You may recall the liberal meltdown which ensued when Jerry Seinfeld talked about The Progressive Comedy Pause and how political correctness was ruining the standup comic trade. For those who missed it the first time around, here’s a brief reminder.
Tell a joke to a liberal. Between your punchline and his laughter, there is a Progressive Comedy Pause. In this second or two, the liberal will process the joke to make sure he is allowed to laugh.
Is that joke racist? He mentioned Obama, but didn’t make light of him, so to speak. He also mentioned Michelle, but I didn’t notice sexism. Is it dismissive of the LGBTQIA community? Latinos? Muslims? Vegans? Will this joke hurt progressive causes? Will my laughter trivialize oppressed communities? Will I appear intolerant? I think it’s okay if I laugh. Yes, I’ll laugh now to signal my appreciation and to indicate that I’m not a joyless liberal scold.
Seinfeld took all sorts of heat over that because it’s politically incorrect to talk about how bad political correctness is for society. Of course, the man is already in the twilight of his career and has roughly a gazillion dollars in the bank, so he could afford to ruffle a few feathers. Unfortunately for pretty much all of his younger colleagues currently in the business, there is no such security blanket and Jerry’s revelations don’t seem to have made life any easier for them.
At The Atlantic this week, Caitlin Flanagan has a long, fascinating report on how comics hoping to work the university auditorium circuit are still dealing with these issues. I was unaware of this subculture of the entertainment industry, but apparently it’s quite a big deal. Comics working the clubs in various cities frequently make little to no money and are working as busboys while they wait for their big break. Conversely, if you’re lucky enough to get on the college campus circuit, you can pull down and couple thousand a night and work dozens of gigs per year. But how do you get in on this gravy train?
It seems that a group known as the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) holds a convention every winter where they evaluate comics wishing to perform and determine who passes the smell test. And that’s no easy task to accomplish. Some of the stories they tell are simply depressing.
Trying to explain to these kids any of the fundamental truths of stand-up—from why it’s not a good idea to hold a comedy show in the cafeteria during lunch hour, to why jokes involving gay people aren’t necessarily homophobic—is a nonstarter, and only serves to antagonize the customers. The logic problem is also responsible for the fact that many of the comics at the convention weren’t very funny, and several of those who were funny didn’t get much work, despite garnering huge laughs and even standing ovations.
A young gay man with a Broadway background named Kevin Yee sang novelty songs about his life, producing a delirium of affection from the audience. “We love you, Kevin!” a group of kids yelled between numbers. He invited students to the front of the auditorium for a “gay dance party,” and they charged down to take part. His last song, about the close relationship that can develop between a gay man and his “sassy black friend,” was a killer closer; the kids roared in delight, and several African American young women in the crowd seemed to be self-identifying as sassy black friends. I assumed Yee would soon be barnstorming the country. But afterward, two white students from an Iowa college shook their heads: no. He was “perpetuating stereotypes,” one of them said, firmly. “We’re a very forward-thinking school,” she told me. “That thing about the ‘sassy black friend’? That wouldn’t work for us.” Many others, apparently, felt the same way: Yee ended up with 18 bookings—a respectable showing, but hardly a reflection of the excitement in the room when he performed.
The other examples listed in the article are equally insane. But each schools seems to be sending a couple of representatives who are the guardians of social justice or whichever theme is in vogue at the time and they have the final say as to who will be booked to perform at their school. The fact that so many of them would reject a gay comedian for talking about his experiences as a gay student goes to show you how far off the rails things have gone.
But should this come as any surprise? No. It’s simply an extension of the hot house flower mentality of liberal campus social leaders today. They have those trigger warnings and safe spaces in place for a reason, you know. “Protecting” the student body from hearing the opinions of an elected official from the wrong party or a political commentator who might say something disagreeable is a given, natch. But why would you stop there? Frightening speech which doesn’t comport with contemporary liberal standards could creep in almost anywhere. Comedians are speakers too, so they must be vetted. Gaia only knows how quickly society might crumble if one of them told a joke which involved two students having sex before the guy asked seventeen times if she was really into it.
But I think the NACA is missing out on a number of other dangers here. What about cafeteria workers? Some of those people are still serving animal meat! And the people bussing the trays might strike up a conversation within earshot of the students about riots and looting actually have detrimental effects on property values. What then? The next stop is anarchy. The groundskeepers need to be checked for Romney stickers on the bumpers of their trucks, too. Oh, and the painted lines in the parking lot look awfully white, don’t they? Something needs to be done.
Abandon all hope ye who enter here. The future is in the hands of these hall monitors.