Talking to the comedian and activist Barry Crimmins […] he told me his joke ethics. He doesn’t make jokes about cancer because he thinks about how that might sully the evening for someone in recovery or someone who has lost someone recently. To him, it has to be a very, very funny joke on such a subject to make the potential upset worthwhile. […]
Barry told me a story about headlining a club gig where a couple in the front row seemed particularly delighted by his performance. Talking to them afterwards, they told him they rarely had a night out as they had a severely disabled child. The previous acts had bandied around the [r-word], this had made them uncomfortable. When Barry came on, they soon saw that his sort of humanity meant they were in safe hands. It reminded him of why he made the choices he made.
For anyone who then thinks that comics such as Barry play it safe, then witness the material he does about American politics and child abuse, the kind of material that takes real chutzpah, passion and belief to deliver.
Robin Ince on saving comedy.
So a couple of years back, we ended up in Chicago with some friends of my husband’s. We were there for a few days and they showed us around and we had a great time, touching all the stolen rocks in at the base of the neo-Gothic Tribune Tower, boo-hissing the Trump building on an architectural river cruise, eating caramel-and-cheese popcorn, wandering through Lincoln Park, and experiencing (a thankfully mild form of) deep dish pizza. Oh, and we also went to a sketch comedy show.
I shamefully have absolutely recollection of which show or where (we ended up having quite a few jugs of Long Island Iced Tea), only that I was apprehensive going on. I’d been to some comedy shows before, to not-great results, and as the usual PC Fun Police I was sort of dreading a night of having to sit through “jokes” about rape or race or gender identity. So imagine how purely fucking relieved I was none of that materialized. The show was often quite vicious, but it never punched down. It was also one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen–like, crying-in-public funny, and I’m not an easy laugh-out-louder–and one of the best experiences from that trip.
That comedy show was, I supposed, what critics would call “PC comedy”. Self-consciously so; a few aside glances from the comics/actors gave the audience the impression they knew exactly what they were and, more importantly, weren’t doing.
Did I mention it was also hilarious? Because it was fucking hilarious.
For a period I used to tell people I didn’t like comedy. What I really meant, in retrospect, was I didn’t like the mean-spirited style of South Park/Family Guy “comedy” that seemed to inundate everything. But it’s things like that Chicago show, plus TV like Brooklyn 99 and Community ((And, for a more controversial opinion, Rick and Morty, which I think is kind of the anti-Family Guy, in that it plays in the same gross-out, no-holds-barred misanthropic playground but without, I feel, the undercurrent of legitimate cruelty. Rick and Morty toys with comic nihilism but, ultimately, rejects it for an absurdist/existentialist stance that’s far more palatable. Also, Beth and Summer are kind of badasses. So… that helps.)) that made me realize I didn’t have to concede comedy to its darkest (and least funny) elements. It was worth fighting for.
(Oh, and, incidentally: Crimmins’s replacement for the r-word? “Dildoic“. That could work.)