Friday, January 26, 2007

The '80s Tragedy Boom

We all know about the stand-up comedy boom. But does anyone remember the tragedy boom?

Before the '70s, people told depressing monologues at coffee houses and cafes. But when Marty Stevens became a regular on Sunday Morning Taped, he played to sold out arenas all over the country. Fans particularly enjoyed his catchphrases ("I'm a tame and normal guy," "Excuuuuse you?"). He often gave a very stirring account of how he survived an arrow through his head.

Tragedy clubs began opening all over the country during the '80s with names such as The Tear Factory, Blubbers and The Tragedy Hole. Though some legends came out of this (William Robins, with his mellow range of multiple depressed personalities), hacks began to flood the scene with cliches (how airplane food is a depressing substitute for a home-cooked meal, the irreconcilable differences between men and women, how Indians are pushing white males out of 7-11 jobs, thus slowly taking over the service economy). As tragedy clubs became ubiquitous and tragedy specials flooded the cable channels, in the '90s people turned to grunge music for gloom and doom.

This led to the alternative tragedy movement in LA and New York but nowadays tragedy clubs are also experiencing a resurgence. The salient difference this time around is the shocking nature of the stories. On any given night a "cringe crying" tragedian is likely to cry while talking about AIDS, rape or Chinese people. Night zoo shows like Stan Howard have politically incorrect white men emoting about how much they hate towel heads or how ladies give unenthusiastic blow jobs. But mainstream tragedy reached its peak in the '80s. Waaaah!

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