Remembering Richard Jeni
by Jake Kroeger on October 7, 2011
Almost on a daily basis, it’s becoming undeniable that comedy is going through another boom. Recognition of comedy as a legitimate art form from the powers that be in the world of performing arts has finally arrived. Just read any number of essays online about Louis CK’s series Louie if you need proof. While seeing folks like CK, Reggie Watts, Rory Scovel, Brent Weinbach, and more push the limits of comedy and being hilarious while doing it, stand-up from its previous boom in the 80′s and early 90′s seems to just have been tossed to the curb without any acknowledgment. Making fun of that era of comedy, with its obvious cadence, jokes every few seconds, and predictable structure has become a pastime for the comedians of today almost as if it’s an outdated way to make people laugh.
Still, there was a reason that the previous boom comedy happened. Just like now, comedians were hilarious and people watch, listened, and followed.
The perfect example of this dynamic between comedy then and now comes in the form of Richard Jeni’s The Beach Crowd. Compiled by the Richard Jeni Estate that survives him, The Beach Crowd is a patched together special of two weekends that Jeni did at the Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, CA in 2002 and 2006. Even in the new millennium, Richard Jeni, who came to be one of the hottest comics working during the 80s (he was one of Johnny Carson’s favorite comedians), is unquestionably funny during a few club performances where he was just “tightening” some material.
If you’ve ever seen Jeni perform, and I highly suggest that you buy one of his numerous specials from Showtime and HBO as well as the The Beach Crowd, you’ll note that he follows in those conventions of cadence, delivering one joke after another, almost flawlessly, all while killing it. His writing was spot-on and was met by his impeccable performance chops. It’s the type of comedy where many people wonder how it looks so effortless, almost as if a sort of magic trick of words is being pulled on all watching. No matter the matter-of-fact appearance of Jeni, and how lo-fi the spliced-together clips look in the sparsely adorned DVD, Richard Jeni knew exactly what to do with a mic and mic stand in order to make a group of strangers laugh.
You can hear echoes of many jokes on The Beach Crowd in bits from such comedy trailblazers of today like Paul F. Tompkins as well as the aforementioned Louis CK, which is all the more reason why anybody who cares about comedy should watch Jeni working out an hour of material. The reason that the term “alternative comedy” exists is because several comics trying to find their way couldn’t find stage time in clubs and thus, went to bars, coffee shops, etc. and had less of an expectation to conform to traditional methods of stand-up. Just as that style/genre of comedy wasn’t invalid then, club/mainstream comedy isn’t any less invalid today. Richard Jeni serves as proof of that, and, had he lived on today, he would proved that wherever he went up. Whether it be the Comedy & Magic Club or the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, Jeni would assuredly make his comedy work.
That’s the distinction, regardless of the era, that makes a comedian one to be remembered. Watch The Beach Crowd and see what I’m talking about.