by Ellen Gillingham
Live Performance: Standup for Peace
“Standup for Peace” is a comedy show that Scott Blakeman and Dean Obeidallah have been doing together for eight years. It is a benefit show for the Seeds of Peace International Camp in Maine. The comedy show is split between a Jewish and Palestinian American comedians. Both comedians perform their own standup and then come together for a question and answer session. Their goal is achieving peace around issues in the Middle East conflict. They believe there is no military solution, so they are trying to bring people together to laugh and show a common ground through comedy and laughter. They were able to talk about stereotypes and make them amusing in a countless number of ways.
In “Standup for Peace”, one part in the act stood out and displayed their techniques, and that was the experience with immigrants working during the recent hurricane. We laugh at people who are not fitting in. It is corrective, giving the act aspects of American humor (Cody). Obeidallah said:
[The hurricane] shows you how hard immigrants work in this country; we had a hurricane every America restaurant closed, what was open? Chinese restaurants! How do I know it? There’s a Chinese guy on a bicycle delivering food in a hurricane because somebody ordered delivery in a hurri—ok I ordered Chinese food in a hurricane because I knew he’d be there” (Blakeman and Obeidallah).
This joke is funny because it draws from several theories of humor. The Superiority Theory indicates that we laugh at our inferiors. Obeidallah acted as our inferior by admitting that he made a person deliver food to him in a hurricane. He stepped up the joke by saying somebody made the poor man work in dangerous conditions, but then he made us laugh when he admited that he was the selfish person. So in turn, we essentially were just laughing at his faults in the situation.
After telling that joke, Obeidallah continued about how some Chinese restaurants, in New York are serving pigeons instead of chickens to save money. The audience was disgusted by this, but he claimed that he enjoys the pigeons because he has apparently been eating them for years. Standup for Peace has a mission of bringing people together through ethnic humor and joke seemed to play a part. He told the joke to highlight a difference between ethnicities. He continued this thought in his act by saying, “Do you guys like Chinese food? Come on you’re Jewish, you all love Chinese food” (Blakeman and Obeidallah). Obeidallah connected with this primarily Jewish audience, so humor in this case, served as a social lubricant to help achieve the goals of his group.
Another theory used in the performance, which really made the jokes funny, is the Incongruity Theory. This is when “humor consists of incongruous events and situations” or when laughter is often born out of surprise because the result contradicts expectations (Lyttle). This was shown when Obeidallah told his joke, giving us enough information to assume what was going to happen next, but takes the initiative to go a completely different direction. “Sounds gross, I’ve been eating [pigeon] for years – I enjoy it” (Blakeman and Obeidallah). This joke is a great example because it completely throws people off because he raises the point first that eating pigeons sounds gross. The average person’s original thought was that Obeidallah is going to complain about the food, when in reality he enjoys the food because he has been eating it for years! That act of build-up and contradiction led his audience to keep listening intently and remain entertained throughout his story.
In Blakeman’s act, he used Relief Theory to allow the audience to release repressed impulses. This theory is popular with “jokes involving sexuality, violence, or ethnicity” (Spiegel 126). He talked about something that raises a lot of tension, but made it funny through humor. “How many of you have been to Bris? HOW MANY WOULD LIKE TO SEE ONE RIGHT NOW! Here we go!” (Blakeman and Obeidallah). This is where laughter resulted from discomfort. Similar to Lenny Bruce’s infamous joke from the early sixties, the joke is funny when the audience realized they could laugh about it (Friend 80). People naturally get anxious when they hear about a Bris is another context because the religious circumcision ceremony is slightly sexual, violent and ethnic. Blakeman set the serious situation in a nonserious environment. The Bris was not actually taking place, so the audience laughed.
In addition, Blakeman made use of the machine theory. The audience laughed at his “rigidity … the mechanical encrusted on something living” (Friend 81). This happened when the microphone periodically cut off during his act. Blakeman fixed it by hitting it each time it broke, and he added a comment each time about how he was scared that he will not be able to fix it. He joked, “I perpetuate the Jewish stereotype – I started it by the way –the one of not fixing things” (Blakeman and Obeidallah). By repeating it countless times, Blakeman became the stereotype instead of a person, so the joke is funny.
In conclusion, Standup for Peace is a creative masterpiece master of humor. Both comedians work together to entertain the audience. They are able to tell jokes that rely on superiority, incongruity, machine, and relief theories to create a comedy show that serves as a social lubricant. They teach people about terrible conflicts in the world, but entertain people at the same time, so they were not offended. The topics and jokes encourage people to do away with wrongful stereotypes, while laughing in the process. In essence, they use ethnic humor in such a way that they flip it on its head, making the show one of the best that I have attended at the University of Maryland.
American Humor. By Cornelia Cody. Perf. Cornelia Cody. University of Maryland, College Park. 23 October 2012. Lecture.
Friend, Tad. “What’s so Funny?” The New Yorker 11 November 2002: 78-93. Web.
Lyttle, Jim. Myweb. 2003. Web. 20 November 2012.
Spiegel, James S. How To Be Good In A World Gone Bad. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2004. web.
Standup for Peace. By Scott Blakeman and Dean Obeidallah. Perf. Scott Blakeman and Dean Obeidallah. Hott Theater, College Park. 14 November 2012. Live.
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