(Photo Credit: mugshots.com)
There’s a right and a wrong way to reinvent yourself.
Scott Russell did some really bad things. At 22 he had a 15 year old girlfriend and a camera. Plea deals kept him from doing any really hard time, but there were rumors of a child and multiple victims. He left town pretty suddenly. He skipped out on a comedy performance to avoid getting arrested prior to sentencing.
Scott Lee Russell was also a standup comedian who performed under the stage name Scotty Lee. He had dreams of being famous, “I want to be so famous they have to close down the mall when I show up.”
His run-ins with the law gave him a measure of infamy, but not the type he craved. He left the Salt Lake City comic scene in 2011. Most people in his hometown of Ogden, UT thought they’d seen the last of him.
Chaz Blackwood is also a comedian.
He’s everything Scotty Lee wanted to be. If you read his IMDB page, he’s been on TV and filmed a couple of short films. His webpage describes him as a world famous British comedian who’s performed on the BBC, has two films in production and is “soon to be a household name.” Born in LA, but moved to London at about 2 and raised in cheery old England.
Chaz also is a stage name although you won’t find a reference to his real name on any of his social media sites. You see, Chaz is actually Scotty Lee, who tried to run away from his past and reinvent himself.
I’ve talked before in this column about reinventing yourself (Fire, Comics and Change.) So, what went wrong with Chaz/Scotty’s plan?
After all, Chaz went to a lot of work. He set up twitter accounts, he had a website. As I already mentioned, he has a page on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB). He had Facebook and Google+ pages and a Youtube channel. With the exception of the IMDB page the rest of the pages are gone. Each internet profile for “Chaz Blackwood” was relentlessly targeted by Salt Lake comics telling the story of “Scotty Lee.”
The problem is that Scotty thought that reinventing himself meant leaving the past behind. In the world of Google, Bing and social media that’s impossible. Last week he appeared on a local Salt Lake AM radio station. The SLC comedy community is a very close-knit group. It wasn’t long before someone did a little digging on Chaz Blackwood and recognized Scotty Lee with a bad English accent. There’s even a Youtube video (since removed) of him performing in Las Vegas, where someone in the audience yells “FAKE!” Chaz actually posted the video himself.
What was interesting about the sad tale of Scotty Lee/Chaz Blackwood is the reaction he got from the comics in SLC. Anyone who’s been to live comedy knows that most shows are for those aged 21+. Part of the reason is that many of the shows are in bars, but the comics’ content is typically very adult.
Andrew Dice Clay and George Carlin built careers on pushing limits of what some people considered socially acceptable. Many later comics charged through the door that Clay and Carlin knocked down. Richard Pryor, and Eddie Murphy and a whole host of later “Blue” comics.
So, in a comedy show you are likely to hear jokes that push the envelope. I’ve heard jokes about rape, misogyny, racism, pedophilia, murder, and just about anything else you can imagine. Of course, comics each have their own style, and many work clean, or avoid particular topics. But, as a group, you can hear people telling jokes about anything and everything.
So, why did the SLC comics run Chaz/Scotty off the Internet?
Because in the words of one comic, “We tell jokes about it. He actually DID it.”
In the movie “42,” Alan Tudyk’s character says some vile racist things to the Jackie Robinson character. No one assumes that Tudyk is a racist simply because he plays one in a movie. Comics are very similar. The comic you see on stage is playing a role. And, they are just as offended by pedophiles as everyone is. They are just more likely to make a joke about it.
The second thing that I thought about last week while watching the Chaz Blackwood facade crumble is that there is a right way and a wrong way to reinvent yourself. President Bill Clinton was impeached. He was only the second president to ever be impeached in the history of our country. Many people expected him to resign in disgrace. Clinton instead apologized and went on to have a successful presidency and a very successful post-presidential career.
Reinventing yourself is not so much hiding your past, as acknowledging your mistakes and moving on. Had Scotty Lee tried to get back into comedy in the Salt Lake area under his own name, there would have been some people who would have continued to punish him for his earlier sins. But, if he was willing to weather the storms, it’s very likely that after a few years it would be a non-issue.
I’ll leave you with the story of the “Sheep Thief (The story of two brothers)” by Willanne Ackerman.
Once upon a time in a land far away, lived two young men. The two brothers were likable, but undisciplined, with a wild streak in them. Their mischievous behavior turned serious when they began stealing sheep from the local farmers, a very serious crime in this pastoral place, so long ago and far away.
In time, the thieves were caught. The local farmers decided their fate: The two brothers would be branded on the forehead with the letters ST for “Sheep Thief.” This sign they would carry with them forever.
One brother was so embarrassed by this branding that he ran away; he was never heard from again. The other brother, filled with remorse and reconciled to his fate, chose to stay and try to make amends to the villagers he had wronged. At first the villagers were skeptical and would have nothing to do with him. But this brother was determined to make reparation for his offenses.
Whenever there was a sickness, the sheep thief came to care for the ill with soup and a soft touch. Whenever there was work needing to be done, the sheep thief came to help with a lending hand. It made no difference if the person were rich or poor, the sheep thief was there to help. Never accepting pay for his good deeds, he lived his life for others.
Many years later, a traveler came through the village. Sitting at a sidewalk cafe eating lunch, the traveler saw an old man with a strange brand on his forehead seated nearby. The stranger noticed that all the villagers who passed the old man stopped to share a kind word, to pay their respects; children stopped their play to give and receive a warm hug.
Curious, the stranger asked the cafe owner, “What does that strange brand on the old man’s head stand for?”
“I don’t know. It happened so long ago…” the cafe owner replied.
Then, pausing briefly for a moment of reflection, he continued: “…but I think it stands for SAINT”.
I have written a follow-up story to this called “The Bad Penny.”
Rodney M Bliss is an author, blogger and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.