You’d think, for all the hand-wringing around the threat of “PC” or “Callout Culture” stifling comedic genius these days, this BINGO card wouldn’t look so dang easy to completely black out in one night.
I struck up a conversation on Facebook recently with two friends, both amateur comedians, both women my age, about how the “PC Comedy” issue uniquely affects women, exacerbating the existing difficulties of being a female-identified person at open-mics. Those friends and I live in different cities, but we all feel trapped in the same lose-lose-lose situation.
Open-mics are supposed to be workshops where you try new material, where you’re free to experiment and fail. But, as (usually) the only woman there, the pressure to be funny is enormous. If there are two of you, you’re in competition. You’re up against the misconception that women aren’t funny, so risk-taking feels out of the question. You’re expected to act and talk like a lady but maintain a chill, boys-will-be-boys acceptance of everyone else. Things that are relevant to you, that you want to talk about, will be met with disinterest or disgust. You will be singled out, commented upon, othered.
You’ll sit through hours of disgusting, hateful, cruel vitriol and filth. Every comedian will say something that upsets or disappoints you. They’re not doing it to be shocking– to these fellow amateurs, that’s the baseline, the safe, reliable source of laughs. It is not envelope-pushing or daring, it’s mind-numbingly banal. Somehow, somewhere, they got the idea that to be a comedian, forget talking about yourself or your experiences, simply throw the most convenient target you can find under a bus. Mock a thing you don’t understand. Shame people for being unlike you. Ladies, if you are not an enthusiastic fan of this material, good luck making friends.
The idea that political correctness is a bad thing or some legitimate threat to the comedy world is so ridiculous, it’s not worth acknowledging. Read this essay if you’re legitimately concerned about it.
Or, to illustrate:
I set up my web browser to automatically change "political correctness" to "treating people with respect" pic.twitter.com/yvNnqUWpNm
— Byron C Clark (@byroncclark) August 4, 2015
Ethics have a place in comedy. Witness the grandstanding about joke theft. Witness the barely-concealed boners of industry influencers who saw to it that the The Fat Jew lose his Comedy Central show. It’s good that comedy polices itself.
So why is putting some measure of thought into whether or not your content actively exploits or harms someone such an outrageous idea? Why do my friends and I feel like we’re the only ones who care about what we say beyond whether or not it will generate a laugh? Do we join the party or insist that everyone hold themselves to some standard?
Political correctness has not taken money out of any comedian’s pockets or quelled the flood of lazy, exploitive jokes at any open mic or comedy show I’ve ever been to. But the “threat” of it has put all women who care about comedy into the same no-win situation at open mics.
All comedians (and all entertainers) should be criticized for their work. But it’s high-profile women who are branded “problematic” while men get away with not only the most exploitive, hurtful “humor,” but also, like, literal crimes. Thoughtful critics are trying to hold all pop culture to higher standards, but it’s critiques of female comedians that take off on blogs and social media while Tosh.0 is still on the air and Jeff Dunham is a millionaire who owns his own Batmobile.
High-profile female comedians like Amy Schumer are responding thoughtfully to criticism, making changes to their work, opening themselves up to scrutiny. This is difficult and necessary work. Meanwhile, Jerry Seinfeld is applauded for complaining about “sensitivity” and refusing to adapt.
Women are taxed with being the watchdogs, the educators, the activists. If it means so much to us, it’s our responsibility to right wrongs. So long as we do it in a very specific way, which is mandated by the offenders.
And women are the joyless buzzkills, the Social Justice Warriors, who are ruining the fun for everyone by being too sensitive. Women are the butt of the joke of PC culture.
Women are, miraculously, simultaneously the guilty parties, the hardworking innovators, the vigilant critics, and the laughingstock of a non-issue hysteria that was invented to protect male feelings.
Meanwhile I just want to go to open mics to work out the details of this bad-seeing-eye-dog bit I’ve been thinking about for months without having to subject myself to several soul-crushing hours of Caitlyn Jenner jokes.
So let’s play BINGO. Because if I have to politely listen to one more bit about accidentally finding out you’re gay and being obligated to kill yourself, I may lose my goddamn mind.
Ladies, take it with you to your next open-mic. If you get a BINGO, take a picture and send it to me and I’ll give you a prize*.
Note: The Creek and the Cave in Queens hosts an open mic BINGO, I went one time and it seemed fun but I never saw their BINGO card and any similarities are coincidental. If anyone wants to go with me, it’s Mondays at 6 and they have good burritos there.