Bobbie Oliver knew she wanted to do stand-up comedy from a very early age. “When I was 19 years old, I used to watch The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” she says. “I was so in love with Gary Shandling, The Smothers Brothers and other comics, but when I saw Roseanne Barr on television I realized I could do stand-up, too.”
Success was not easy for Bobbie, but she learned that comedy was a voyage, not a destination. “My goals were immature when I was new to the art form.”
Like most comics new to Los Angeles, The Tao of Comedy author and comedian wanted to be on television, but as she performed and eventually began to teach stand-up, she realized that within the art of the joke, there were essential truths about living life waiting to be discovered. “When I started to get into Buddhism and Taoism I didn’t make the connection to how it would affect my comedy until I started teaching and people started to ask me questions and I had to come up with answers for them,” she says. “That’s when I realized that I was dealing with something that was organic, similar to the principles of Buddhism and Taoism. I had taken comedy classes, but the books I had read didn’t seem to grasp that concept.”
One concept she had learned to appreciate both onstage and in her study of the Tao was mindfulness, the idea of being in the moment, totally aware. To Bobbie, part of the Tao is that we are all unique. A stand-up comic doesn’t need to craft a character, they are their persona. “People would say, what is your persona? I started young, and I’ve been doing comedy for 27 years now. There are things I’ve learned in just the last 10 years. When you search for your persona, you are searching your one true self,” she says. ”God turns himself into myriad things to see himself from that point of view. That is our job. You are doing a disservice to your true self if you adopt a persona. That’s why so many comedians go wrong; they try to do an impression of a person instead of being themselves.”
Bobbie teaches comedy and presents shows at her own place, The Tao Comedy Studio. Part of her training is the concept that a stand-up comic shouldn’t just be a hollow joke machine, but a force of justice for the oppressed in a world of prejudice. “I teach that comics should punch up, they shouldn’t punch down. Don’t make jokes about homeless people. Make fun of the system that put them there.” In a proper joke, homeless people aren’t the target . . . they are the ones pulling the trigger. “It used to be that the audience was only straight white dudes. They would tell jokes about Asians or black people. But now a lot of marginalized audiences are starting to be heard and comedy has changed,” she says. “Mean comedy is wrong. Stand-up comics should be using their powers for good, not evil.”
Bobbie has made it easier for women by presenting an open mic show, for women only. “I wanted to give women a place to where they could just share experiences with each other and bond. Since there are like 20 spots in a lineup and just one woman, other women won’t get a chance to perform,” she says. In addition to giving women greater opportunity, the event also serves as group therapy where female comics can bond. “If you put even one man in the room, women start to get competitive. I noticed that when no men were in the audience, it was a more positive, spiritual experience.”
Although she is not a canna-comic, Bobbie believes that cannabis cures a lot of ills that pharmaceuticals can’t, and she has tried many solutions during her long, turbulent career in the entertainment industry. “If it wasn’t for pot I’d be dead or in jail. I’d be in a totally different place right now if I couldn’t smoke it,” she says.