I first started performing comedy when I was 18 yrs old. At that time, I had some good moments on stage along with many……… um, shall we say, painful learning experiences. When it comes to comedy, there is a lot of trial and error. I didn’t know it at the time, but now as I look back I can say I really appreciated an audience’s interest in laughing and having fun. Early on, many jokes and stories fell flat, often requiring refining the wording, pacing, delivery, etc. Sometimes after several failed attempts at making a story consistent from audience to audience, I was forced to admit I needed to drop the bit all together. However, the one consistent thing I didn’t realize and consequently took for granted was – the audience laughed if they thought something was funny and didn’t laugh if they didn’t find it funny. Seems simple enough, right?
I made the unconscious assumption that audiences would always evaluate a joke or story by 1 simple criterion; Is it funny . That assumption was bizarrely misguided. I was so wrong, and there were subtle signs for years that things were changing. I was aware of many of those signs, but naively wrote them off as an exception to the rule. As an example; years ago I was asked to perform a show for a fortune 500 company at their upcoming event. I had already performed several shows for different divisions of this same company. In every event, the shows I performed for this company had all gone really well. The manager of the division that was looking to book me told me they were going to send me a list of words I would not be able to use on stage. I said that was fine, once again ASSUMING the list would be the usual suspects – such as George Carlin’s 7 dirty words you can’t say on tv. I could not have been more wrong! The list was several pages long and consisted of words that were commonly used in everyday conversations as well as perfectly acceptable in any and all corporate situations. The list was long, arbitrary, and really surprising to me. I thought is was impossible to promise that 1 or more of these commonly used words wouldn’t accidentally slip out of my mouth during the performance.
After thoroughly reading through the several pages, I contacted the manager to say I was going to decline the offer to perform. Truthfully, this show was for a lot of money, for a company I had already performed several times. I was unwilling to accept the offer, because I didn’t think there was any way I could make the show fun, when I was constantly worried about every word coming out of my mouth. I told the manager I thought she should hire a speaker and not an entertainer. She said she wanted an entertainer. I said, in my opinion, if she was that worried about anyone of her employees becoming offended during the performance by any of those words on the list, her employees were potentially very sensitive and would be best served by an inoffensive, mainstream speaker. With that, I thanked her for considering me and wished her luck.
Since that corporate experience, I started to notice a slow but steady change in acceptable language within corporations, colleges, and society as a whole. It all happened slow enough and gradual enough, that I did not see the significance for several years.
Fast forward to 2023…….. Thankfully, from my current experiences, the bulk of my audiences still want to laugh and have fun. But, more and more there is a small group of people with very loud voices who seem to view anything comedic with the desire to be offended. They appear to look for slights in the hopes of becoming angry. This group of individuals change the meaning of words, twist ideas into something that was not the intent, and attempt to bully everyone around them to conform to their ever changing standards of “civility”. There seem to be 4 groups of people who are watching our language and our standards change.
1. The first group might not really notice.
2. The second group doesn’t see the harm and doesn’t think it’s a big deal
3. The third group (and in my opinion, the biggest group) is too afraid of potential consequences to say anything
4. The fourth group, those who are unwilling to bend to the demands of the language bullies.
Even before the pandemic, but especially since the pandemic, I have been surprised to see so many comics bow down to the demands of the offended. If comedy is afraid to speak, then almost no one has a voice ( MY opinion )
Thankfully some comics are speaking up and are unwilling to cave in to the small but loud mob. A few comics that come to mind who seem to be champions of free speech – Bill Maher, Dave Chappelle, and Joe Rogan. GOOD FOR THEM !!!
I love performing, I love to laugh, I love watching audiences laugh, and also love to see my friends laugh. Sadly, it in some cases it’s becoming more of a challenge. At this point I don’t even know what innocuous comment is going to set someone off. I should have seen this coming! Years ago, I was talking to a relative. He asked me what I was doing, and I told him I just finished mowing the lawn. From there, he said, thanks for reminding me, I need to trim a few bushes. By the way, I f**king hate George Bush. And then he went off on a bizarre political tangent. How did my mowing the lawn morph into a political diatribe about George Bush ?! That is not a joke and I am not kidding.
Although I find it funny and ridiculous to watch this long developing trend of people who look for every reason to be triggered, to get upset, and / or to be offended by twisting anything around to fit their narrative, I also find it irritating and dangerous. Free speech, open dialog, and the ability to joke are necessary for a free society.
Hopefully more people stand up, speak out, and refuse to give in to the small mob.
I hope you all laugh at things you find funny. Don’t laugh at things you don’t find funny. And then simply move on without letting your feelings get hurt at anything you don’t like / disagree with (according to Merriam – Webster, I can end my sentence with a preposition ! hahahahahahah)
Remember – if you want to shut someone up because you don’t like what they said, there is someone out there who will want to shut you about because they don’t like what you said – just sayin’ 😉