Comedy at First Sight
First, let me give you a word about how I came to comedy. A friend who's also a talented publicist introduced me to comedy and comedians by way of New York City clubs. My introduction to live, in-your-face comedy (aka standup) through Gordon Balkcom, opened up a whole new world – and way of seeing. So, when Gordon told me that an attorney who's also a comedy blogger had a new book, I was in! The book is Comedy Under Attack (ComedyBeat Books, 2013), by Carl Unegbu, whom I met at his book signing, held at Sisters Uptown Bookstore & Cultural Center.
Carl Unegbu: First Sighting @ Sisters Uptown Bookstore & Cultural Center
Whenever I travel uptown to Sisters Uptown Bookstore, I find myself entering the warm embrace of an African village (or what I imagine is such). Sun-drenched even in the winter months, Sisters Uptown Bookstore's book-lined space is filled with books about and by authors from the Africa Diaspora, along with African art, drums, crafts, jewelry, large plush armchairs, and even a shrine for quiet contemplation.
Exterior (left) and Inside Sister's Book Store & Cultural Center. Photo Credit: Sisters Uptown Bookstore & Culture Center
The children's literature area has kid-size table and chairs, easy-to-reach books and rotating shelves with palm-size books and strands of colorful lanyards. Its café offers smoothies, muffins, tea, coffee, and cold drinks. I can settle into a comfy armchair with a book -- or, as I did on June 28th -- I can laugh my head off when comedians performed at Carl Unegbu's book signing!
Truth be told, Comedy Under Attack is no laughing matter. According to Unegbu, comedy is hurting, and he points to two major culprits: Political correctness (how corporate big business gets to decide what is and isn't "acceptable comedy") and joke-stealing, which he believes has dealt a mighty blow to standup comedy. To showcase the first culprit, he points to comic genius Dave Chappelle, who walked away from $50 million rather than serve corporate interests (more on Chappelle, below). Despite those headwinds, Unegbu believes this is the Golden Age of Comedy, and cites comedian Louis CK as leading the way for future generations of comedians in how to deal with corporate America.
Carl Unegbu: Second Sighting @Book Culture, Upper Westside
The next time I see Carl Unegbu is five months later, on November 20th. He's introducing ComedyBeat's, Comedy Dialogue series, at Book Culture. The series tackles the latest issues confronting the comedy industry. We're treated to a spirited conversation with comedian/filmmaker Tom McCaffrey (producer of the upcoming movie, This is Comedy) and comedian/storyteller Rob Cantrell, maker of the new comedy music album, Dreams Never Die (you probably know him from Last Comic Standing and Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn), among others.
Carl Unegbu, author of Comedy Under Attack addressing an audience at Book Culture. Photo Credit: Luvon Roberson
Book Culture is a perfect fit for comedy – or anything that's a little off-kilter and quirky. It's a stone's throw from Columbia University and just steps from the world's largest gothic cathedral, St. John The Divine. I'm a longtime Book Culture fan, as much for its eclectic array of books, as for its one-of-a-kind writing desk. I think of that desk as magical. You'll have to visit and find out why!
My Favorite Author Quips & Snippets
Carl Unegbu, author of Comedy Under Attack; with Sisters Uptown Bookstore Owner Janifer Wilson (center) and What's The 411TV Book Editor, Luvon Roberson (right). Photo Credit: Gordon Balkcom
Quips from Carl Unegbu, Author of Comedy Under Attack
"In a 2008 interview...[comedian David] Brenner said that comedy today is becoming run less like an art form and more like a business."
"Take the case of Dave Chappelle of Comedy Central's The Chappelle Show... This may be the only case in modern American show business in which an entertainer who was not insane walked away from the $50 million on the table and returned to the regular grind of the comedy club circuit."
"Chappelle reportedly said that his work on The Chappelle Show made him feel like a prostitute who was not doing things for the right reason.... Comedy Central's interest in Chappelle and his show clearly was not about his peace of mind or the best quality comedy he could produce. The network's interest obviously ran more to the money side of the equation."
BIO: Carl Unegbu
Carl Unegbu, author of Comedy Under Attack, is a lawyer and managing editor at Comedybeat.com. He studied journalism at Columbia after graduating law school at the University of Miami. His articles have appeared in The Real Deal, Africa Journal, World Policy Journal, the Journal of International Arbitration, The New York Review of Magazines, Reuters Forum Journal, Leverage Magazine, and New York County Lawyer. Prior to his admission to the New York Bar, Carl practiced law in Miami and served as a law clerk at the International Court of Arbitration in Paris.