I started doing stand-up comedy in 2002. It happened by accident, really, and one the things I loved about it is that I was getting paid to say the same shit I’d say anyway regardless of a mic or a stage.
Wait, what? You’re going to give me free alcohol and enough money to pay my power bill for being a mouthy asshole? The hell you say!
I thought it was rad.
My comedy material has changed a lot over the years. Not as much as it could or should have, mostly because I’m a lazy shit, but it’s evolved in a lot of ways.
There are two bits I will not do anymore. And it’s not because I was told not to, but because I think I’ve grown out of them for lack of better words. They don’t fit anymore. Maybe they never did.
One bit, or series of bits, comes across as, depending on my own weight, as punching down at fat people. I will still poke a little fun at my own fluctuating bullshit, but I cut a bit out that specifically targeted fat ladies shopping at Walmart and their fuckability.
I had tried to rewrite it to where I wasn’t making fun of their bodies anymore, and it came off as “merely” classist. Ugh, ok.
It doesn’t work for me anymore. The joke itself always went over like gangbusters – mostly because people LOOOOOVE to make fun of fat people – but I PERSONALLY feel like an asshole for it now. So it’s officially retired.
The other is a bit that came from an actual conversation I had with a man I was dating years ago. He is black, I am white. It was a conversation that actually happened, it’s about stereotypes, and, while there were no slurs, per se, it included references to oral sex, watermelon, and fried chicken. And this bit is barely altered from the actual word-for-word conversation we had while rolling around naked in bed, bartering over head, and having a fucking grand time – even though the jerk wouldn’t go down on me but was totes ok with receiving a blowjob. No, I didn’t keep him around long. Too bad, he was a neat guy, but that’s a fucking deal-breaker, kids.
I had performed this particular bit for over a decade, and I ONLY did it when I was performing in rooms with a black presence. I tried it once in an all white room and it made the audience uncomfortable as fuck, but when I did it in rooms with black men, especially if any of them had white girlfriends/wives, it went over extremely well. I did it in ALL black clubs where I was the only white face. Again, it went well. Mostly because it’s not a conversation exclusive to just me and that dude.
I performed that bit at a comedy night in a local bar after moving back to the pacific northwest a few years ago, and the white, hipster (dude, he had a handlebar mustache and tiny, striped polo shirt on, I’m not trying to be an asshole) bartender got extremely cross with me, telling another comic that I was racist and classless. I couldn’t argue with the “classless” part, but the racist part pissed me off for all the reasons I mentioned in the previous paragraph. How dare he? He didn’t fucking know me…
I kept in my repertoire for probably another year or two, but I decided a couple years ago to put it to bed.
Why? Because it was time to fucking put it to bed. Something about that pissy little fuck that called me racist bothered me. It got under my skin, and it made me start to question whether or not it was appropriate anymore (or ever?) for me to convey this conversation in the manner that I did, even though I told myself that it was because it wasn’t some shit I just made up for shock value.
But, I don’t know man…maybe it’s due to our current climate where we have racism seemingly louder than ever due to white supremacists feeling validated at every fucking turn, I just couldn’t in good conscious keep it around. It made me feel icky. I couldn’t ignore that anymore. My white ass up there joking about racial stereotypes…really?
And you know what? THAT’S OK. Just like there are words that didn’t seem to be a big deal as I was growing up that are now considered pretty offensive: I have a big vocabulary. I can find other words to use that don’t cause pain to other folks REGARDLESS of my intentions because impact is more important than intent when it comes right down to it.
I don’t need to punch down (or, at my current weight for the moment straight the fuck across) at fat folk.
I don’t need to include a conversation that now just feels ooky and racist, or, at the fucking least, a little too comfortable with my white-ass privilege.
And, really, none of us need to. I’m not telling anyone how to write or perform comedy, you fucking do you. I just know what I do and don’t feel good about anymore and am suggesting that a self audit every so often isn’t a bad thing. If for no other reason than…do you really want to sound like someone’s racist uncle who doesn’t understand why he “can’t say that” anymore and just keep doubling down because you’ll be damned if you cave to the PC crowd or some other such nonsense?
It’s my opinion – and that’s all it is, an opinion – that, if you can’t write comedy that isn’t, on some level, harmful to a class of human being, you don’t deserve to be on stage slinging it.
We can always rationalize our inability or unwillingness to grow…
It brings to mind a quote from one of my favorite books, Illusions by Richard Bach:
“Argue for your limitations, and, sure enough, they’re yours.”
You can decide for yourself if that’s what you’re going for.