I love comedy. I love the relief I get from laughter, I love the fact that something funny can make someone’s whole day better, and I love that noticing the oddities of shared human experience can bring a whole room of people together. However, with my growing feminist consciousness has come a growing unease in the pit of my stomach whenever I sit down to be entertained.
Now, I would like to take the time to clarify that I do not enjoy being upset. I’m as annoyed as anyone else when I hear myself inhale sharply through my teeth, or the long sigh that escapes when I hear a joke that touches a nerve. I would love to sit through a movie or a performance without finding something upsetting about the material. Unfortunately, this is becoming more and more rare for me. I know that feminists have a reputation for ruining everything funny. Lately I’ve been opting out of watching comedy in public, because I didn’t want to be that person to ruin something for all of my friends. I took a chance this past week and went to see a performance in public, and found things even in this small local show to be much of the same: each joke was at the expense of some group, or called on the audience’s assumed membership in a privileged group in order to be funny.
Think about the last comedy movie you saw, the last standup routine you heard, or the last sitcom you watched where some group of people wasn’t trivialized, tokenized, or just plain insulted by the brand of humor used. My guess is that you’d have to think pretty far back. Why is this, though? Is there really nothing else about the human experience that is funny? Or are our standards so low for our comedians that we accept their insults as humor?
The jokes that rely on cultural bigotry are lazy, uncreative, and ultimately all the same. When you stop to think about why these jokes are funny, all the comedian is really saying is “aren’t these people different?” and expecting you to laugh. Not only are these jokes offensive, but they aren’t funny. So, I’m calling it right now. Time of death is 8 a.m., Friday February 22. Comedy is dead. So what are we going to do about it?
We can start by recognizing when a performance is relying on offensive humor to be funny. The comedians who do this often claim that they say the things that “no one else will,” instead of entertaining the notion that their jokes are only funny if the audience is willing to accept stereotypes as truth. I used to think that that was what comedy was: essentially pointing and laughing at a group of people. I didn’t see a way that something could be funny without putting someone down. I thought that the world of comedy was filled with Lisa Lampanellis. But then, I found comedians like Ellen Degeneres and Mitch Hedberg, both of whom use the oddities of the human experience to get a laugh, instead of the exclusionary comedy that is pedaled by so many of their peers.
So I encourage you to find your own brand of comedy that doesn’t rely on putting other people down. Though a little hard to find, the tears in your eyes should tell you that it was worth it.