I heard Comedian Tommy Davidson say that a couple years ago during a radio interview.
It’s no secret the media constantly rates Cleveland in the top of all the worst type of lists: Most Miserable City, Fastest Declining Population, Unemployment, Teen Pregnancy, NFL Franchise Playoff Appearances; you name it, we’ve failed at it. Cleveland has been the butt of many jokes told in movies, TV shows, radio, in print, and in any way humans receive. I even got a spam email saying as much last week. Davidson knows laughter helps you deal with hard times. He also knows that Cleveland has the hardest of times, so if you can make us laugh, those cruise ship and vegas gigs are a cakewalk.
One of my favorite sayings is, “Sometimes you gotta laugh to keep from crying.” And I think that most accurately describes the outlook of Cleveland comedians and comedy supporters. The bullshit that has happened and continually happens to us is enough to make a non-Clevelander crumble, but we turn it into comedy. We celebrate burning rivers and burn jerseys if you “betray” us. We have a strip of road we refer to as “Dead Man’s Curve” that we’re proud of. These things shouldn't even be celebrated, but if we can't wring some humor out of all this misfortune and pain, then where else would we turn? (Probably binge drinking.)
If out of towners try to bash us during their set, it better be funny, because we’ve heard the best “Cleveland ain’t shit” jokes from our own family members over the years. And it can’t personally hurt our feelings because of the thick skin we’ve developed over the years of dealing with everyday Cleveland life -- the headache that is rush hour traffic if it’s raining, Cedar Road anywhere near Cleveland Clinic, or the unorganized chaos which is Marcs. I wouldn’t go far enough to suggest that the city was designed to depress.
The weather is one of the contributing factors to the constant depression -- probably the top reason. I don’t have scientific proof to back up my theory, it’s just based on looking around with my own eyes when I leave the house between September 2nd and May 19th, the typical Cleveland “winter,” where it can be 73 degrees in February at 8 a.m. and be -13 degrees by 3 p.m. the same day. The uncertainty of what to wear outside causes more stress and enough anxiety to justify a Xanax prescription and to discard the rest of that Slim Fast. I know more people that lost weight under the stress of a single Cleveland winter than on three seasons of The Biggest Loser. With winter coming back in the next few weeks, the cold weather makes people’s manners go out the window, so you’ll notice a lot less doors being held open 'cause people are trying to keep the heat in!
The second biggest threat to being in a laughing mood is what happens when you’re a Cleveland sports fan. And if you’re lucky enough to be one of those people who doesn’t like sports, and a football game on a Sunday won’t affect your whole week, or a basketball shot from 1988 won’t affect your life (!), then lucky fucking you! The rest of us are permanent sufferers! It doesn’t matter what sport you like, by the end of your season it’s always optimism. No rings, no parades, just hope. We lead the league in hope. With Cleveland sports, you’re sure to find an abundance of heartbreak, ineptitude, frustration, failed expectations and shame – with no shortage of misery. And Cleveland is the Mecca of boneheaded plays, or big time fuck-ups you know by name. Everybody knows “The Shot,” “The Fumble,” “The Drive” and “The Decision.” Recent additions include: “The Ricky Davis,” “The Chris Perez” and “The Flip.”
Being a lifelong Clevelander turned Cleveland comic, I know that by the time the crowd has arrived, by the time they overworked to get underpaid to overpay for parking, after another day in rush hour on I-480, after watching their favorite team lose another close one (or a blow out if you prefer the easy way out) and getting the newest local hero’s sound bite autotune (i.e. Charles Ramsey) stuck in their head, you better be fucking funny. We’ve been called a blue collar town, which means we worked harder and have a little bit more dirt under our fingernails. So we need the comics to put in as much effort on the stage as we put in at the warehouse or the fry line.
It’s an honor to make a Cleveland crowd laugh and then go to Kalamazoo or Tallahassee and bring that uniqueness with you. It’s noticeable, almost like a stench. A proud stench that says, “I’m from Cleveland and I’m gonna make you love me.” We get tough love from the city that raised us, and the comedy scene is booming due to it. So yeah, it’s tough to make Clevelanders laugh, but that’s 'cause you gotta be tough. I lived it, and there’s a postcard that says so. If pain is weakness leaving the body, then laughter is pain leaving the soul. And Cleveland has given us enough of both.