Like virtually every novelist, I am happy to complain about the difficulties besetting me with regard to my *~Unpublished Masterpiece~* of a novel. I am confused by whether agents consider it young adult and grumpy about their desire to change the setting to modern times. I work full time and I’m trying to plan a wedding. I fell and might have broken my wrist (the doctors keep telling me to come back and write “maybe broken” on the forms, it’s like some kind of hilarious Shrodinger’s bone). I have video games to play and those are more fun.
But if I ever start complaining about the way oppressed people see my comedy, please find me and break my other wrist (don’t actually do this, I’m really good at bleeding).
I love comedy. What I write, mostly, is designed to be comedic. I actually did a literature review of studies regarding comedy and cognition in college, until I was laughed out of the class. I had an altar built to Thallia, the Muse of Comedy, until she appeared to me in a cloud of laughing gas and said, amidst a chorus of horns.aiff, “Stop taking me so seriously, you clown!”
I’ve noticed a disturbing trend: people think that bigotry is okay if it is couched in comedy. There are the rape jokes, the “racial humor,” the endless jokes at the expense of men acting effeminate, and for some reason, otherwise progressive people are completely okay with this. “It’s just a joke!” people are always saying with a shrug. “Why do you have to be so sensitive? Seinfeld, commenting on how the field seems conspicuously dominated by white men, offered the sage wisdom, “Who cares?”
I tried to come up with a way to politely address comedians who subscribe to this particular brand of thought but in the end, the best I could come up with was this: fuck you.
Fuck your “observational” humor about how needy women are, your “hilarious” Family Guy sexual assault jokes, your completely white situation comedy with token, racist caricature stand-in characters, and everything about your exclusive, lily white, gender- essentialist, homophobic, transphobic little comedy club. Those laughs are so cheap and you, as their purveyors, are so lazy. They ought to revoke your microphone privileges and confiscate your little water-squirting flower lapel.
“Just a joke,” as if humor can’t easily be some kind of horrible rubber chicken truncheon wielded by the entrenched power structures. How can any comedian be so belittling about the thing they chose to pursue with their careers? Comedy is art, and its symbol is the goddamn smiley face mask; it’s supposed to be uplifting or, at the very least, provide a catharsis. Racist and sexist jokes don’t do that. That’s mean-spirited, playground bully humor. It’s an ugly kind of laughter reserved for when we treat other people as less than human. A fart joke is more sophisticated. I could write a paragraph diatribe about flatulence, stretching the joke so thin that its whoopee cushion fabric snaps in half, and still it would still be an elegant opera compared to any joke that relies on rape culture.
Yes, it’s harder to write comedy that isn’t at somebody downtrodden’s expense. It’s easy to kick a person when they’re down and then activate the laugh track. It should be hard. Anything worth doing in art is hard, or everybody would doing it. It’s easy to make mistakes. I make lots of mistakes! I look back at some of my attempts at humor and cringe, realizing that the laughter is cruel. Because I am white and straight and a man, society shields me from criticism and attempts to shout down any voice that would tell me that (not intentionally, not with overt prejudice), I have been insensitive. I grew up in this culture and I will, even if I rework my draft a hundred times and manage to get it professionally edited and published, accidentally be insensitive about something.
I hope to Thallia that when I do, my friends will take me to task for it. I hope they laugh at me instead of with me. That’s what humor is for, really. I hope that instead of complaining about it, I laugh right along with them, offer a sincere apology, learn from my mistakes and make my comedy better, so that I can get back to complaining about how much easier it is to binge watch Star Trek on Netflix until my eyes gloss over than work on my seventh draft.
I haven’t couched my language here and you may disagree with me. You may believe that humor is unimportant and harmless by definition, that at its base it must rely on making somebody the butt of the joke. We may just not be speaking the same language when it comes to chuckles. You’re welcome to attempt to tell me a funny sexist joke, but if you do, I’m going to tell this one over it: