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Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Jenn's Thoughts: Bigotry, thy name is........
This week no guest bloggers, but fear not, great bloggers next week! Today you are stuck with me, you may as well stay now that you are here. Welcome, Tansi, Bounjour.
"Tolerance is a great trait to contain, but so is the ability to shut up." Unknown
Tonight I did a Tuesday spot at Absolute Comedy. It went as it usually does for me: They like me, laugh at some, but at the end of the day...meh, nothing special. I am like visiting relatives, I can stay for a little bit and they like my charm, but after a certain time I become annoying. This isn't about me though, so let's move on!
Tonight, there was an amateur comic I had not seen before. Off stage he was a nice fellow, but when he got on stage, he pretty much insulted fat people, Asian people, Arab people, etc. etc. He went on for a bit, telling people he was "keeping it real" and "telling the truth". He is a black man, and I not sure where that fits in, but I think it is important to state. This wasn't a rebel rouser from the KKK coming to comedy night, this was someone who likely has experienced hatred and discrimination himself, hence my confusion.
During his entire act, I kept thinking "is he for real?". I won't lie, I didn't even think his jokes were that well written, but we are amateurs and that is not the point. Written well or poorly, they had hatred behind them. Racism IS hatred. Or is it? In the year 2011 is racism ever acceptable on stage, regardless of one's nationality? Let's discuss...
There is a comic in town who does something similar, but he is quite funny. Josh Williams does his comedy stating how racism is wrong, and tolerance is needed, but then goes into some racist stereotypes; the entire point is making fun of himself for not knowing that he is being racist. It is intelligently written, and the audience follows him. It is obvious he is not racist and is being ironic. Perhaps this is what the young lad today was trying to do. Perhaps many people who tell race and culture jokes are trying to be sophisticated and full of iconic irony. But when it falls, it FALLS, and not only have you sucked on stage, but you become memorable at "that racist guy", a label I am sure no one wants to have. (even racists are starting to realize that racism is not "in" anymore, they don't stop being racist, they just stop being open about it)
"But he is new, and just learning...." is what people will often say when I point out how racist or completely sexist a joke is. Sure, the person is just learning comedy, but we were human beings way before we became comedians. There are people who can do this very well, who can break the standards of political correctness, but they always do it without hatred. Doug Stanhope has a bit he does on why he uses the word "Fag". He does so in such as way that no one would ever question him or accuse him of bigotry. There is nothing negative behind his joke and in fact, he talks about gay rights! He is a genius, but he is one of the few I have found who can say anything they want and no one questions it, because he does it in a way to not alienate people.
In this day and age, who wants to spend their money listening to someone go on about Asian people not driving right, fat people taking spots on buses, Indian people eating curry, Arab people terrorizing. (These were all his jokes tonight, I kid you not). Is their a demographic that is craving for this type of humour? And as a comic, are you willing to take risk alienating the audience, and at what point does this stop being comedy and start being hate speech?
Whooah, did I just say the "h" word. Yes, and there are times where comedy may cross that line, but not so it has to go to a tribunal. Last year a court case found in favour of an audience member who was the victim of hate speech they said based on sexual orientation. This court case infuriated comedians, and I stayed silent because in this case the woman was a grade A "C" word, without a doubt. If my facts are correct, she threw water at him and it just escalated. I don't agree with the findings in this case, as it was an argument with two people, one who was in the comics venue ruining his performance by being obnoxious, thus the argument began. That said, my mind did wander to why the comedian, in his arsenal of insults, went to her sexual orientation. As asshole is an asshole, whether gay, straight or otherwise. Why was her sexual orientation even brought up?
Imagine though there is no conflict. What if an Asian lady was in the audience tonight, and had to listen to someone talk about why they hate Asian people? When there is no irony or intelligence behind the joke, then is it not just someone being a racist ass? I am not singling this comedian out because he was so bad (although in my opinion he was) but comedy or not, racism is racism, and if you are going onstage and being racist, then you take your chances at being labelled as ignorant.
I am not advising dark comics to stop what they are doing, but before you commit anything to stage, THINK about what you are saying and WHY you are saying it. I can think of three scenarios to why one would do racist/bigotry jokes:
1. They are racist/ignorant
2. They watched stand up in the 80's and think this is what goes for funny
3. They are doing intelligent comedy, written for intelligent audiences, using irony as the base.
After that people, say what you want, but I will state that JH5 will always be a blog/venue that does not support racism, or racist comedy. I even cringe a bit at people of one ethnicity doing jokes just on their ethnic background. In Aboriginal comedy I am more of a Don Kelly fan than a Don Burnstick fan. I like a good Indian joke, as do most Aboriginal people, but I feel Burnstick crosses a line at times to overusing stereotypes and alienating audiences. I think comics need to have greater depth at all they do, and in the end, any topic can work, as long as it is written and delivered properly.
So keep writing people, and take on any subject you choose. Just write it well, write it smart, and for the love of God, Asian people are not bad drivers so just stop already.