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Can we Support Kathy Griffin even if we Hate that Photo?

Did you hate the photo Kathy Griffin created? Can you support her even if you hated it?

When Kathy Griffin posted a gruesome photo of Trump’s bloodied head, a storm of controversy broke out from deep outrage to conversations of freedom of speech. The blowout was also intense as she lost her job on CNN, gigs got canceled and she has been severely criticized by the press. She apologized and seemed sincere, but that didn’t put an end to the barrage of death threats.

As a comic, I’ve done over-the-top material and have died onstage, but never threatened to be killed. Griffin’s posting was misconceived and certainly not funny, but, the backlash seems to be overkill, more disturbing than her post. Where were these people when horrible racist photos were posted about Obama? Where were the denouncements when male standup comics made homophobic and misogynistic jokes?

I started to write about this, but hesitated, worried that supporting her right to do shock art might cost me business, as I’m a humorist for many ultra conservative companies. When I realized how frightened I was to write something that would offend a potential client or go against my “brand,” that woke me up to just how important it is to support her, regardless of how much we might have despised what she did.

Judy Carter, Kathy Griffin, Shante Lewis
used with permission from The Fullfillment Fund

I've known Kathy Griffin for years, starting when she was a newbie at The Groundlings and Uncabaret in LA. She's always been shocking, saying things most people might think, but not say. I remember being taken aback when she told a story about a date that ended with a golden shower, laughing so hard, I had an asthma attack. This was the most shocking thing I'd ever seen done by a female comic. I couldn’t believe that she was talking so honestly about intimate and horribly humiliating things.

Her openness inspired me to be more daring and authentic on stage. I started talking about being gay, even writing a book about it for Simon and Schuster, “The Homo Handbook” that won the LAMBDA Literary award for best humor book yet was banned in Arkansas and other states. 

Now that I'm doing corporate events, and as my prices go up, my authenticity has gone down. I'm more restrained, forced to face the challenge of passing the scrutiny of HR. I was even asked to take the word “drugs” out of my speech, and that was for a pharmaceutical company.

Griffin’s piece was consistent with what she’s always done – shocking us and shaking us up. In these desperate times, it takes a lot to wake up Americans. Being a “nice girl” seems ineffective when we’re coping with an administration telling us, “There is no climate change, no election tampering by Russians, and by the way, we are selling your National Parks.” 

Another consideration is Griffin is a comic. What she does might be offensive and in bad taste, but she’s not putting any of us in danger. Measuring this against what the president has done, we have to concede that his actions and words, the hateful language he’s used to describe certain people and groups absolutely have consequences. Should we hold a comic to higher standards than the leader of our country? 

So, I stand by Kathy Griffin along with other comics who are supporting her: Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx and others. Performance art is not always funny, comfortable, or pretty. At its best it’s a wake up call. It makes us feel. It makes us think.

When we try to censor performers, when we tell them that they crossed a line, and need to get in line, government approved entertainment will have us be as tepid as Disney on Ice.

Wait – Bill Maher is also being attacked because of a word he said?  

Shouldn’t we hold up our president to the same decency we ask of comics?

I would like to know how you feel about it. Please chime in on my FB page https://facebook.com/judycartercomedy

5 Writing Tips for Breaking through Procrastination

Using anxiety to write jokes, blogs, and even, write a book

Procrastinating about writing? Is your creativity block? Guess what? Professional writers are just as anxious as you are and often use shame to fuel their creativity. Read on…

Yesterday I went to a writing meetup and my friend, who was supposed to go, bailed on me. The reason she gave, “I don’t feel creative. I have no ideas. I just don’t feel like writing.”

This begs the questions: Do we wait for inspiration to write, or does writing inspire ideas?

I’ve had a career writing books and speeches/TED Talks for myself and others, yet most of the time, I haven’t actually felt like writing. I’ve often sit down to do it, not with an abundance of ideas screaming to put themselves onto the page, but fearing that I have nothing to say. Each time, I question why I accepted this assignment and become terrified, and that’s what gets me to the computer. At the basis of my writing is fear of public humiliation.  

One would think that something I’ve done my whole life would build confidence. But, what sticks with me is not the recollection of my last standing ovation from a corporate keynote or the lovely email from one of my readers. No, my writing foreplay is imagining an entire audience looking at their iPhones while I’m on stage, letting me know I’m boring. I fear I’ll write a blog no one finds interesting. You would think that this negativity would stop me from writing but, no, shame is my motivation. I have to prove to myself that I’m not as bad I think.  

Each creative process is a mess to success. The extreme anxiety I start with stirs the adrenaline that fuels a rant, joke, blog, or even, a book. When working on a project, I record snippets of ideas on my iPhone and write morsels on junk mail envelopes, thinking these vague ideas don’t deserve real paper. Looking at them confirms that I was right, filling me with frustration and anxiety, because my calendar says I have to get this mess into some kind of shape. If you want to see what happens when I’m preparing a speech, look at this video. It’s sure to make you feel better about your own process. 

Writing is hard. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to be good. There’s nothing as unfunny and un-fun as writing a speech or a comedy. Remember how on "Seinfeld," Jerry and George would brainstorm ideas for their “show about nothing” -- and everything seemed so easy and made us laugh?

In the real world, writers are often frustrated, anxious, doubtful, and frequently find themselves staying up past midnight staring at a laptop and guzzling pitchers of coffee, desperately hoping something will occur to them other than the awful first, second, and third drafts they’ve been staring at for hours.

But -- what comforts me is to realize that all of our successes start out as messes. And the people who succeed are the ones who stick with the mess, finally uncovering the material that works.

So, if you have dreams of giving a TED Talk, writing a book, doing standup, or getting paid to speak, just start. Don’t give up because you’re weighed down by the feeling that every idea has to be perfectly formed in your head BEFORE you start typing it.

In my online workshop, everyone learns that material doesn’t come out of you fully formed like a newborn colt that can just leap to its feet and gallop. New material comes out raw and unformed, and most of the time just lays there like a baby bird, until with rewrite after rewrite, you finally feed it enough that it can fly.

So don’t paralyze yourself with the need to be perfect.  Whether you’re writing your story, an act or a speech, what you start with doesn’t matter. What does is that you start. Nurture and parent the idea, and it will gradually takes on a life of its own. Your job is to show up, even if you have nothing. Remember “build it and they will come?” Trust me on this.

5 Steps to Completing a Writing Project
  1. Set a time to write and put it in your calendar. Honor it as if you would if you an appointment with a doctor (not the way they do it, however). Take it seriously.
  2. Set your timer to go off after 10 minutes and write until you hear it. Then increase the amount you set aside for writing. It is a mistake to have the WHOLE day to write. Be time specific.
  3. Use Twitter as creative writing prompts. See what trending on Twitter and write about that.
  4. Use a creative writing prompt to get started and see where it goes. Here are 365 creativewriting prompts http://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/
  5. Have a support team. A friend, a meetup, or join our online community at https://TheMessageOfYou.com and we’ll make sure you don’t procrastinate.

Carrie Fisher: Turning Problems into Punchlines

One of the things everyone admired about Carrie Fisher was the way she turned mental illness into a career. In so doing, she helped so many “come out” about their own secrets. In her books, her speaking appearances, and her one-woman show, she revealed what it was like being bipolar. “Having waited my entire life to get an award for something, anything,” Debbie Reynold’s only daughter quipped, “I now get awards all the time for being mentally ill. It’s better than being bad at being insane, right? How tragic would it be to be runner-up for Bipolar Woman of the Year?”

Carrie knew what all us standup comics know: that a problem can be turned into a powerful punchline. As a standup comic for 17 years and teaching comedy for 20 years, I found that when I joked about a problem, it made whatever I was dealing with more manageable. Laughing at a problem is empowering. I’m not just the victim. I’m the narrator, acknowledging it, taking charge of it and making fun of it.

I felt this full force at 21. Filled with rage and sadness after a difficult breakup, I took to the stage at the Hollywood Improv and proclaimed, “I just broke up with someone. We had one thing in common. We were both madly in love with HIM.” In the moment of laughter, something lifted.

When teaching comedy, the “normal” people in the workshop weren’t very funny. I remember one girl who refused to admit that anything was wrong. “No, I’ve never been rejected. I have a wonderful husband. My kids hug me every day.” There was nothing funny about that. Nobody related to her. To be funny, we had to find the courage to cop to the weirdness of our mother’s housekeeping, the fears of coming out as a gay man to a redneck father, showing that what is inside didn’t control us, but rather was the butt of a joke that led to laughter and healing.

“I wanted to tell my father I was gay, but he was always cleaning his gun,” a comedy student said on stage, winning over the audience.

My father would beat me with the belt my parents gave me for Christmas. When I was asked, “What do you want for Christmas?” I would say, “Socks!” another comedy student said to thunderous guffaws.

“Life is a cruel, horrible joke and I am the punch line,” was said by Carrie Fisher

It’s not easy being that open. In fact, it’s scary. It may be easier to tell these kinds of jokes in the privacy of a class, but going public takes guts. That’s what distinguished Carrie Fisher from many others. In her one woman show, “Wishful Drinking,” she took the risk of directing her humor at her parents, saying, “I'm a product of Hollywood inbreeding. When two celebrities mate, something like me is the result.” Instead of distancing herself from the audience by identifying her background as privileged, she freely showed the difficulties and pain, finding the way to mine it for laughter.

Here is a clip from her show on “Hollywood inbreeding 101.”

She didn’t shy away from showing the complicated relationship between mother and daughter. Interestingly, this true confessional didn’t create estrangement. We know that the two women reconciled and became close. Carrie’s honesty may have allowed her mother to understand what went wrong and try to remedy it. As Debbie Reynolds said, “Carrie and I have disagreements and stalemates, but we still walk away loving each other."

On showcase night, my comedy students were reluctant to invite the person who would be the butt of their jokes. One woman was particularly fearful as her entire act revolved around making fun of her mom. She joked about her controlling nature, her obsessive cleaning, painted on eyebrows, and her holding up supermarket lines with excess coupon cutting. She was terrified of seeing her mother after the show. Her mother rushed over to her, hugged her and said, “You forgot to say I’m a hoarder. Here are some jokes I wrote for you to do next time!”

Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds can serve as role models, teaching us that laughter can bring us closer together. It’s a better tool for healing than denying. Our secrets are often what’s funniest about us.

Follow Judy Carter @judycarter.com
Judy teaches online http://comedyworkshops.com

Surviving Holiday Stay-overs: Home is Where the Heart is… and Where Murders are Committed

Staying at someone’s house over the holidays, guests have to follow house rules and they can defy all logic.

Spending Christmas at my best friend’s house seemed like a great idea. It was especially perfect since I’d rented out my house for the entire holiday season so I’d have a place to go and be with, not only my dogs, but also someone I’ve known for 25 years. But, you can know someone for 100 years, and you don’t really know them until you’ve lived with them in their house for 24 hours. Because, there I am in her kitchen hearing a hysterical voice I didn’t recognize telling me, “You put a wet bowl in the dry section of the sink!”

Dry side and wet side of sink
I knew what a wet bowl was. But what sort of sink has a dry section? Laura and I have a terrific history. We’ve helped each other though break-ups, she’s cared for my dogs when I’ve gone away, we’ve traveled together happily, and she is one of the most generous people I know. But in her own home, I sadly discovered, Laura has more rules than Homeland Security. And apparently Christmas is a Code Red.

This wasn’t the first time I’d discovered that someone could be very different when you’re staying at their place. A love affair on vacation in the Caribbean went awry when I went to Ohio and found that great, hot sex didn’t happen after I’d put my lover’s garlic powder in the wrong place and messed up an elaborate filing system of spices. My getting on top of, into and in between sheets on a bed that had been made with hospital corners led to another cataclysmic fight. Home may be where the heart is, but it’s also where the rules are. And they’re not to be broken.

Laura had a specific approach to trash. Anything smelly was to go into the metal can. Other things went into the trash compactor. I got out my notebook and made a note, but a smell got by me and there was trouble. I got trashed because of the trash.

She also cared that the dogs’ mouths get wiped after they’d visited their water bowls so as not to mess up the floor. Each time I heard a sound that could mean impending danger, I ran into the kitchen. The kitchen became an area of stress. The refrigerator was only to be opened for glimpses and there was a serious time limit for those. Laura came running down to ask, “What are you doing?”

“Trying to find cream cheese,” I whispered, wondering why she seemed so alarmed. Turned out she was alarmed because of the alarm.

Freezer with labeled food and alarm
“The refrigerator alarm went off,” she told me. “You kept it open too long.”

Not wanting to offend again I opened the refrigerator and snapped a photo with my iPhone. That would allow me to check the inventory except that the milk blocked many things. I had to move it and take another picture. It was a far from perfect solution but the only way to elude the alarm. I didn’t want the cops to come because I was searching for cream cheese.

Heater was off at night. It was winter. In my room, the thermometer said 51. I could see my breath. My dogs and I cuddled for warmth, but I still had to sleep in my ski underwear.

Day two I learned that cereal bags were to be heat sealed with a Food Saver machine, showers were to be squeegeed, and all stainless steel faucets had to be towel dried. I tried to argue, “But, it’s water. It dries on its own.” In this house, water was tantamount to Muriatic Acid.

What may have been my biggest screw up was as Laura was putting away the dry items on the left side of the sink, I put a dog dish I’d washed out on top of the dry items. In my defense, I’ve never washed my dog’s dish as they understand that licking them clean is their job. I was wrong to expect praise for cleaning the bowl and was chagrined to be scolded for putting it on the wrong side of the sink with the dry items. True, it was wet, and it didn’t belong ON TOP of other dry items.

“Do you understand what you did?” she asked giving me a disapproving look.

Pantry with Labels
“Yes, I do.” I said, hoping to keep things at bay. “I got dry stuff wet again?”

“I want you to repeat to me what you think I’m saying.” she said, combining the worst of all my elementary school teachers. I was exhausted because of my freezing room, still hurt at having been reprimanded for missing a portion when I cleaned the dog pee off the tile floor and when I neglected to wipe my dog’s paws off thoroughly enough earlier this morning. All this combined to make me suspect she wasn’t enjoying spending the holiday with me or maybe she was picking up where my mother left off years ago, telling me each thing I didn’t do right. It didn’t matter. At that moment I wanted to grab a knife, put it into her and then leave it on top of the dry items. But if blood would stain the tile, I would hear about it, and I couldn’t face my life without my BFF, not on top of a Trump presidency.

So, rather than stabbing her, we actually talked and both realized that we were triggered. I told her about a childhood where I was blamed for everything and she talked about a childhood where she wasn’t seen, heard, or appreciated. We hugged. We cried. I dropped my Kleenex on floor. We both looked at it and before she could talk, I said, “I’ll pay for maid service.”

We laughed and that made everything okay, as it often does.

Join Judy's free webinar: "Finding Extraordinary Stories in an Ordinary Day" Weds., Jan 4th 6pm PT 

Register here: https://themessageofyou.com/3-essential-stories/ 


When my BFF, Judy, called to tell me that she had rented out her entire house for the long Christmas weekend and she would like to come and stay at my house with her dogs, I said “yes!” immediately. I love the idea of holidays – especially Christmas. I’m just not so much into the execution of them. So, when Judy called, I was right in the midst of my usual Christmas season routine of not shopping, not decorating and not planning anything special. I thought her staying with me would be fantastic with us hanging out, cooking, eating, walking our dogs together, watching movies, doing whatever we want because we can. This is exactly what I love about not planning – being open to spontaneity and the unexpected. It was going to be a perfectly fun and relaxing holiday weekend. After all, I'm an easy going person.

I have known Judy for about 20 years. We have gotten especially close over the past 5 years as we have helped each other through some difficult times, traveled together to exotic destinations just because the opportunity arose and we are both curious and adventurous and shared thousands of personal, political and “if I ran the world …” stories. And, though we are about as different as two friends could be, in that Felix Unger and Oscar Madison sort of way, we are also about as compatible as two people could be and ALWAYS have a blast together. I consider her my honorary sister and had no hesitations about having her and her dogs stay with me.

So now I have a plan for Christmas and it perfectly fits my take-it-as-it-comes and make-it-your-own-great-holiday lifestyle.

On Christmas Eve, Judy and her two dogs arrive and settle into the guest room and then we stay up late chatting and munching on goodies until we head off to our respective rooms to sleep. I had told Judy when she arrived that the room she was staying in was evidently one they forgot to insulate when they build my house because it is always significantly colder in the winter and significantly hotter in the summer than the rest of the house. I made sure she knew how to work the space heater, told her about the down comforter in the closet if she needed it, showed her the thermostat and asked if she wanted the central heat on or off overnight. She is like me and said she prefers it off.

The next morning, I wander downstairs to see that Judy has already been up and had her tea. I do not actually see Judy, smell tea or see a tea cup, but I do see the dots of white from the foamy milk Judy likes in her tea on the counter and the spoon with still-clinging tiny white milk bubbles on it nearby. Okay. I go to get a treat for my dogs and notice that Judy has also had some nuts at some point the previous night. Not because I saw Judy have nuts, but because the lid to the jar is askew in such a manner that if you were to pick up the jar by the lid, it might just come off in your hand and the rest of the jar would then be all over the floor. Note to self – fix that. Speaking of the floor, one of Judy’s dogs is one of those “water dogs” who likes to drink from the water bowl and then stick his whole snout in the bowl up to his eyes when he is done and enjoy the feeling of the water dribbling out of his mouth as he walks through the house. I didn’t see Cody drinking water, nor do I see him in the kitchen, but I do see a trail of water from the far end of the kitchen that streams past the oven and the refrigerator and then rounds the dining room table. At the end of the trail, Cody lays on the dog bed looking refreshed and hydrated. Alright, a little clean up task for me. I go for a cold bottle of water just then but encounter something crusty on the refrigerator handle as I open the door. Hmmm. That wasn’t there before. I wonder what the hell that is.

None of these little Pig Pen-esque idiosyncrasies about Judy is new to me, or to anyone who has known her from more than an hour. Another close friend of hers characterizes Judy perfectly when she said that Judy “has a very causal relationship with her belongings.” What I’m starting to realize, is that when mi casa es tu casa, with Judy, that includes all of my belongings on that list of things that she does not feel a need to fret much about.

So, I tighten the lid on the jar of peanuts, take up the water bowl so the dogs drink outside, throw a rag towel on the floor and mop up Cody’s drool, put the spoon in the dishwasher, scrape the crud off of the refrigerator handle and wipe up the milk. I also make a mental note to let Judy know about a few house rules when I see her.

When she appears from the bedroom a little while later, she tells me she did not sleep well at all because she was “freezing all night.”

“That’s terrible,” I said. Personally, I hate being too cold, especially when you’re trying to sleep.
“Did you use the space heater?” I ask.

“No” she says, “I was afraid to leave it on.”

That’s fair, I think. I’m a bit paranoid about them tipping over and causing a fire myself.

“Did you get out the down comforter?” I ask.
She wanders away without answering.

I should also mention that, while I am not a clinician, Judy has what appears to be some form of ADD and I had already met my one question quote for her attention span.
It turns out, she never heard me say there was a comforter, again, because it was the second or third item in the list of things I told her about in the guest room.
So, I do mention her not to put a water bowl down unless she is supervising Cody’s drool habit and that the hand-washable stuff in the side of the sink with the drain board should be emptied when dishes are dry before newly washed items are put on top of the formerly dry items, the refrigerator door beeps if you keep it open too long and the temperature is being compromised, etc. And, no worries, it is Christmas day and we are going to fry a turkey in the turkey fryer she brought over and have a fantastic day. I am excited because we were going to do that together last year, but she was sick over Christmas.

So Judy decides to get the turkey out of the fridge and prep it for the big event. She puts it in the sink and begins what looks like a wrestling match with it – and even though Judy has a knife and scissors, she does not appear to be winning. I don’t know about you, but I definitely have a healthy fear of food-born organisms, especially in poultry. I’m seeing turkey juice and bits flying around the “wet” side of the sink and landing on the counter, the “dry” side dishes, the faucet, handles, cabinetry, and just about everything in an 18 inch radius of Judy and the turkey. I slowly back away from the situation like it’s the biohazard zone.

Oh god, I’m thinking, how will this disaster end?

Well, fast forward to turkey prep continuing with Judy injecting it with marinade on my center island, thus contaminating that entire cooking surface as well, to Judy asking me for a jar of poultry seasoning and proceeding, not to shake it all over the raw turkey, but to put seasoning in her hand, rub it on the turkey skin and then ACTUALLY pick up the jar with said hand, stick a finger in the jar with turkey slime on it to get a pinch more for an area that needed that extra bit more coverage. In my mind, large portions of my kitchen were cordoned off by virtual police crime scene tape.
Nonetheless, the meal is coming together and I’m feeling pretty confident that the proper cooking temperature and plenty of bleach-based cleaner will make everything okay. The deep fryer is filled with oil, plugged in and…. not heating. Yup, I guess when Judy dropped the fryer as she was carrying it a bit haphazardly into my garage the day before, it dislodged the part of the contraption that communicates with the heating element to actually heat up.

Well, plan B became pouring the cold peanut oil out of the broken fryer into a pan, heating it on the stove top, deconstructing the raw turkey and frying it piece-by-piece. Here are the highlights:
Me: “Judy, is that the plastic cover for the meat thermometer that you have in the boiling oil?” Judy: “Oh, I was wondering about that,” taking the now melting cover out of the pot of oil.

Judy: “Do you have tongs?” Me: “Yes, in that drawer.” From that drawer where there are two sets of sturdy, grippy tongs, Judy selects the third set – ice tongs. Cut to Judy with a very slippery, five pound turkey thigh and leg hovering over a very full boiling pot of oil on a gas range and the slow motion action of me yelling “Nooootttt thoooose tonnnnngs…” as the thigh slides from the weak and not-at-all-grippy tongs splashing down into the pot. About a cup of hot oil erupts out on to the neighboring burner which, thankfully, was not lit. I admit that I did retrieve the fire extinguisher from the laundry room and place it on the counter next to where Judy was frying. And I might have let slip a phrase such as, “I prefer not to have my house burn down today.”

I could go on and on. REALLY. And, needless to say, Judy and I were quite perturbed and had a few cross words with each other. But what matters is, we really, really love each other and want to be friends until we are in assisted living together. And, in order to do that, we need to resolve differences and move forward. So we did. We wanted to find a solution, so we talked about what happened and each of our emotional triggers from the day. We felt heard, close and loved. And we could laugh about it. Being the problem solvers we both are, we decided to hire a cleaning crew the next day, so we could continue our stay-cation, and our friendship. And, being the generous, fair and high moral character person that Judy is, she paid the entire cleaning bill. Merry Christmas to me!

That dinner, when it was finally cooked, was delicious, and filled my body and soul. I love you Judy and I always will.

Judy's Blog

Judy Carter blogs on comedy, storytelling and public speaking techniques, using personal stories and her adventures as a stand-up comic turned motivational public speaker. Her weekly blogs are read by fans of her books, “The Comedy Bible” (Simon and Schuster) and “The Message of You” (St. Martin’s Press), which include comics, speakers, and entrepreneurs. She is also known for teaching the value of humor and storytelling to businesses as a leadership and stress reduction tool.