Like Chris Rock and Larry the Cable Guy, Jerry Seinfeld avoids doing shows on college campuses. And while talking with ESPN’s Colin Cowherd on Thursday, the comedian revealed why: College kids today are too politically correct.
Stand-up comedian Todd Glass argued passionately on comedy podcast Sklarbro County, that young comedians who shy away from offensive humor lack the courage to use the medium as a way to create social commentary and dialogue, as Carlin did. Glass called for comedians to be more offensive, but within the right context.
“You can be crass, you can be vulgar, and it’s not about worrying about offending people. F*ck offending people. Offend the right f*cking people. Don’t let this fake argument that makes you not want to grow [as a comedian] and say, ‘Oh, you’re always going offend somebody.’ No one said you shouldn’t! It’s your fake argument! Offend the living f*ck out of people! But make sure you’re doing it to the right group. Because, I’m sure George Carlin, most of the time, was offending the right people.”
So, yes, Mr. Seinfeld, we college students are politically correct. We will call out sexism and racism if we hear it. But if you’re going to come to my college and perform in front of me, be prepared to write up a set that doesn’t just offend me, but has something to say.
What Seinfeld is reacting to is not the shrinking, ossifying death of comedy, as he seems to believe; it is the vibrant, expansive unfurling of comedy, and the multitude of growing pains that come along with it…
I used to think it was a given that, at any comedy gig I attended, I’d have to grin through a number of brutal jokes about my gender: about beating us, about raping us, about ranking us, about reducing our already dehumanised existence to a handful of insulting stereotypes. And I went ahead and grinned – because, I thought, that’s just how we joke…
I’ll never fully be allowed in the club no matter how obedient I am. As long as sexism goes unchallenged, I’ll always be “just a girl”. But because I’m a girl, my complaints about sexism are dismissed. It’s a loop. And that devaluation is vastly compounded for people of colour, trans people, gay people, disabled people – anyone who has spent the past few decades as a stock “edgy” punchline.
It’s so-called political correctness that gave me the courage and the vocabulary to demand better than that from the community I love. Yes, this cultural evolution is bumpy, but what Seinfeld and some other comedians see as a threat, I see as doors being thrown open to more and more voices.
College campuses can be wonderful places to perform — as long as you follow a few basic guidelines.
First of all, don’t make the mistake of just getting up there and telling jokes right away. Instead, begin with an apology. Acknowledge that you know you don’t really deserve any of your success — that you realize you are where you are only because you’re a straight, white male and not because you’re funnier than other people or earned it through hard work. Also make sure to clarify that you are in fact not proud of Seinfeld, but so embarrassed by its lack of diversity that you have trouble sleeping at night.
After apologizing to the crowd, feel free to tell all the jokes you want! Well, not all of them. Like, most stuff is fine, but there are definitely certain things that are obviously off-limits — such as making fun of someone for pronouncing “Cool Whip” a certain way…
And if there is a joke you really want to tell, but you’re worried it might offend some people, you can still tell it. We’d just ask that you please offer a trigger warning, give any students who may feel uncomfortable ample time to leave the room, and then deliver the punch line. Don’t worry about how the waiting might affect your comedic timing — see it as an opportunity to check your privilege and ask yourself how you might become a better ally in the future. After all, the best kinds of jokes are the ones that become teachable moments.
There is nothing more conservative than insisting that entertainment be didactic and serious—that it have “something to say.” That is the impulse that underwrote not just leftists influenced by the Frankfurt School—who saw mass media and frivolity as a means of controlling the masses—and reactionaries such as former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett and Attorney General Janet Reno, who wasted hours of everyone’s time denouncing rap music and “violent” cable TV during the 1980s and ’90s. If you believe that everything from pop songs to standup comedy needs to have deep meaning, you can’t let any opportunity pass without insisting that it all send the “right” message.
To be sure, San Diego State student Anthony Berteaux also insists in his letter that, hey, he likes edgy and funny folks such as Amy Schumer and Louis C.K. and George Carlin and that Seinfeld should
“Offend the f*ck out of college students. Provoke the f*ck out of me. We’ll thank you for it later.”
But this doesn’t just ignore the chill that is already upon campuses when lefty feminist profs like Laura Kipnis gets dragged into Title IX hearings for writing about sex on campus in The Chronicle of Higher Education, viewings of films as mainstream and honored as American Sniper are replaced by Paddington, and students call for trigger warnings before reading The Great Gatsby. It ignores that one of the great functions of art may be to escape from the imperative that all creative expression ultimately be instructive, a totalist inperative that is every bit as dreary and detestable as Saturday morning cartoons once were.
It’s harder to laugh when you’re scared and much of the left is terrified. They know that an inappropriate chuckle, the wrong tweet, or last year’s term for an aggrieved minority can lessen their standing with progressive peers, if not get them fired from a job. Lefties also have turned the negative of humorlessness into the positive of moral superiority. Sniffing “That’s not funny!” at an inoffensive Caitlyn Jenner joke signals that you are more evolved than the average cis-het-white-oppressor. The same people who laughed at Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady” now aspire to be her.
Unfortunately for Seinfeld, I expect this trend to get worse. Progressive conferences instruct their attendees about all the jokes that are off-limits. At last year’s Netroots Nation, professional “humorists” offered to review jokes to ensure they didn’t harm disenfranchised communities. At the three-day event, I rarely saw an attendee crack a smile, let alone laugh.
More and more, comedians are realizing that their progressive allies are the ones trying to silence them, not those unsophisticated conservatives comics love to mock. Perhaps comics should seize this opportunity to joke about humorless liberals before it’s too late.
Why would anyone want to build such a culture of coercion? In a word, power. “Equality” is not the reason for what is happening with such mobs. It is the pretext for what they are doing. Like all such deceptions, its sole purpose is as a vehicle to transfer power from individuals to an increasingly centralized state. The fuel, as usual, is the emotional blackmail of people of goodwill, the uses of mass mobilization to exploit that goodwill, then, finally, to render all such goodwill meaningless…
Meerloo testified to this feeling of disorientation: “Many victims of totalitarianism have told me in interviews that the most upsetting experience they faced in the concentration camps was the feeling of loss of logic, the state of confusion in which they had been brought – the state in which nothing had any validity.”
That’s because in the mass centralized state, “peaceful exchange of thoughts in free conversation will disturb the conditioned reflexes and is therefore taboo.” On a hopeful note, Meerloo writes that “love and laughter break through all rigid conditioning.”
I think the reason there is so little “comedy” that’s funny today is the genre itself has been hijacked by the humorless PC crowd. Why is their humor so unamusing and so dependent upon mean-spiritedness? Consider this possibility: “The totalitarian mind is like the schizophrenic individual; it has a contempt for reality. Think for a moment of Lysenko’s theory and its denial of the influence of heredity. The totalitarian mind does not observe and verify its impressions of reality; it dictates to reality how it shall behave, it compels reality to conform to its fantasies.”
The social justice warriors are creating a culture where comedians can’t make most jokes about race, sex, sexual choices, or any of the things that used to be staples of the comedy circuit. One joke in a stand-up set bombs for being over the line and the social media mobs come forth with pitchforks and your career is over or your comedy is seriously proscribed. It’s a free country, though, which means, in these cases, that if a bunch of coddled children can’t handle transgressive comedy without losing their minds, they can make life for a comic a living hell. Just because you’re trying something out in an intimate setting with a particular group of people doesn’t keep them from blasting it on the internet for a global audience that couldn’t possibly understand what you were going for. Comedians such as Chris Rock say it’s just not fun any more.
As even Letterman’s stale joke sends grown men to the fainting couches, it’s obvious that comedy clubs are going to undergo serious transformations. I’ve seen the future. It’s comedy speakeasies…
The problem with comedy is that people can share what happens in the club with anyone in the world. In the future, when comedy speakeasies are the only way for people to hear transgressive jokes about race and sex, people will have to have the password. But they’ll also have to be patted down for recording equipment. No phones. No audio recorders. No pens and pads. Any recitation of the bits will be fully denied.
It may already be happening. In a recent interview, Chris Rock said that Dave Chappelle is banning phones from his sets. It’s a smart move. The speakeasy era has begun.