when funny isnt funny enough

I’ve been to BDSM clubs where people have pushed nails and needles through skin and other more private parts, where whips and flogs are commonplace and candlewax is merely prosaic. Generally, people watching tend to be respectfully silent. Those not interested would mill around the bar as one does. It’s rare for anyone to laugh. In fact, I’ve never seen anyone in BDSM circles find the spectacle of people in self-inflicted pain funny.

Last night, I saw a woman violently lacerate herself and expose terrible wounds and old unhealed scars to an audience that was pretty much convulsed with laughter. It was ok because she was a comedian. Her name is Janelle Koenig and it was ok because the damage she was doing and showing was all on the emotional level.

She was eurasian, born here to an Australian mother and a Singaporean father.

I’d never seen that level of self-hatred on gender, racial and body dimensions so nakedly exposed before. Unlike many in the audience (but by no means the majority), I did not find her performance funny. I found it horrifying. I was never sure at any point how conscious she was that most of her act, from my point of view, was an extended and poorly disguised plea to be accepted and healed for/of her gender, race and sexuality issues combined equally with a desire to be jeered at, laughed at and hence confirm and perpetuate those very wounds.

I wont go into the gender and sexuality portions as it was the race bits that interested me most. At one point, she was talking about her father and quoting him, she put on a credible singaporean accent. I cant quite remember how it goes exactly but it pretty much went like this:

“why are there so many coloured people in australia these days, la?”

“dad, you cant call them coloured people.”

“i’ll call them niggers then.”
“ah, what does he know anyway, ching chong chinaman. he should just go back to where he belongs. The gold rush is over old man. You know, my dad finds me funny. he’s seen my act and he was laughing all the way through. Dont know why. He doesnt understand a single word.”

There was also a part of her act where she talked about being eurasian.

“i’m half and half. I get my height and my boobs from my australian side. I get my long glossy black hair and my lower parts from my dad’s side,” Adopting a thigh wide pelvic thrust stance and exaggerated asian accent, “Me love you vely good long time. Or fifteen minutes anyway.”

Anyway, writing it out now, it doesnt seem that bad but then, it’s all in the delivery and there was too much pain and self-hate in it for me to not recognise and finally pity.

23 thoughts on “when funny isnt funny enough

  1. Dear Tien,

    I have just happened upon your blog, and after reading such, was roused to review your other writings. You are obviously a sensitive, intelligent man with heightened awareness of his environment and social interactions, which is why I am utterly flabbergasted that you have misinterpreted my performance, and me personally, in such a vicious manner.

    I can understand if you don’t find me funny. What we as individuals find amusing is totally unique empiricism. If every person at every performance I gave found me funny, it would no doubt eventuate in a lackadaisical, stale approach to my craft. However, what you have written about me in a public forum does not so much pertain to my jokes, but attacks me personally as an individual.

    You claim that I expose self hatred of my gender, racial and body dimensions. I find it perplexing that you can take the time to memorise (to some extent) and publish my material, yet conveniently neglect to mention that I state, in every performance, that I love my body and encourage all women in the audience to do the same – more often than not, to a round of applause! I do material about other people’s opinions of my body – I never concede those opinions, but point out how ridiculous and insulting those aspersions are.

    Regarding gender, I am now in my 5th year of professional comedy in an historically male-dominated environment. I have performed across the country often in remote country towns and what I have to say is a celebration of body image, of sexuality and of myself and commended (for the most part), by women and men as such. Recently on tour in W.A., I had droves of women driving for hours from their country stations to get to my show. These women were emboldened and empowered by seeing a woman on stage, talking about things that are familiar to them, and to our gender. I am a woman, not a lady, and I’m not about to apologise for that. I am sorry, however, that you found what I had to say ‘horrific’.

    Regarding your concern about my exposition of terrible wounds and old unhealed scars, I would be fascinated to learn what you think these might be. I am unceasingly proud and grateful for my Asian heritage and my father is my hero, which anybody who knows us personally can attest to. Furthermore, should you have any concern about my fragile ego, I can advise you that I chanced upon your blog whilst conducting a google search on myself! My ego and self-worth are more than healthy.

    I love what I do, and I love myself. I am a woman, on stage, talking about myself and my experience, and I am beholden to the powers that be that I have been given the gifts and opportunities to allow me to share myself with an audience. As you have (graciously, I thought, under the circumstances) conceded that the majority of the audience indeed ‘convulsed’ with laughter, I am reduced to questioning whether in fact you are projecting, and henceforth confusing, your own self-reflections with mine.

    Essentially, I honestly appreciate your thoughts. What is the point of any kind of performing or artistic endeavour if not to result in an emotional reaction from your audience? I can assure you I am utterly conscious of everything that I do, both on stage and off, and the effects and counter effects of such.

    Please know that I have no need for your pity. Perhaps you should direct it towards someone who is actually suffering or in need.

    Yours sincerely,

    Janelle Koenig

  2. You must live a very sheltered life to be so very narrow minded, or maybe you just envy her ability to laugh at herself. Janelle is a vibrant, funny and outrageously outgoing person. She certainly does not have mental scars and you have no reason to feel sorry for her.
    To anyone concerned, please go along and see the show for yourselves – she is hilarious.

  3. You fail to see that it’s tongue in cheek and black humour. I’ve witnessed crowds in hysterics when watching janelle….She puts it all out there and is making a stir….she’s allowed to. Comedy isn’t gender based but your story is. Why do female comedians get harangued for their material when male comedians don’t….there’s you story. Help the cause don’t hinder it.

  4. To the author: re your Janelle Koenig comments.

    My name is Bradford Oakes and I am a comedian of some 17+ years experience in the comedy world. I have read your comments and would like to offer the following for edification:

    First of all I can see that you have arrived at your conclusion through a logical process. If you see a performer on stage lampooning their own physical or otherwise life’ circumstances it is reasonable to hypothesise that the said performer is possibly attempting to ease ‘their pain’ within a public forum.

    It is also possible that the performer is attempting something other than that. If you apply the ‘de-coder’ of irony to that performance (or even the script alone) you get a whole different event. It is possible and highly likely that Janelle is using humour and parody to highlight how unkind, nasty and vicious others can be.

    The use of humour to underscore aberrant human behaviour is not a new thing. Ancient Greeks, Romans, Celts and some ‘Asians’ have long relied on this method of putting vexatious issues before an audience. But by performers and writers ‘sugar-coating’ these bitter ‘pills’ many people often re-consider these ‘slings and arrows’ and see that targets have been hurt, pained and vilified through these stereotypical jibes (Ching-chong-chinaman; vertically positioned vaginas etc.) (Incidentally I have seen Janelle perform many times and I believe you have misquoted her joke about her father’s response vis-a-vis “…niggers!”)

    For my own experience let me further explain. I am overweight and in my many years of comedy I have frequently been targeted by some people with heckling about my size. Sometimes this will happen as I walk down the street. Further, often it is meant maliciously although occasionally it is said in what people later describe as ‘In fun.’ (Fun for them; not me!)

    Does it hurt me? Of course it does. Whenever any person is marginalised due to their difference(s) there is bound to be wound. Thus my responses are direct and to the point. Conversely I often write jokes that reflect these experiences and a part of that process is not as a personal purgative on my part but rather I can demonstrate the hurtfulness of such attacks. Essentially it is ‘quid pro quo.’ They get to laugh and I get to put something on their agenda for their later consideration.

    Until I read your words I thought the only risk Janelle took was in playing to the lower common denominators. I can see now that for her there is a further risk. Whereas some people will totally miss her point due to a ‘passive ignorance’ I now see that she may be at the mercy of those who aggressively over-intellectualise her humour.

    Finally I say this to you. I suspect that you were offended by her act and what you have offered is not really a deconstruction of her act but moreover it is apologia for your own position. While I support your right to experience, analyse and comment on whatever you wish I suggest that had you really been concerned for her and her possible plight you would have contacted her and discussed your grave doubts etc with her, prior to your publishing.

    Bradford Oakes

  5. As your approach to a review of Janelles comedy routine seems to be more of a personal attack on the woman herself, I thought I would take the time to enlighten you somewhat to who Janelle actually is. (“old un-healed scars” aside??)
    Apart from being one of the most amazing, perceptive and witty people I have ever met, she is compassionate and understanding, both intellectually and emotionally of all people, race and creed included. Janelle is genuinely and truely motivated and inspiring. Janelle is vigorously outgoing with a loving circle of very close friends and family, all of whom support and encourage her endeavours, as apposed to your nieve, inciting and uninformed views.
    The woman is intrepid. Your pity is wasted on Janelle!
    I myself, I pity fools.
    Janelle Koenig is outrageously funny, check her out peoples!

  6. For someone who doesn’t know Janelle personally and has, presumably, only seen her act once, you seem to know a lot about the inner workings of her mind and her feelings of self-worth.

    I’m sure Janelle had no idea how much she hated herself until you brought it to her attention.

    Hold on, that’s right, she’s a comedienne. She was, wait for it… making a joke!

    Using self-deprecating humor to confront stereotypes, ever heard of it?

    If you can’t laugh at yourself then you’re taking life far too seriously! And you sir, seem to take yourself very seriously indeed.

    And by the way, the first time I ever saw Janelle’s stand-up act was with her father and he thought it was damn funny.

  7. Tien – Mate – Pal – Bro – Homez!
    Words, Words, Words…..
    BDSM – Needles – Wax dripping – Flogging – Pain.
    It sounds to me like you’ve seen it all –
    Yeah buddy! I’m on your level – I feel your anger.
    I’m taste your vibe. I too seek the darkness beyond the laughter.
    Let’s outlaw all comedy – PERIOD!
    Shhhh – Don’t Laugh –
    Hold me – I’m cold now…..

  8. Tien – Mate – Pal – Bro – Homez!
    Words, Words, Words…..
    BDSM – Needles – Wax dripping – Flogging – Pain.
    It sounds to me like you’ve seen it all –
    Yeah buddy! I’m on your level – I feel your anger.
    I taste your vibe. I too seek the darkness beyond the laughter.
    Let’s outlaw all comedy – PERIOD!
    Shhhh – Don’t Laugh –
    Hold me – I’m cold now…..

  9. Tien,

    I feel very sad for you…

    I read your post about Janelle and I am frustrated that there are people like you in the world who have the time to write crap like this (with the exception of me who has decided to respond).

    I am also gravely concerned that you know exactly where your personality falls between a Thinking and Feeling personality type. Don’t you have a job and friends to keep you busy!

    Janelle inspires women to say what they think, love who they are and encourages them to laugh at themselves.

    Our lives are filled with so much negativity, we are ashamed of our bodies, we are ashamed of our sexuality, we starve ourselves, we cry, and we are afraid to be alone.

    Janelle is a shining light in a sea of faceless clones.

    You cannot take back the things that you have written but I urge you to reconsider ever posting like this again. Find that point in your personality that falls between the thinking and the feeling and do both. Think about the ramifications of what you say and how what you say will make others feel.


  10. I find it very intriguing that you open by saying you have spent time in BDSM clubs. Have a penchant for the wounded?
    I think it’s fantastic that you have not only spent time thinking about Janelle’s show, but also publishing your thoughts. Keep up the good work! Any publicity is great publicity, I know that I am now interested and think you may just have broadened her audience. Well done.

  11. I have sat in Janelle’s show many times and more than once seen people (men) wince at some of her material, and I have always thought ‘fantastic’! She is woman, hear her ROAR. Yes its offensive at times and confronting. But also inspiring and empowering (not to mention hilarious).
    You have the choice to leave the show if you wish.

  12. I don’t have a knack for using big words, however unlike you I still have the intelligence to know humour when I hear it, more so I even posess the enlightment to be able to enjoy it.
    I have had the honor on many occasions to witness the comedic talent of Janelle and not once have I ever seen this self-hatred that you speak of.
    Let yourself go Tien. Don’t be afraid to have a laugh. Janelle Koenig has that unique ability to have a laugh and make a room full of people have a laugh at her own expense. What kind of sad world would we live in if no-one had the ability to do this?

  13. Tien, I know what you mean. I hate everyone too. Hearing people laugh makes me feel sick – those bastards. They’re mocking us Tien. Why can’t everyone be like you and I, unique and misunderstood.

  14. Tien,

    Earlier this month, on November 9th, Janelle graciously gave of her time and performed at a charity comedy event to raise money and awareness for people with Multiple Sclerosis. As the organiser of the event I could not have been happier with both her performance on the night and her on-going support as a friend. She delivered a dynamic and hilarious performance, one which fit in with the overall atmosphere of the night. My aim as the event organiser was to put on a showcase of some of the best comics in Melbourne, which I believe I could not have done without Janelle on the bill.

    Thank you very much for your comments Tien, because if you had never posted this blog you would never have known how wrong you are.

  15. I want you to come and see my comedy spot and tell me what you think…..I can’t afford a therapist. I’m on with Janelle at the Elephant and Wheelbarrow Sat 9th in a show called…….wait for it………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… “Life After Dick”
    See you there!

  16. When i was fucking janelle up the arse I thought she was a really nice girls….she squealed like a right little lady!

    [Blog owner’s / Editor’s note: I would not have approved this comment except that the IP address logged for this comment is identical to Bev Killick’s IP address. Given the time difference of 2 minutes between posts, it would appear that both comments were from the same author and hence, I’ve decided to publish it]

  17. I had to laugh at one part. Someone who doesn’t have any ego issues was googling their own name. Riiight. That’s what we all do when bored…

    To me, this looks like a range of Janelle’s friends don’t grok the difference between a blog entry and a media review.

  18. I find it so interesting that one mans thoughts have elicited so many defensive comments. Why does one woman require so many warriors? And why must those who accuse Tien of casting assumptions about someone he doesn’t know, themselves cast assumptions about him simply from a single or even a dozen blog posts? You have only suddenly become an expert on him simply because he dared to have an opposing view regarding one comedian’s performance. His opinion is his opinion as is hers, yours and mine, it does not make any of us right or wrong, it just makes them our opinions.

    One commenter stated that if Tien didn’t like the show, he could have left, if you don’t like his review then don’t read it. Simple isn’t it.

  19. Oh No! I’ve been caught out! Shoot me. I was having a larf,I think Most people who know my and Janelle’s sense of humour would probably be laughing out loud at my comment(s). Thanks for making out I’m some kind of perverted sneaky bitch. Mother ?@##$$%%.

  20. Just because I Goggle myself does not mean I have ego issues Dalerious….oopps….Dalerian. Only one entry ever comes up for me! Until now, gotta love blogs….
    Janelles group of supportive friends seem to be on to something dont you think? And its ok for Tien to publicly blog, but not for Janelle to send the blog post to her friends privately. You, Tracey and Tien seem a bit confused and unhappy….there are people that can help with that, psych’s and comedians! But if you cant take the piss and have a laugh I guess that only leaves one alternative. Lets all just be friends and have a get together at one of these BDSM clubs, that sounds like some goddam bloody fun!! See you all on the blue tarp…..

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