One of the first rules of going onstage as a standup comedian involves commenting on one’s obvious physical characteristics first, and more savagely than anyone else possibly could. If comedians are obese, that is naturally the source of a lot of their material. In the past few years, the phenomenon called roast battle has emerged. In that culture, obesity is both a weapon and a defense, an asset and a liability.
But now, a different group at least make an effort to maintain their physical selves in healthy shape, setting strict upper-limit weights for themselves, and observing conscientious diets, while maintaining the ability to be self-deprecating about it all.
I know you’re not supposed to make fun of fat people. I don’t know why, though. They’re not a race, they’re not a religion. It’s totally curable. Eat an apple and go for a walk.
That is Bill Burr on the topic of obesity, which he then summarizes: “You ate your way in, you can walk your way out.” His 2017 one-hour special, Walk Your Way Out, is not all about weight issues, but a chunk of it is. He suggests that plus-size models don’t deserve magazine covers, because that devalues or discounts all the hard work that other models do to stay skinny. He makes fun of people who complain because McDonald’s doesn’t have healthy menu options, yelling — “It’s McDonald’s!!!”
But there is a whole other side to this apparent connection between comedy and obesity. In one of the most unforeseen cultural developments of the last decade, the world of professional comedy has melded with the world of fitness. Burr is, in fact, one of several professional comedians who obsessively inform listeners about the details of their current fitness programs and dietary discoveries.
The fans love it and respond gratefully to the opportunity to spill their own secrets and catalogue their struggles. They will email a podcast host with heartfelt thanks for having inspired them to lose 100 pounds, or tell how they shook off a substance addiction by following a visiting expert’s tips. “You saved my life” is sometimes the message, and probably no professional comic out there would regret hearing that from a stranger.
How did this happen?
In the melding of two very different aesthetics, the one person at cause is Joe Rogan, pictured on this page, a professional standup comedian who has recorded more than 1,200 podcast episodes that are downloaded by millions of people worldwide. Rogan is known for the astonishing variety of his guests. His first career was athlete. He has a serious home gym, and puts himself through grueling workouts, describing both the benefits and the drawbacks to his audiences.
Because he also does color commentary for mixed martial arts events, those were some of the first athletes Rogan reached out to. He talks with fitness gurus of many different stripes; with nutritionists, personal trainers, former members of the military’s elite special forces, and people with unorthodox theories. The format is very small percent interview and mostly conversation, often lasting as long as as long as three hours. This is intentional, to eventually melt any resistance the guest might have, and facilitate sharing the personal experiences they were formed by.
Fitness is just as funny as fatness
Many comedians have become podcast hosts, and continuously rotate to each other as guests. Like all great conversationalists, they tell the truth about themselves, conducting self-therapy sessions in front of audiences, and apparently this is exactly what audiences are eager to pay for. Burr, for instance, claims to start off each morning in front of a mirror with a brutally frank and expletive-laden fat-shaming session. Benji Aflalo has said that he fat-shames himself all day.
Matt Mira wonders if, during his obese adolescence, it might have been helpful to encounter more fat-shaming. Ari Shaffir’s problem food is candy, but he has found that living in New York City, and walking everywhere, meets his exercise requirements.
There was the Tom Segura vs. Bert Kreischer mutual fat-shaming contest. These guys challenge each other to feats, like completing X number of hot yoga sessions, or running a marathon. To lose involves some embarrassing penalty, but they enjoy the competition and fans love it. As Tom Segura says,
I don’t even want to lose weight to live long or be healthy. I just want to be able to make fun of fat people again.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Bill Burr: Walk Your Way Out (2017),” IMDB.com
Image source: Instagram