This isn’t meant to condemn anyone’s voice. Instead, I want to offer some thoughtfood and a vision for different sources of laughter. Take what you like and leave the rest.
In my attempt to find other blogs talking about comedy and humor, I find myself bumping against legions of true comedy fan blogs. Across the world, older white men are at the end of their rope, writing long jeremiads about the mortal danger that political correctness brings to the world of comedy.
Gosh, we killed comedy, y’all (yet wouldn’t “killing” be considered wildly Un-PC tho?)
Can the same person who watches Bill Maher’s New Rules to feel reaffirmed about their politics also watch Cameron Esposito’s Rape Jokes and not feel like they are owed to laugh at every single moment? Can they accept that comedy does not always fit their paradigm of what constitutes as shock is the first step in healing.
How about like… no rape jokes told by non-victims or perpetrators? If it didn’t happen to you, and it didn’t happen to the person performing the joke, who are you laughing at? What are you laughing at?
Fans of self-avowed non-PC comedy: can you accept that much of comedy’s potential audience have written off mainstream comedy because they only associate it with a bullshit weightless comedy rooted in toxicity? Can you hear the quaint echo chamber of a world where the women always be shopping and the act-out impersonations of queer people and people of color act-outs are perpetually sassy? Or maybe, just maybe, a homeless drug addict you reference can be a little more than both set-up and the punchline?
Let’s take a look at some common arguments against political correctness in comedy and how to savor the tears of those who speak them:
“Comedy is so PC now,…
1.) … comedians are refusing to perform at college compasses!”
Imagine a college student is waiting for their drink at coffee shop. A stranger approaches them. The stranger tells a couple jokes about cars and golf. The waiting student is… not a fan. These jokes aren’t what they personally relate to, the way the person is saying these jokes isn’t engaging, and overall the person waiting for coffee feels horribly uncomfortable.
The jokester senses that their material isn’t working and leaves. The waiting student takes a sigh of relief. But then, another stranger approaches and says “that was my favorite comedian, why did you have to be so rude to them?”
Then the waiting student says: “I’m sorry, but the $2 coffee I just ordered has put me into another 30 years of debt. In the 20 years since you’ve been to college, what passes for comedy has become more personal and intimate through direct address YouTube channels, vines, and snaps, so the style of emotionally cold observational comedy made famous throughout 90s stand-up holds less sway. Also, in a world where I paid to go to a place where we are learning about consent to curb astronomical amount of sexual assault, it’d be cool to have a comedian who’s more sensitive and knowledgeable about culture change instead of just assuming that college campuses haven’t changed in 20 years. Plus, There’s no surer path to becoming irrelevant as a performer than calling an entire swath of youth irrelevant, you know? Anywho, sorry to ramble. I just don’t want my college to pay your favorite comedian to say some disconnected shit to us that you thought was funny without being there.”
(The person in the coffee shop was totally Jerry Seinfeld. I just think he spent too much time resting on his laurels with a generation who readily associates him with the Bee Movie.)
2.) … a movie like Blazing Saddles couldn’t be made today.”
I grew up loving Mel Brooks, but this argument is hot garbage.
First, A movie like Blazing Saddles could be made today! And if it were to be made today, how cool would it be for it to be written and directed by people of color!?
You think the internet venom boiled up over the Ghostbusters reboot? Just wait for a Blazing Saddles remake starring the entire cast of Girls Night. (By the way, universe, get on that? And don’t just make it a blanket gender-swap like Oceans 8, recontextualize that shit. Thanks beau <3)
Second, Blazing Saddles was already made so… you good?
Third, Outlaw Johnny Black. The Western parody is not dead.
3.) … there won’t be anymore shock comedians to push the envelope!
Shock comedy… Ah, of course. What’s a better way of sharing that you’ve “got the morbs” than telling a that yearns to receive the response “hahaha, woah, hey now too soon lol.”
But really, that’s one side of shock comedy. Shock comedians are split down a PC and non-PC line.
Chicago Tribune Theater Critic Chris Jones once complained in a revue review about Second City becoming “a safe space” by having a sign stating a zero tolerance policy against “homophobic, misogynistic, xenophobic, racist or prejudiced comments” from the audience. In the same review, Jones complains that he felt uncomfortable about the amount of jokes targeting his white privilege and the privilege of a largely white audience.
That’s also shock comedy.
Just down the same street of Second City Chicago is the monthly comedy & variety show Helltrap Nightmare, consistently riding a wave of shocking body horror and absurd non-stop transgressive laughter.
The laughter that gave rise to Daniel Tosh and Anthony Jeselnik is one form of shock comedy, but limiting the definition of shock to only apply to material considered “offensive” offers no kindnesses to the world of comedy. If shock comedy is meant to make an audience squirm a little, or make them laugh at unexpected awfulness, or make them feel terrible about what they laugh at, let’s all hail Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette as bold new push into shock comedy.
4.) … but not every joke needs to be taken so politically.”
I hear where this is coming from. The asker of this question often wonders “What happened to just embracing absurdity of things like Monty Python?” or “Since when has comedy needed a political point-of-view?” They tell comedians and artists they like “I like you, but keep the politics out of your work, okay?”
Every. Joke. Is. Political.
Inherently. Irrevocably. Since the beginning and until long after the end.
Yes, every. joke.
The politics of a joke changes based on the comedian’s gender, race, sex, orientation, class, status, and every other dang qualifier. Absurdist jokes are a political comment against reality. Even puns are political comments against the fallibility of language and communication. Jokes have the power include or exclude people from social circles or entire cultures. No one is exempt. Your one-liners do not exist in a vacuum. Mitch Hedberg’s material worked because of his personal beliefs informing his absurdity and the audience’s agreement on what is absurd. We are tethered to our bodies and each other and our words and our world and this hellscape, so be kind?
And even more important:
Every. Laugh. Is. Political.
Laughter is a social tool. We laugh at jokes we don’t find funny so we can relate to people. Men are more likely to laugh around someone they’re trying to impress. Women are more likely to laugh around men when sizing up whether or not the dude might be a threat. Laughter is social currency.
No joke or comedic act is ever owed laughter.
5.) … we are entering a dark age of comedy.”
Excellence. Is. All. Around. Us. We are overrun with excellence. We are downright lousy with excellence.
The cultural zeitgeist loves to throw around the term “The New Golden Age of __________.” “The New Golden Age” doesn’t work here. “The Old Golden Age” has its roots in a time of the gold standard, in a time where excellence was treated as a precious commodity. Saying that “we are entering into a New Golden Age” is like saying “we are returning to the past era of excellence,” yet the excellence created today is by voices that were silenced during the Golden Ages of yore.
This era isn’t Gilded or Golden. There is nothing precious about it.
If anything, we’re ushering in a socialist era of comedy: entertainment that serves both the public and the performers/creators. Entertainment as a form of communion. Yes, you can still have screwball comedies! You can have the dumbest, and dangest stupidest comedies in the world! You can care for your audience, too! You can pretty much do anything you would already do, just don’t rely on “you didn’t get the joke” as an excuse to be an asshole.
Jokes can literally be about anything. Laughs can come from silence. Take the time and consider the risk of making it? Your joke can still be horribly absurd and gross and nasty and also empower you and others with your honesty, your vulnerability, your hurt, your strength, your truth.
So if someone complains to you that “Comedy is so PC now,” you know there’s only one way to respond:
“How PC is it!?”
We’re still in it for jokes, after all.