There seems to be a pattern emerging between comedians and being an unrepentant bigot.

Enough to allow me to ask this incredibly sardonic question, what if you could be a comedian without being a bigot?

But I suppose the more serious question is, why are all these revered comedians suddenly outing themselves as defenders of bigotry?

There has been a backlash against their offensive jokes, and their reaction has been (almost universally) to get defensive and use a phrase so common, it is practically its own punchline now. They respond to criticism by saying

“People can’t take a joke anymore.”

I think the perfect example of this is Todd Phillips, a former comedy director who is the reigning king of People-can’t-take-a-joke-anymore-land.

Phillips abandoned making comedy movies to immediately go on and direct the movie ‘Joker’ which is literally about a comedian who perceives society not accepting him, so becomes a violent terrorist. Definitely no bitter sub-theme there.

Keep in mind that before ‘Joker’ Phillips biggest claim to fame was making the ‘hangover’ movies, which ah…well let’s just say they haven’t aged well.

Phillips is probably the most high-profile example of a comedian who met criticism of his humour with antagonism for his audience. But he is by no means the only one.

Recently Ricky Gervais did something similar. He has become well known for his double-down on transphobia and (for some reason) vocal hatred of Greta Thunberg.

Anyone who voices political beliefs that don’t align with his own, he will antagonise with his characteristically mean-spirited comedy, which until recently I always assumed was ironic.

And even though Gervais is now rightfully being called out for his behaviour, he refuses to address any of it, if anything he seems resolved to embrace it harder.

Louis CK of course got ‘cancelled’ because of sexual assault allegations, and when his weak apology wasn’t accepted by a lot of his fans, the wholesome progressive values that Louis became famous for, were immediately thrown out the window, and Louis became a cruel, spiteful, MAGA crowd-pleaser.

He did a full 180 degree turn from his own values, the moment he was held accountable for his actions.

My point here is there is a pattern of comedians acting badly and rather than taking any accountability for their actions they attack the audience for not loving them for it.

The big one for me, the heartbreak moment, was Dave Chappelle, when he started ripping into the LGBTI+ community, especially trans people.

As I was watching his latest show, I tried to find a way to laugh at it, because I love Dave and I want him to be right, but I couldn’t do it.

And this was a huge moment for me.

In the early 2000’s Dave introduced me to all the issues that I would spend my life fighting, he was, essentially an activist.

And he had morals, we will never forget how he abandoned one of the biggest network deals ever because he refused to sell out his principles.

The difference between THAT Dave and the one I now watch punching down on trans people, was a devastating thing to witness. Now Dave was just like all the other comedians that have turned cruel.

The list goes on, don’t even get me started on Shane Gillis or Brad Williams.

So what the hell happened? Where did it all go so wrong?

What is the common thread that ties them all together?

This is what I think happened.

When all these young idealistic comics started out, they wanted to change the world, they were talking about injustice and all the wrongs in our society, Dave more so than anyone. But once they got successful, they became addicted to that applause and to that success.

And then like any addiction, they started chasing it, and so they stick with what they know will get them their applause high. Rather than grow with their audience, they go wherever their jokes are applauded.

But that’s not us anymore.

We have outgrown them.

We have stopped clapping at shit we know is wrong and cruel. And rather than confront the fact their attitudes need to mature, they run away and find people who will applaud them unconditionally.

When they started their careers they were punching up against discriminatory power structures and systemic oppression and that’s why, even when they said horrible things, we still cheered for them, because they were fighting for a better world, and we would excuse their other problematic views because they were still perceivable ‘good guys.’

But now their addiction has made them very different people. Now they are older and richer and they punch down. They attack the most vulnerable people in our society for cheap laughs, and they benefit from the power structures they once railed against.

And that is all the difference in the world.

Because once you start punching down, you inevitably go for the easiest targets, people who are relatively powerless. Once you start doing this you are no longer a comic, you are a bully.

And THAT is why we find them so repulsive now, because they aren’t funny or pushing boundaries.

They are just bullies.

And we find the people that we once respected to be weak, cowardly old men, and that is why we turn our backs on them now.

I find it impossible to respect a comedian who says ‘people can’t take a joke anymore’

We can take a joke, we just don’t feel like pity laughing to lazy bigotry.

That’s why today, more than ever, it is important that we remind comedians that we will not lower our standards to comfort their mediocrity.

It is their responsibility, like any other job in the world, to supply the demands of their customers.

And the demands are simple.

We don’t want to watch entitled privileged men beat down on vulnerable people.

They need to grow up or find a new profession.

 
Max Black 2020

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