Recently, I received a threat that if I didn’t start writing the blog again, I would be actively disappointing one person. Thanks, Billy!
To give you some perspective, I’ve spent the last several months MIA as a make-up-less hermit fused to the grooves of my roommate’s sofa. Think Winona Ryder in Reality Bites, except not cute and with less Ethan Hawke. Oddly enough – my friendships deteriorated, my weight sky-rocketed, crying in the car became a new beauty ritual. That is, until the dealership repossessed it. Like, I binged enough prison documentaries to make Netflix nervous kind-of-year.
I stopped going to shows (except my own, of course). I lost interest in writing. My totally logical and actionable plan of getting TV sexy and starring in ABC’s hit reality series, The Bachelor, was forcefully derailed by bankruptcy, health problems, and a classic plot twist – sudden death of mom. Like, who is even writing this story? Three shit events in one year that will forever haunt my social media reminders. Yes, Facebook. I remember when mom died. Thank you.
But, hey. The world turns. The show goes on. Naturally, to get back into the swing of things I picked an absolute fluff piece: sexual harassment.
Full Disclosure: I have nothing revolutionary or interesting to add to the sexual harassment dialogue. In fact, I barely discuss the subject.
Mmm. Sexual Harassment. Where to start? Let’s see. I don’t feel like recounting all the buzz-worthy times I’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted. I don’t want to talk about the time no one would listen, or when I never said anything, when I internalized shame, when my advice to other women was to get over it. The stabbing confusion when the men close to me didn’t get it, or honestly had no idea, or were tired of hearing about it.
Here’s what I will say about it: a joke that reinforces misogyny is just misogyny. This goes for comics and non-comics alike.
Like, a joke that supports, promotes, or is held together by the underlying belief that women are inferior to men is simply a statement that women are inferior men. When a person makes a joke that reinforces the patriarchy, that’s exactly what they’re doing.
Side Note: Comedy opinions are like assholes. They’re desperate for attention.
I do not like talking about stand up. My biggest fear is someone might think that I think I’m an authority. I can count the years I’ve done stand up on one hand. I’ve almost never left Atlanta. I don’t know anything about anything. I’m not trying to sound preachy, and I don’t think I’m better than other comics. OK, Cody?!
However, I am from the south and I know when someone says “I’m not trying to be __________, ” what they mean is “I’m definitely about to be __________ .” In fact, they are so about to be __________ , that they need to remove your agency to respond.
When I say “I’m not trying to preach,” what I mean is “I’ve arrived at the pulpit.” I’m dressed and pointing to God. I’m ready to spread my narrow interpretation of stand up, and I don’t want any of the responsibility or backlash that comes with it. Yes Lord, I’m a full-of-shit hypocrite and that’s exactly what gives me the strength to speak. Now, please pass around the likes and shares plate.
In comedy, there’s satire and irony and sarcasm and misdirection and many other things that my inexperienced comedy p-brain can’t even comprehend. Imagine you’re a spider and a 5 minute set is a spindly web. Comedy devices are like your spider butt where the web comes out and you stretch it as wide as it will go to catch as many flies as possible. Some comics weave a complicated web, others not so much. No one gets paid, but we do get a lot of flies.
The point I’m trying to make is this: if the underlying message of your jokes purports that women are not real people then, regardless of whatever comedy devices you use, you’re just reinforcing that women are not real people. If the underlying message is sexism, then it’s just sexism, baby! Coming out of your butt!
There’s an unspoken (and oft spoke) rule in stand up that what happens on stage stays on stage. Most comics will say anything to get a laugh. If a comic engages with the audience at all, which – dear God – they should, occasionally something dumb spills out of their mouth which, taken out of context, doesn’t represent their real opinion. It just happens. Some on-stage transgressions are more forgivable than others and everyone’s threshold is calibrated differently, but what happens on stage stays on stage. It’s a healthy, necessary boundary.
Of course, comics should have the freedom to say whatever they want. That’s the beauty of this whole charade. That doesn’t mean others will like it. It doesn’t mean a comic won’t get the light early. It doesn’t mean they’re entitled to get booked. It doesn’t mean the moment their feet hit the ground they’re suddenly immune to other people’s feelings.
I used to do a joke where the punch line was that my dad thinks I’m a slut. It was not a good joke, nor was it based in reality. I just said it one night and it got a laugh, so I kept using it. I felt bad every time it was amplified by a microphone into a crowd of strangers. I worried my dad would hear it somehow. What if I had to explain that joke to him? A guy who had worked his entire life to give me everything he could. A man who had supported me through everything, even a goth phase. What would I say to him? Sorry, dad! It’s just something I said at the expense of your feelings. It’s just a joke!
Eventually, I became a slightly better writer and abandoned the shitty tag.
So, what is my point and what does this have to do with sexual harassment? Perhaps nothing. Perhaps everything? I don’t know. Good thing no one asked me to write a think piece on sexual harassment and its role in comedy. Some good ones are here, here, and here.
Yes, I believe in free speech. Yes, comedy is art. Yes, I think whatever someone says on stage is fair game, but jokes are not magic. Laughter does not absolve all premises. Ironic misogyny is just misogyny. Ironic racism is just racism. A homophobic act out is just homophobia. Whatever comics say on stage they’re saying to real people in real life. When someone says they’re not being __________ , they’re definitely being __________.
I’m not telling you to drop your sexist, racist, homophobic tags. I’m definitely telling you to do that.
Louis CK’s ‘feminist’ jokes weren’t genius bullets from a woke gun. They weren’t even really jokes? He basically re-branded a confession. They were giant dumps his flaccid conscience had to take at the expense of others.
What are yours?