Candid comedy discussion takes place at Chautauqua Institution
CHAUTAUQUA — A downpour didn’t stop the offering of thoughts and musings from three comedic minds Friday morning.
The Chautauqua Institution Amphitheater was filled with eager eyes and ears waiting to hear Kelly Carlin, Stephen Morrison and Kliph Nesteroff discuss the history of comedy and how political correctness fits in. The lecture was the last in a series on Comedy and the Human Condition, which was put on in partnership with the National Comedy Center.
Morrison, an executive producer of CNN’s “History of Comedy,” and Nesteroff, a best selling author and comedian, are no strangers to the funny business. Carlin, SiriusXM Radio host and author, has also been immersed in comedy her whole life and is well-versed in its impact on history.
“Today, we are three equal partners on this stage participating in our own ways and here to tell our own version of the story of comedy and our kind of pathway through it,” Carlin said.
Morrison said he felt lucky to be at Chautauqua and also to be invited to speak about comedy. Mostly, he views himself as a fan since he was a youngster.
“I grew up in Toronto, Canada, with fond memories of my dad and I from a very early age going to see live comedy,” he said. “There was something that resonated with me about what they were able to do up there. It is something that I thought from a very young age was worthy of celebration.”
He said producing “History of Comedy,” has been a delightful experience. Morrison said it is indeed an experience to sit with comedians from anywhere from one to three hours and get to know them.
“It is impossible to deny that there is such a thing as a successful comedian that isn’t highly intelligent,” he said. “I totally believe that. And it’s great because in that world, it includes high school dropouts, (and) it includes Harvard educated lawyers.”
Nesteroff said he had a young start to comedy as well, although his was from behind a microphone.
“My heroes were George Carlin, and Bill Hicks and political minded comedians, so when I started doing stand-up when I was 18, I thought, ‘I’ll be like that and give my political opinion,’ not realizing that no one wants to hear political opinions from an 18-year-old, but most importantly, I wasn’t funny yet,” he said.
Carlin said often times, people put comedians and other celebrities on pedestals and remove the human failings they may have. This often occurs when people think of her father, she said. Often times when she was a child, she felt as if no one saw her.
“My dad would introduce myself and my mom to (people), and they would spend about a nanosecond on us and they’d be back to him,” Carlin said. “People talk about growing up in the shadow, it really is a shadow (because) there is no light being put on you from the human faces around you. They’re all in delight of this magical being over here.”
She said she wanted to tell her family story because it would help people see that her father was not just a celebrity, but was also a man who was imperfect and who did not always have the right answers.
“I did want people to see that even your heroes are confused at times, are depressed, are lost, don’t have the answers even though they look like they have all the answers on the stage,” Carlin said.
The conversation drifted to what the meaning and role of political correctness is and was in comedy. A contemplation was also present on what freedom of speech in comedy really means and whether it is under fire.
“Everybody has a slightly different interpretation because the phrase, I think, gets used too much now without a firm, consistent definition of what we mean when we say political correctness,” Nesteroff said.
For example, when a comedian he enjoys uses the phrase “political correctness,” it brings a different idea to mind than when President Donald Trump uses the phrase. While the words are the same, the meaning and intention behind them might be different, Nesteroff said.
However, he said people do have a drive to ultimately respect others, even to the point of putting up with a person who annoys us simply to be respectful.
Carlin then read a quote from her father’s notes pertaining to political correctness.
“He said one of the reasons he doesn’t like political correctness on campuses is because it is ‘a pernicious form of intolerance disguised as tolerance,'” she said. “I love the use of that language there. It’s very much my dad.”
She said he also thought limiting speech was not a good way to change behavior.
Previously, before the use of the term “political correctness,” people were arrested for performing their acts, Nesteroff said. While it is important to preserve freedom of speech, he said he does not believe comedians’ freedoms to speak are being stripped away.
“I feel like sometimes, a persecution complex is happening,” he said.
Instead, the idea is being turned into a reason or an excuse for people to be racists or bigots, Nesteroff said.
For more information or to view Chautauqua Institution’s upcoming events, visit www.chq.org.