Thursday, March 7, 2013

In defense of live comedy


Have I known you for more than a couple years? Do we spend enough time around each other that you understand where I'm coming from? Yes? Good, we can have a discussion about where we disagree. No? You don't know me well enough to comment or judge anything I say. Period. Hurray me, hurray you, let's all be adults about this. Kay? Thanks.

   I am getting really, really tired of defending live comedy just because people in general don't understand context. I am especially tired of people misunderstanding that defense of a form is not the same as approval of a point of view or specific joke. It annoys me that I end up in the position of defending someone like Daniel Tosh - who I don't think is particularly funny - by proxy by having this opinion. I also tend to find a LOT of stuff that other people find offensive funny. I find offensive stuff funny in general, regardless of what is being joked about. 
   Case in point: rape jokes. This is one of those topics that many people say you can't joke about. I fundamentally disagree with the idea that any topic can't be joked about. However, the big exception to this is context. There is a fairly large segment of the population that will never, ever, think these jokes are funny. And that's fine. It's an appropriate response. What the comic performer needs to understand is that you will never be able make these people accept your rape joke. Ever. Period. There is no argument you can make that can justify your material to them, even under the auspices of freedom of speech. You can also be wrong in understanding your own context as a performer. I.E. If you are a man you need to be very aware of the context in which you talk about a issue like rape comically.  Race issues present a similar conflict.
   Often my first response to something fucked up is to immediately laugh at it. This recently happened at a show I performed at where some extremely racially insensitive improv sketches were done. While not condoning the material, I laughed at both, but that is mostly because my context for the material (i.e. being a white male, liking offensive shit) is completely different from the people who were offended. I refuse to be apologetic about the initial reaction to the sketches. I do, on the other hand, understand the reasons why other people were deeply offended. I also understand I am speaking in a position of privilege here. I also think the improv troupe either did not understand, or was not fully aware of the context they were performing in. If they had, they might have understood that certain subjects were inappropriate for them to broach. I.E.: If you are in a venue or a show that prides itself on its spotlighting and/or promoting minority issues and artists, its probably a bad idea to be a white person making slavery jokes.
   However, by extension, any audience member needs to understand that a live comedy show (most especially a comedy club) is a context in which anything can be joked about at anytime. In addition, one of the comics may fuck up a joke that night, or have a inappropriate response to a heckler. It will be a singular event that happens that night and may never happen again, and it will offend you deeply. Fine. Be offended. Tell the performer you were offended if you must. Engage in a conversation in person ideally. But don't post a video of it on YouTube from your phone or write a Facebook bitchfest about it. I'm of the opinion that the experience of a single night of live comedy on a certain  level should remain a singular experience only between the people involved. I know that on some level this is idealistic and naive, but I don't care, it's how I feel. Having a honest discussion on a complicated issue with the people involved is not the same as flaming about it on the internet. Also, and I'm painfully aware of how stupid this may sound, its probably not a good idea bring your rape survivor friend to the comedy club.
  Making fun of or making jokes about these issues is how we come to realize how absurd or wrong these things are. But the context in which these jokes are made is always what seems to be ignored. I have repeated this so many times is has become a mantra: CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING WHEN IT COMES TO UNDERSTANDING COMEDY. You can not and should not try to control content, but you can make a greater effort to control and prepare for context.

1 comment:

  1. I liked this a lot. I think being offended at anything you hear at a comedy show is just silly. It is a COMEDY show, not the state of the union address. I am sorry but sometimes really offensive things are also FUNNY. And if you don't agree, you don't agree. Fine. But getting offended means that you are taking comedy way to seriously. Which is just silly.