Memes Mabley

by Brian McKim & Traci Skene on May 29th, 2013

There’s a website called “Every Day Victim Blaming.” We know, we know… it sounds like a satire or a parody site… something the Onion might come up with. (The title certainly sounds like it was named by one of the Festrunk Brothers–
“We’re two WILD AND CRAZY GUYS! Please to read our site, ‘EVERYDAY VICTIM BLAMING!’ The FOXES DIG IT!”)

But it’s real. And they ran a trainwreck of an essay from Bobbie Oliver called “The Subtle Oppression of Women by Comedy.” Normally, we would ignore such sad and pathetic blather but it seems to be part of a trend/a symptom of the current inability/unwillingness of some folks in comedy (and in the media and elsewhere) to think/speak/write clearly on some important topics that impact standup.

It shouldn’t surprise us that EVB ran this particular essay. At the top of the site is this:

EVERYDAY VICTIM BLAMING

a campaign to change the language, culture and attitude around violence against women and children

Anyway, Oliver comes out of the box (you’ll pardon the expression) with an anecdote:

“If you don’t want your daughters to get raped, don’t let them shop at American Apparel,” quipped the radio host interviewing me, then he quickly moved on to another topic.

“Um,” I said. “Can we back up a second? Rape has nothing to do with what the woman is wearing. Women in burkas get raped.”

“Well, that’s how it is in that part of the world.”

“You mean Stubenville?”

*Crickets*

I added, “Rape predates miniskirts and rape culture exists all over the world. Sorry, but you aren’t going to get away with victim-blaming on my watch.”

Then there was the look on the faces of the interviewer and the other comedians on the panel. A look I see a lot. That look that says, “God Bobbie, it’s just comedy. Don’t be such a drag.”

We submit that any comedian that ceases being a comedian and instead becomes an activist or ideologue will get that look a lot. Especially if the comedian is booked onto a radio show as a comedian but shifts gears into feminist scold. She has every right, of course, to shift into ideologue mode, but she can’t expect the segment to instantly turn into anything but a frozen turd. Oh, sure, it makes for a great story at the next meeting of the Lena Dunham Fan Club, but she can’t expect here riposte automatically provide rock-solid proof that we are all living in a hellish, unsympathetic “rape culture.” She was (we assume) brought onto the show as a comedian… she might consider responding to a joke with… a joke! Fight jokes with jokes– a novel concept! (We’re reminded of the time Jon Stewart bristled when the hosts of CNN’s Crossfire expected Stewart to be jocular. “I’m not going to be your monkey,” he said. Well, no, you were booked on the show to be their monkey. Suddenly, you want to be “the next Mencken.” Producers hate shit like that.)

A few months earlier, I had hosted a Women in Comedy Roundtable, excited to pair female comics with female agents, managers and club owners. I couldn’t wait to discuss all the issues that women in the industry face on the road and off. During the discussion, I brought up that I have been put up in comedy condos (a condominium owned by a comedy club that houses that week’s comics: usually shared by three people, at least two of them are men) in which the front and/or bedroom door had no lock on it and there was no porch light out front for when we returned back after midnight each night after the shows. I found myself in total shock to hear (female) comedy managers say that women should not complain about these things or we will be seen as “high maintenance” and not be rebooked by the club.

Those managers– regardless of their gender– are stone cold morons and a danger to themselves and to their clients. The conditions described– which were so quickly dismissed by these so-called managers– are a danger to any comedian regardless of gender. No comic should tolerate such conditions. And any comedian who considers bookability (or re-bookability) when tacitly accepting such conditions is putting some sort of vague notion of comedy success over safety and security. (We suspect that a few comedians without management have swallowed hard and accepted slovenly, dangerous conditions, but a manager who tells her client to do so is without conscience and a special kind of sleazebag that is lower than the club owner who provides such accommodations.)

Early on, The Female Half, when confronted with similar tattered and dicey lodging at a midwest comedy gig, promptly walked out, found a nearby hotel and told the management of the venue that the conditions at the condo were sub-par and that they could “do the right thing” and reimburse her for the hotel. And, of course, she never returned. She was 23 years old at the time.

A piece just released in Jezebel tells the story of comic Christina Walkinshaw who, while on stage at Yuk Yuk’s at Casino Niagara, a heckler yelled, “Show us your tits! Show us your bush!” The club had a policy that comedians can not engage with the audience. The comic was not allowed to defend herself and the club did not remove the heckler. Christina complained to the club about it after her set and the next time she tried to get booked was told that her complaint resulted in not being hired again. It was, of course, her fault.

Oliver muddies the waters here. This diversion does nothing to reinforce her thesis that “comedy” is guilty of any sort of “oppression of women,” subtle or otherwise. We handled this in an earlier post. Readers are advised to check that out to get up to speed.

I think back to last year (2012) at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles when comic Daniel Tosh had the incident with the female heckler who asked that he not make rape jokes. His response, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…” The woman’s friend wrote a blog about it and was inundated with attacks from Tosh fans, including rape threats and death threats. [God Bobbie, it’s just comedy]. ”The first amendment!! They are taking away our right to make rape jokes!! We can say whatever we want!!” [Unless, of course, you are a female audience member who decides to blog about her experience at a comedy club. Then you need to shut the hell up woman or you will get what’s coming to you.]

Again, We covered this quite extensively. How this makes the case that comedy is oppressing women is quite unclear.

Comedian Bill Burr asks on the stage the question, “What did Rihanna say right before Chris Brown hit her?” And then discusses with comic Joe Rogan on Rogan’s podcast if a woman has a responsibility in her own safety not to push a man’s buttons. “At what point are you guilty of provoking the next level?” he poses. He also says on stage that we should stop talking about domestic violence so much. [I know. I know. It’s just comedy.]

We’re not familiar with the bit. But we trust that Burr handles it deftly, as he handles every other subject he touches on. The inclusion of Tosh and Burr in Oliver’s piece seems incongruous, until we realize that the main purpose seems not so much to provide any real evidence of any oppression as much as to demonize various people and, ultimately, portray female comics as victims. (Ironic, considering the ostensible mission of the website it appears on.)

After all of that, I remember a friend of mine, a brilliant female comic, confessing to me late one night that she had been raped on the road by a staff member of a comedy club. He held her captive in her room all night. She cried as she revealed the horrible details of her secret. I could not even imagine what she must have gone through. “What happed (sic) to the guy?” I asked. “Did he go to jail?” She looked up at me and said, “Nothing happened to him. I didn’t report it. I knew if I did I would never work in this business again.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it’s just comedy.

That’s just great. Our “brilliant female comic” puts her career over the security of any future comics (female or otherwise) who might play the club at which she was allegedly raped. So… to review: Our Brilliant Female Comic gets to carry on with her career, while allowing a “rapist” to roam free. Awesome. Is this supposed to be the ultimate example of “comedy oppressing women?” (Ultimately, a meaningless concept.)

Any clear-thinking person will read the above and see that this is the worst possible example she could have cited to cap off this awful screed. Sadly, though, it’s elicited a torrent of “attagirls” from both female and male comics.

It seems as though folks are building a case that seeks to pit female comics against comedy. All it does is make female comics look like pathetic, weak, ineffectual people. Which we know them not to be. Female comics (at least the ones we have had the pleasure to have known) are some of the strongest, most robust people on the planet. But memes take hold. And these particular memes are pernicious. And we are not Malcom Gladwell… we have no idea why some memes gain a foothold in the public psyche and others don’t. We don’t know where the tipping point is on the horizon. But we don’t see this all ending well.

And then, there’s Jerry Lewis.

You know, there was a time, way back when, when the occasional oldster would blurt out some sort of dated, embarrassing, old-school notion and we would all politely avert our glance and our attention and change the subject. We’d chalk it up to some sort of generational gap and we’d accord the speaker of said gaffe a modicum of respect but we’d all agree that what was said was hopelessly outmoded and we all politely wave as the offender drifted slowly out of sight on the little chunk of the cultural glacier that he occupied. And we’d get on with the discussion of real things with relevant people who had substantive things to say.

Now, however, we “discuss” it. We inadvertently legitimize the gaffe by treating it as though it’s something that “must be addressed!” We see it kicked around on serious websites that purport to tackle “systemic oppression” or “underlying hostilities” or “ongoing prejudices.”

And we’re to the spectacle of people (people who should know better… our comedy colleagues!) beclowning themselves by actually assembling lists of funny females. As if this will help! As if this were some sort of antidote to the benighted burblings of an octegenarian who is baited (for the fourth time!) at a press conference in Cannes solely for the purpose of generating headlines! How many times will we fall for this? We suppose it doesn’t matter… the damage is done.

It’s as if ancient Grandpa has piped up at Thanksgiving dinner with his boilerplate “The blacks have ruined everything!” rant and, instead of escorting Grandpa to the TV room– or ignoring him completely and changing the subject– the other guests merely counter his rambling by assembling a list of “good African-Americans!” And in the case of Jerry “No Funny Females” Lewis, our colleagues have inadvertently slapped female standup comics in the puss because, when they assemble their sorry lists, they take foreeeeevvvver to get around to mentioning any contemporary funny females and they quite often don’t ever get around to mentioning any standup comics!

Thanks a lot! These lists do nothing (NOTHING!) to help out any contemporary (largely anonymous) funny females when they mount the stage next Thursday night at the Laugh Cabin in East Baumsacket. Not that they need the help… but they don’t need this kind of help!

The Female Half dismounted the stage earlier this month at Goodnights in Raleigh– after a killer set– and she encounters an adoring 24-year-old female fan. The fan says, “I love you! But when you first walked onstage, I turned to my boyfriend and said, ‘Oh, no… a chick comic…’” Perhaps the tipping point has already been reached.

When a comedy fan– a female comedy fan, born in 1989– utters such a sentiment to her companion while seated at a comedy club in 2013, perhaps we are past the tipping point. The “Women Aren’t Funny” meme has taken hold with all the tenacity of a badger. How long before a female patron– born during the Clinton administration– claps her arm around a competent, professional female comic and says, “Honey, standup comedy is no place for a woman.”?

Do women have it hard in comedy? Yes. Do men have it hard in comedy? Yes. It’s a tough business.