PRINT September 2002


A guy wearing an unkempt wig and thick glasses steps out from behind the red curtain into the spotlight. He smiles nervously, clears his throat, and launches into a joke. Silence. He blurts out another one. This time he gets a snicker or two, but the audience is already digging in its heels. You sit there and think, This poor schmuck, someone really ought to tell him. He manages to squeeze a few titters out of the crowd, but ultimately the groans overpower the giggles, and, finally, the comedian bows. Everyone claps weakly, out of pity, relieved that the show’s over. Few things in life are more painful than listening to bad stand-up.

And then . . . the whole thing starts over: The guy repeats the entire set, gestures and all. Only this time a recording of the set he just did, snorts and groans included, is layered over his performance with a slight delay—and suddenly you realize that

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