Spike Stand-up Comedians Shock

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Editors’ Note: This piece was edited post-publication at the request of performers who appeared in the piece.

Ben Starr has one of the finest voices Swarthmore has to offer. He practices regularly in the Lang Concert Music Hall, and is a member of the Swarthmore Mariachi Band and the Trinity church choir.

“It’s so hard. Yeah, I said, it’s so hard! I go to my room and I do cock push-ups. Yeah!” he sang, reaching a crescendo towards the end of each phrase.

Starr displayed his mastery of light-hearted boyhood humor last Friday night at the Spike Stand-up Comedy Jam. He toed the line between the fart-joke humor of high school, and mixed those sentiments with the more age-appropriate sexual humor that pervaded the night.

“I joined the army, and they made me do 1,000 cock push-ups instead of peeling potatoes. It’s so hard on the hardwood floor, lying on the ground, jacking each other off,” he sang.

Starr’s performance was one of the more unique routines at the show. The other six acts followed the traditional format of stand-up comedy, except for Stephan Graf’s performance, which was a seated ‘show-n-tell’ act.

Graf explored a Schadenfreudic side of comedy.

“What does Swarthmore do to me? Well, it makes me sad. So I thought I would talk behind some people’s backs, for nostalgia – and why not do it in front of all of you?” Graf said.

He proceeded to present photographs of “friends” from back home, exposing shocking histories and embarrassing stories. Midway through his performance, he said he was starting to feel better.

“So that’s how I remember [her/him/them],” he said after each story, using the catchphrase in a style reminiscent of Larry the Cable Guy.

Peter Liebenson was the first comic on stage. He jumped into character and never looked back. Depending on the criteria used to judge Liebenson, his act was either daringly bold or painfully thoughtless. He certainly had some of the audience cracking up. However, he certainly was the cause behind an entire row of irritated students getting up and leaving the auditorium in protest.

After bashing Kemp Hall Liebenson moved on to Coming Out Week.

“You know, you can write any homophobic slur and everyone accepts it. So last year, I wrote, ‘Just because I have two penises doesn’t mean I want to f—- someone with two vaginas,” Liebenson said.

Although he claimed he chalked the line in jest, Liebenson was not surprised to have heard that people found the chalking “very moving,” he said, mocking a narrow-mindedness he believes, permeates the event.

Nothing was off limits. After calling Ethiopian food an oxymoron, and revealing the correlation between sex offenders and homes that offer the best candy on Halloween, Liebenson pushed the limits when he bashed ‘The Clothesline Project,’ a national project with active participation at Swarthmore. The project is primarily concerned with “breaking the silence” about “violence against women” often in the form of sexual or mental abuse.

Liebenson posed the question, ‘what should be done with the t-shirts used for the project?’ His suggestion: send them to an orphanage for kids with Down syndrome. Before Liebenson had finished flipping through a cygnet he had pulled out of his pants, rummaging through the pages for a person to “give my AIDS to,” the audience had become noticeably on edge, and students had removed themselves in protest, waiting outside for the next act.

“Ok Peter, I think I am going to have to break up with you on Facebook,” the host told the audience after Liebenson finished. And she did so promptly.

Jon Schaefer showcased his talents by ridiculing a Dora the Explorer piñata.

“You know, first you look at it at you say, ‘Oh, that’s pretty innocuous, it’s just a piñata.’ But then, think of that in the context of race relations. You’ve got a little Mexican girl, and you’re filling her insides with candy. Then, you tie her to a tree and encourage an angry little mob of kids to beat her with sticks and consume her insides,” he said, showing a thoughtful display of satirical wit.

Thereafter, Fletcher Wortmann brought some fire to the stage, starting off by criticizing Swarthmore. He illustrated his feelings through a faux-conversation with a prospective student.

“She asked me, ‘How do you feel about Swarthmore?”

Wortmann responded by comparing Swarthmore to Marquis de Sade’s “120 days of Sodom.”

In a critical analysis, he described the Swarthmore social dynamic in terms of an extended metaphor based on a dreadful ecological imbalance.

“You’ve got your wolves keeping the rabbits in check,” he said, describing a healthy balance in the real world.

In contrast, the situation at Swarthmore is analogous to rescuing all of the rabbits from their properly hostile environment, and relocating them to a place safe from predators.

“Here, it’s like you’ve got all the geeks and the kids that weren’t popular running wild. Who will keep them in check?” he said.

Possible “wolves” on campus included fellow comic Brendan Work, a brother of the Delta Upsilon fraternity, although Wortmann immediately disqualified that prospect, because “the frats are absolutely adorable, doing community service and being decent.”

One of the last acts of the night was a newcomer to the field, Gazette editor and columnist Lauren Stokes.

Brazenly honest, Stokes stepped up to the microphone and found her niche making light of sexual escapades during her past summer in Germany. She described fooling around with Jewish boys, and consequently killing their sperm as “having a Holocaust inside me,” attempted self-deprecation when she mistakenly found herself in bed with a Hitler idolizer, and touched on the theme of awkwardness when she flirted with a man who later revealed himself as a professor at Haverford College.

Stokes unabashedly referred to her “c—t” about as often as Senator McCain referred to ‘Joe the Plumber.’ She even once referred to the Deutschland as “My C—try!”

In a gauntlet of judgment, all comics were able to make it through the night with their sanity intact, even if their ego might have been slightly bruised.

0 thoughts on “Spike Stand-up Comedians Shock

  • October 27, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    Wow. Talk about a biased article. How are pedophilia and holocaust jokes lauded, while an autobiographical rap is hated, and Brendan Work gets a passing mention? This article was pretty weighted for "Features".

  • October 27, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    It's in "features", not "news." Of course the article is weighted–it is a review, not a news article, and personal opinions are thus included. Just because the writer's ideas are different from yours doesn't mean that he is biased.

    Oh and Brendan work probably got only a passing mention because his act was mediocre, boring, and way too focused on delivery at the expense of actual jokes(at least in my opinion). He's like our Dane Cook. Hey, you brought it up!

  • October 27, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    Well, that's an unflattering comparison. But I hardly feel I was excluded from the article because my comedy wasn't intellectual enough for the author, whose reference points include Larry the Cable Guy. And no, this isn't a "review." It's just lazy, morning-after journalism.

  • October 28, 2008 at 3:45 am

    I could certainly nit-pick (e.g. I never actually said I was chalking homophobic slurs, rather I said I was writing down whatever crazy things I could think up) but since I'm part of the article I don't really want to criticize or judge it.

    Instead, I'll just agree that a features article can obviously have an opinion and thank the author for never once suggesting that the event should be censored or banned (and even that would probably be free speech if you think about it, as long as he doesn't act on the sentiment…hmm…). I respect the author's freedom to have and share his opinions (just as I respect the right of audience members to leave and form their own angry-mob-OMG-this-is-problematic show outside, which I'm sure was super fun and genuinely wish I could have witnessed) and I would urge anyone who feels differently about the event or this article to keep the commentary coming, as anything that can spark a debate surely must have some value to the community, right?

  • October 28, 2008 at 4:40 am

    As one student who left, Peter, I have to say you are being completely ridiculous and it's obvious you are trying to use humor and hyperbole of the situation to avoid feeling guilty or embarrassed. We simply got up and left. There was no angry mob, and there was no show–we didn't yell or smash anything, we didn't even try to stop you, and I for one left by myself and not as part of a group, not following anyone else who left. In fact, all I did was mull around outside for a few minutes until the next speaker came on, because I found your comedy so bad and distasteful that I preferred to stand in a lobby than listen to it. There was no OMG, there was just a "this is problematic and I don't want to listen to it."

    I was going to just forget it but now that you're making fun of us the next day for being offended by jokes about rape, Down's Syndrome, bestiality, and AIDS, here you go. If you want to hear why I drew the line at your performance and not at Lauren's (though, in fairness, I was a little put off by hers as well), I'll go into it, but since you didn't ask I'll leave it alone.

  • October 28, 2008 at 7:49 am

    (Edit: This was in response to the phrase "I respect the right of audience members to leave and form their own angry-mob-OMG-this-is-problematic show outside, which I'm sure was super fun and genuinely wish I could have witnessed.")

  • October 28, 2008 at 9:26 am

    The thing is though, you could read this article and not even be aware that Brendan Work actually performed at this event, and isn't just being randomly mentioned. I didn't make it to the show this year, though I did last year, and Work was far and away the best thing in it, so your opinion surprises me, Adam. It might be accurate, but it's a surprise. (Also, isn't delivery a fairly important thing?)

    You can't fault coverage of Liebenson, though – he's certainly news.

  • October 28, 2008 at 11:29 am

    In defense of Peter: he is awesome. I got lost because I was heavily drugged and made it 30 minutes late to the Science Center. However, had I been there, I would not have left and would have, in fact, throttled those who did.
    For you Peter. I'd commit violent acts for you.
    And you'd like them. Yeah, goddammit, you'd like them.

    Also, making fun of kids with Downs Syndrome is an acceptable form of humor. Now, had Peter actually found some retarded orphans and forced them to wear "My daddy raped me" shirts, that would have been a bit problematic. But talking about it is totally different.

    It's like accidentally bombing small, neutral countries. It's funny, as long as you don't actually do it.

    By the way, Brenden sucked. Everyone sucked, but he really sucked.

  • October 28, 2008 at 11:42 am

    I think Brenden "sucked" as well. However, I do think that Brendan did quite well, as did everybody else.

  • October 28, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    Argos–I'm a big fan of South Park so I know that almost anyone or anything, no matter how awful, can be made funny. This simply wasn't. And I thought almost everyone else was awesome, so I guess different "Strokes" for different folks, aptly. If you wanted to get up and leave during the rest, you should have.

  • October 28, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    I was just pointing out that leaving a performance can be an act of speech just as much as performing. As I said, I did not witness it and am only going off others' accounts, so I cannot speak to the actual omg-mobbiness of the lobby.

    And, just because I feel bad since everybody's defending Brendan and not Katherine, Brendan is both mentioned and pictured (click the features section and you'll see a picture of Brendan, not sure why it's not on the actual news story). Katherine, on the other hand, has received no evidence that she had anything to do with the event. Perhaps she got lost in the crowd of more controversial people, but I think that would be a shame because she offered an interesting/unique point of view and was a very good performer at the event.

  • November 2, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    Ok, Peter, that's legit. What I had a problem with was you calling them an "angry-mob-OMG-this-is-problematic show," which was clearly not the case, when you say yourself that you didn't witness it. Also, I would ask why you insist on making fun of us for our "act of speech."

    On another note, I'm not sure why your post got deemed "offensive."

  • November 2, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    Brendan, I think you're really funny, and all the people I spoke to after last year's show thought you were the best part of it. I'll throw in another compliment: I like your writing too, like the bit you wrote for the swat website about your time in Nepal and your description of swat at that student run website. You entertain me very much. Cole, the "deemed offensive" thing seems to have gone haywire after the recent format transition, so I assume they're still working on it.


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