I’m afraid to write this post because I’m going to get it all wrong, because so little about what makes this guy amazing looks good on paper. Like, you’ll never see Comedy Central turn him into a lousy tweetmacro.
This “problem” with Fadem will I hope slowly become the very thing I want to champion.
Josh Fadem is a comic in his low 30s from Tulsa, Oklahoma. He now lives in Los Angeles. He does sketch and standup. Vids of the former are more forthcoming online:
You’ll see a Chaplin/Keaton/Atkinson influence. Clowning. Fadem looks funny (see above) and he knows he looks funny and one way to touch on his genius is to say that he knows how to let himself be silly. More on that later. Here’s how the slapstick stuff enters into his standup:
A few weeks ago I saw Fadem do an hour at Doc’s Lab in North Beach and it was maybe the best hour of standup I’ve ever seen. He opened with similar micstand mishaps, and then after a good three or four minutes of it he grabbed the mic and the first thing that came out of his mouth was a brash and nasal tone singing Ray Parker Jr’s, Ghostbusters theme:
“Duh-nuh-NAH-nuh-NAH-nuh. Duh-nuh-nuh-nuh-NUH-NAH-NUH. Duh-nuh-NAH-nuh-NAH-nuh.” Ghost…TRUSTERS! I trust them! They’re just ghosts. It’s not a big deal. “If there’s somethin’ strange…” What’s strange about it? It’s just a ghost!
Etc. The bit continued accordingly. If being in stitches means that your sides hurt from laughing so hard I was in stitches.
Now: there’s no way for me to convince you that this was extremely funny. I can try to convince you how it was smart, but it wasn’t very smart. It was mostly stupid. It wasn’t one note hit over and over again, because Fadem grabbed additional lyrics (“I ain’t ‘fraid of no ghost”, “Trustin’ makes me feel good”) that let him develop the bit. But not really. It was mostly a loud and silly bit about a guy who trusts ghosts.
Fadem has a smart bit about stupid jokes. Or: “stupid” jokes.
I think that the devil, as depicted in literature and film, if he were to do standup comedy he would exclusively tell [punny wordplay jokes that make audiences groan], because every time someone makes a deal with the devil, it’s never what it was cracked up to be. It’s always like “Oh! You said you wanted to be the richest man alive. So I turned you into chocolate. I’m the devil!” … If a comedian says that you’re like “Oh that’s stupid” but if it’s in a book or a movie you’re like “Oh that’s fine literature! That’s good writing.”
Two things here:
- Fadem’s devil voice is among the best. You’ve heard lesser versions before. Think of a more simpering Ed Wynn crossed with a less menacing Robot Devil. Most of the joy of the bit comes in hearing his vocal range go in new territory.
- The bit works as a kind of disclaimer that might win over skeptics. I’ve been 80% on board with Fadem’s brand of comedy since I saw him on 30 Rock, and then 100% when I saw an Adult Swim bump of his micstand schtick, but I’m sure I’m not his typical audience member. Here, he’s got an argument to make, and the making of it is done with talent and style—the devil voice—that puts argument in a subordinate position to imagination.
That’s the thing I’m looking for, I think: A defense of the self and one’s tastes (in Fadem’s instance it’s silly jokes, puns, and wordplay) that creates something imaginative and new for the audience. This, as per my worrying post the other day about the future, is something to hold onto and use.
But I haven’t figured out how Fadem knows how to let himself be silly, and why that’s important. I think it has something to do with risk.
Get ready for some broad generalizations: Standup comedy these days is all about being beleaguered, smart, and right. We reward comics for insight and for saying the sorts of things we can’t or just haven’t thought to yet.
Who comes to mind right now is Amy Schumer, currently getting lots of attention for the very smart ways her show is lampooning misogyny in TV. Yes, it’s funny, but what’s more important is that it’s important. In the absence of reliable authorities (cops? Congress? nightly news anchors?) we’ve turned to the Schumers, Jon Stewarts, and Louis CKs of the world for direction. In the U.S., a successful comic is one who tells the truth.[†]
That wise, beleaguered stance would ruin Fadem’s comedy, though it might help his career. Fadem knows what it takes to be successful as a comic—I know because he and I have talked about it—but he decided early on that he wanted to find an original approach to comedy. He didn’t want to be like anybody else on stage even though he has the smarts to pull it off. This is what I mean by risk.
What I’m failing at here is showing how being deliberately silly is not anti-intellectual, but somehow supra- or para-intellectual. Fadem’s job is to get laughs. Being silly usually gets just a comic laffs. When I watch Fadem be what feels like a new kind of silly and get big enormous joyous laughs, I feel inspired. We all need heroes. Fadem’s mine because he does his job better than anyone, even though there’s no easy way to sell it to a busy online audience.[•]
Also: he writes short stories.
- If the schlemiel spills the soup on the schlimazel, most beloved U.S. comics are schlimazels, making lemonade fun out of the lemons the world continually dumps on them. Fadem is chiefly a schlemiel, and that we’re not so easily able to laugh alongside this guy means something complicated about us in the audience.↵
- It occurs to me that this is almost exactly why I love Bill Callahan. He’s better than most musicians, but I can’t ever successfully recommend him to anyone. That said, pay whatever it takes to watch Fadem perform. It might change your life.↵