Last week we discussed the place of political correctness in comedy. The question is raised, “if (racist, sexist, scatological, etc) humor is funny and successful, why can’t we use more of it? Is the world becoming too ‘PC’?” Some people believe that the amount of dissent toward comedic acts that deal with contentious issues such as race, sex, and sexuality has increased as a symptom of the world becoming more stringent and oppressive to personal freedom. Others, such as Rebecca Krefting, believe that the negative reviews of bigoted humor are due to the overall increase in access to comedy by women and minorities. As these groups speak up and occupy comedic settings more and more, it forces many of us to reconsider what is funny and what is too far.
About a month ago, while attending a comedy open-mic in the basement of a Cedar-Riverside bar, I saw this exact argument played out at point-blank range. One of those pudgy white guys in tennis shoes and a t-shirt, thirty-some years old and still attempting the “I-just-woke-up” look, opened his act with jokes concerning the chances of getting raped on the way home from the bar.
My pepper spray clinked against my bike key as half the room and I chatted comfortably to drown out his uncaptivating monologue. Suddenly I heard, “Hey you there, what are you two ladies talking about?”, and looked up to see a chubby, spotlit finger pointing at my friend and I. This is a classic attempt to recapture the audience’s attention when people are talking over you. He was clearly expecting “us ladies” to shut up immediately at his suggestion, but I decided, “not this time.”
In addition to pointing out that rape jokes aren’t funny to lots of people, it should be possible for two “ladies” to go out and enjoy a night of comedy without feeling threatened. His only rebuttal consisted of the over-tired argument, “This is comedy.” What he meant was, that was comedy when because bars such as that one used to be completely male-dominated spaces instead of the mostly male-dominated spaces they are today. It is lucky that I was aided by other members of the audience, including a guy who stood up, saying, “Man, go home. Get a tan and work out your mommy issues before you come back.” At his suggestion, he finally left.
Interestingly, we seem to be encountering a similar debate on the national political scale. Shortly after watching the election results come in, several CNN reporters commented on Trump’s success, rationalizing that the outcomes depicted a sort of nationwide resentment over the recent success of minorities and women in the economic realm. As more and more women and minorities have access to education, white men have found themselves having to share some of the power and privileges they once took for granted. The result, in both cases, is a group of people who believe their rights are being infringed upon, not seeing that these are rights that most of us never had.
Can white guys be funny? Heck yeah. Can they joke about race/sexuality/gender/etc.? Yes, but they are now subject to the consequences of their statements more than they used to be. Here’s an example, and some rules of thumb: