Close-minded response to an open letter

by Brian McKim & Traci Skene on May 13th, 2013

Oh, dear. There’s an “open letter” making the cyber rounds. This one’s addressed to “white male comedians.”

And normally we wouldn’t comment on something that is this obviously stupid, but it’s making the rounds, like we said. And, even though it brings to the table such hideous and laughable anti-male prejudices and assumptions, it still needs to be addressed and– hoping against all hope– nipped in the bud. (And, judging from the comments on the website it appears on, some people are– much to our disappointment but not to our surprise– swallowing it whole.)

“Lindy West” thinks that unnamed “white male comedians” are “mad at (her).” (Or, if not at her, they’re mad at a figurative version of her.)

Why are they mad? Because she’s “the type of woman who thinks she’s funny, who thinks she understands comedy, who has opinions (and shares them) about what kinds of jokes comics ‘should’ or ‘should not’ tell.”

Well, she’s got it half right. White male comics (and all manner of other comics) might be able to work up some sort of anger at her. But not for any other reason than that she “has opinions (and shares them) about what kinds of jokes comics ‘should’ or ‘should not’ tell.”

All that other stuff about being a woman, about thinking she’s funny, about thinking she understands comedy– that’s all bullshit. (Or, at the very least, it’s a legitimate thing to be disgruntled about… but it has ZERO to do with what’s between her legs. Trust us on this: We here at have been blathering rather freely about what we think is funny. We’ve been quite loud about the idea that we might have some sort of understanding about what is funny. We wrote a book about it! But we have ZERO inclination to lean over our gin and tonic and share our opinion about what kind of jokes comics “should” or “should not” tell. That way lies danger and stupidity and encroachment upon creative freedom.)

And anyone who dares try to tell any comic what they should or should not joke about deserves opprobrium. Regardless of the equipment between the legs of the teller or the “tell-ee,” no one– NO ONE– should be telling any comic what they should be talking about onstage. Doing so leads to bland comedy. Eventually it leads to a form of expression that less resembles comedy and more resembles an amalgam of greeting cards on a rack at Spencer Gifts and an assemblage of nuggets from “A 35-Year Collection of Ziggy Favorites.”

West is someone who derives “emotional solace” from standup. She drops that turd in paragraph four. So we’re dealing with someone who is obviously coming at comedy from the wrong angle.

In paragraph two, she says: ” “I don’t believe that ‘rape jokes’ should be a completely unregulated market.” So she is in favor of regulating the subject matter of comedy. (It’s in paragraph two. We’re sure she’s not shy about this.) We suppose she would be in favor of some sort of Human Rights Tribunal like they have up north.

Listen. Being a woman is a bitch. Not only does everyone treat you like a fucking idiot all of the time, being a woman can be scary!… We’re not walking around actively terrified in the middle of the afternoon, but there’s always a small awareness that we are vulnerable simply because we are women. Cavalier jokes about domestic violence and rape (jokes that target victims, not perpetrators) feed that aura of feeling unsafe and unwelcome– not just in the comedy club, but in the world.

So we’re all on pins and needles now. We must stop and think. We must consider the power of our words, our images, the pictures we paint, the “auras” we create.

How is this any fucking different from a “Jesus freak” telling us that– “just wanna throw this out here– you may go to hell if you continue on your current path to (fill in the blank)?”

Dress it up all you want with buzzwords and concepts from Womens Studies 101– it’s still garbage from a “moral scold” (her words from her bio) who is ” attempt(ing) to make social justice palatable by disguising it as entertainment” (again, her words from her bio).

As a person, a comedian and a female, The Female Half of the Staff finds particularly nauseating the following statement:

Because you get to live your life on the firm ground of being a human being first and a man/white person/comedian second. I don’t get to do that. I’m not a person, I’m a woman, which is something I’m reminded of incessantly any time I enter a male-dominated space like a comedy club.

“When I enter a comedy club, I am a person, a comedian and a female.” says TFHOTS. “When I walk into a comedy club– when I walk into any situation– I demand to be treated as a person. Perhaps that’s why I’m not ‘treated like a fucking idiot all the time.”

The spectacle of all white male comedians being lumped together is quite offensive and wrong. Perhaps we misunderstand. Perhaps it’s all a part of making social justice palatable by disguising it as entertainment. The Male Half of the Staff is offended personally– and on behalf of all white male comedians. “I do a joke that mentions rape,” says TMHOTS. “I suppose this puts me in the criminal class of comedians Ms. West assails. But I am certain that we don’t need to be taken to the woodshed all at once. There’s plenty of diversity among us. We won’t stand for being regarded as monolithic.” And even though his “rape joke” is less about rape and more about bureaucracy, high car insurance rates and the proliferation of ridiculous categories of traffic offenses, we doubt that Ms. West would make the distinction. After all, she fails to make distinctions among white male comedians. Odd, considering that she seems capable of separating white, male comedians from non-white, male comedians– many of whom (but not all of whom) make multiple jokes that might conceivably “feed that aura of feeling unsafe and unwelcome– not just in the comedy club, but in the world.”

The argument could be made that West’s plaintive whining makes things tougher for females… or for female comics. When, say, Dave Attell makes a joke about domestic abuse, we are all pretty sure it’s a joke. In fact, we’re certain of it. It’s a joke– in spite of West’s unbelievably lame attempt to argue otherwise. These jokes don’t have 1/1000th the impact she imagines. However, when West takes to the blogosphere and portrays females as weak, vulnerable nitwits who can be “diminished and misunderstood… with just a word,” she goes too far. She imbues words with too much power. And she gives folks in “systematically oppressed” groups no credit for being able to deal with… words. Or ideas. Or other people.

Comedy and social responsibility are not mutually exclusive. Comedy and empathy are not enemies. And no subject matters or words are off limits, in the abstract… You do not have to stop talking about rape.

No… but if we read her social justice disguised as entertainment correctly, if we are to address rape on stage, we must do so in a way that pleases her and in a manner that brings about change and which comforts the afflicted. Pardon us if we express our horror at the world she envisions. And pardon us if we don’t see the harm that such a proscription might have on standup as a whole. And pardon us again if we see such a proscription leading to further proscriptions… and a further diminution of the art form as each and every interest group, gender and ideology seeks to minimize any “damage” that standup might do to their particular cause or members.