before attempting a punchline. She stumbled her way through a dick joke then cussed. She drew tepid giggles, but more of the variety you’ll hear when grandma twerks at Thanksgiving dinner and does a Señor Wences impression with her lady parts.
Clearly, this had been set up in advance: the staged lead-in conversation and the mic at the ready. So why not take the time to prep her better? Why not hire writers? Why not NOT do it?
By her own admission in her song, “American Life,” Madonna has a lawyer, a manager, an agent, a chef, three nannies, an assistant, a driver, a jet, a trainer, a bodyguard (or five), a gardener and a stylist. Do you think she’s satisfied? No.
And so she did what she wanted to do. And the machine bent over backwards for her, even if it meant desecrating and disrespecting the art on which the foundation for late night television was laid. And the public’s perception of stand-up was damaged even further. And when people asked me when I’m going to get a real job, despite my making a living at it, they were right all along.
Much like Madonna in “American Life,” I just realized nothing is what it seems.
When a billionaire 57-year-old singer, dressed as if Twiki from Buck Rogers had taken to walking the streets for money, can trot out to center stage on the greatest showcase for stand-up there is and, having no prior experience, proceed to painfully butcher three minutes of valuable television time, there is no true appreciation for what I do.
One day, Don McLean will write a sequel to “American Pie” about the day that comedy died. This is that day.
I’ve been a fool on a Quixotic quest, spending my life tilting at the windmill of stand-up. It is time to retire to the countryside and become a shepherd.