In Defense of Comedy and Other Potentially Unpleasant Experiences


Trigger Warning: Sometimes life makes you feel uneasy. It’s probably best you figure out how to work with that and use it to your advantage.

Trust me, it makes things a WHOLE lot easier.

I love progress. I love the fact that it’s no longer, on a wide scale, acceptable to be hateful to people based on their skin color, sexual identity, etc. This is not how it was when I was growing up. At…fucking…all. Trust me when I say I heard on a very regular basis how women were pretty much shit, and don’t get me started on language I heard about gay people and minorities. I grew up in a small fishing town in Oregon. That should be enough to explain where I’m coming from.

We have made progress. So much progress in my life…and when I look at my mother’s life? Holy shit, we’re in another world than the one she grew up in.

We have a long way to go, but it’s no longer laughed off when someone tells a blatantly racist joke. The response is not often, “Oh, youuuu!” when someone refers to people who don’t adhere to the sexual identity you were born into with the word ‘faggot’.

Bullies are less and less tolerated by the masses. And this is fanfuckingtastic.

White supremacists cries of “heritage!!” while waving their confederate flag are being met with “Are you fucking kidding me? You’re from Idaho, idiot. Shut up.”

Children are less afraid to band together to call out other bullies and protect their tormented classmates. That’s a beautiful thing to see. It’s ENCOURAGING.

Men and women are slowly coming together to put their foot down over victim blaming when women are discriminated against, mistreated, raped. It’s no longer “just how it is” and something that people refer to as a “private matter”.  Though we have a long way to go on that…

A colossal amount of bullshit still occurs on a regular basis, but more and more people are working together in an effort to better this world for everyone in it.

And we have a long way to go as there are still the oppressors, the willfully ignorant, the grown-up bullies that don’t like that they’re being taken to task.

We’re working on them, too.

But what is our expectation exactly?

Yes, we want to live in a world where people aren’t cruel (spoiler alert: that will most likely never happen), where we can live our lives out from under the constant threat of marginalization.

Does that mean we demand that the world be completely rid of anything that makes us uncomfortable? Or that we just plain think “isn’t funny” because it isn’t funny to US?

Is that even reasonable?

A term that has gotten so much use that it has started to annoy the holy hell out of people is the term “Trigger Warning”. i.e. Hey, you are about to read or hear or see something that might trigger a not good emotional reaction.

Trigger Warning: This blog posting (this one right here) contains topics that might make you feel sad feelings.

Trigger Warning: You might read a few words that will remind you of a bad thing that happened to you or that you worry might happen to you and your mood will be ruined for a few hours or, quite possibly, the rest of the day, because you will dwell on this.

Trigger Warning: Dead Cats on fire with Sarah MacLachlan singing a sad, sad song about them.

My question is…do we need to feel comfortable all the goddamn time? Do we NEED to be protected from spoken or written words about things that are terrible  Or can we take a moment ourselves to go, “Oh…ok, shit, that isn’t what I wanted to read today,” and flip on over to the video of the dog that can’t EVEN handle the lime he’s eating.

I have a comedy show that I put on occasionally that I produce under the name “Trigger Warning Presents:”

It’s both a laughing nod to this overused phrase…and a warning.

Warning: Sometimes comedy is uncomfortable…and this isn’t fucking new.

More and more, I see a lot of comics – and comics are a super fucked up lot, guys, I’m not sure how people don’t GET this yet – coming under fire for saying something on stage that was “insensitive to a group of people”. Not necessarily standing up there and screaming, “God I hate so and sos!”  But cracking wise about a particular group that they don’t belong to or seemingly making light of a tragic event. Discussing situations that might make your skin crawl a bit.

Please know that I can empathize with more than a couple cringe-worthy situations I’ve come across being described in literature and performance art of various kinds.

As someone who has experienced sexual violence, being all jokey joke about “raping bitches” isn’t my super favorite cup of tea.

As someone who spent my childhood watching her father beat the snot out of her mother, the domestic violence jokes don’t give me chuckles.

I’ve lost people very close to me to suicide and self-destruction.

I’ve experienced gender discrimination.

I’m kinda fat depending on the time of year and accessiblity of cake.

I could go on, I won’t, it’s not necessary.

And I’m not talking about outright hateful, harmful behavior here, there’s no way I’m going to sit here and defend a bigot on a rampage trying to be “edgy” at the expense of being a decent human being.

But what I will say is this: In my case, for example, I don’t need every goddamn person to censor themselves or only talk about the things I want to hear about when they’re on a comedy stage. I don’t.

I don’t need to go into a comedy show or theater or music venue and feel “safe” from words. I find that unreasonably self-centered.

As it turns out, there are at least a couple comedy rooms that have cropped up that refer to themselves as “a safe-space”.

Cool. That’s wonderful, really. If that’s what you are craving, it’s fantastic that other like-minded folks have provided that for you. It’s not for ME, but I think it’s marvelous. You don’t have to like a safe-space…don’t go to it if you think it’s weird.

But If I am listening to someone on stage and they go into a bit about something that makes me feel so uncomfortable that I want to leave? I am blessed with two functioning legs and I will walk myself right out the door (and now I have opened myself up to being accused of ableism and I’m ok with this…will it help my cause if I mention I have REALLY gnarly arthritis in my hips and I’m made partly of metal?).

Because that’s what you do when you no longer want to be a party to something happening around you. I will do the same thing if a drunk girl starts puking up a salad mixed with whatever blue liquor bimbo-cocktail that she drank too many of that evening after Chad dumped her on their 3rd date.

And if we’re talking about new, baby-comics who are still trying to find their voice and, in doing so, they say some stupid shit? Come on…when they’re not funny, the response they’ll get will speak volumes. They will figure it out…or they’ll move right on out of comedy because they can’t piece together a phrase without sounding like a moron let alone put a set together that will get them booked anywhere.  Attrition is magic.

I do not pretend to speak for everyone. My word is not gospel.

And, in general, I really do like to err on the side of being kind to people, and, as a comic, I don’t go up on stage to upset people.

As a comic, I also know that a great deal of comics go on stage to process through horrible shit that has happened in their life or to make sense of horrible shit that is happening in our world currently….that whole “laugh or cry” thing.

Sometimes it’s just an effort to put a voice to the weird shit that is in our brains for no good reason at all.

This isn’t always everyone’s idea of hilarity. AND THAT’S OK. It is!

It is OK.

And, you know what? It’s good to be a little uncomfortable. In my opinion, it’s a good thing to put yourself in situations where you ultimately feel like fleeing. I think that’s what a great deal of life is about. Living in a bubble is boring as fuck (my opinion of course).

What I don’t personally love is when people who don’t find a particular topic funny say: “Joking about that is never ok. That is NEVER funny.”

No…you don’t speak for me. You don’t speak for everyone. And you don’t speak for the people who are laughing at the thing you don’t find funny.

I don’t find vanilla “mom humor” to be funny, either. Many folks do. Don’t get me started on ventriloquists…

Personally, I like being a little grossed out. I am very much not alone in this. People are fucking weird.

Is it offensive to you? I probably “get it”. Is it something you don’t want to hear? I really do probably “get” that, too.

You should probably stop reading or watching whatever it is that’s rubbing you the wrong way, and, if you’re out and about, go grab an ice cream…and think about why it upset you.

I mean REALLY think about it.

And also think about whether you actually listened to what was said, or if you heard a “dog-whistle word” and lost your fucking mind before you realized that someone was actually relaying a personal experience or speaking in a way that wasn’t actually being a hateful schmuck.

Are you standing up for injustice? GOOD. Hate-speech is shitty, and bullies can be called out.  That’s how we’re making progress. Dumb white kid on stage dropping the N word on the regular and talking about ‘rapin bitches’ and acting like a fool? Shut’ em down.  I think most people will back you up on that one. Kid probably ain’t funny.

Or is it a simple case of…

“Shit. I really don’t fucking get that, I never will, people are screwy as hell. Why does your brain work like that??”

This is different, guys. It really is. And I think people are losing track of that in their efforts to make the world a nicer place.

Or…are you looking for a fight? That is a whole different animal. And one I can’t help you with. I won’t default to that, because I’ve heard that said by folks saying horrible stuff and then projecting their fuckery onto the person on the receiving end of it.

But sometimes? It’s right on the fuckin’ money.

Sometimes life makes you feel uneasy. That’s part of being alive.

Again…it’s probably best you figure out how to work with that and use it to your advantage. Trust me, it makes life a lot easier.

Laugh or cry, bitches. I know which one I choose.

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