Cancel Culture Changes Comedy — for the Better

I’m sure to offend my comedy peers with my unpopular opinion, but it’s alright; we were never that close anyway.

A new trend has been sweeping up the filthy comedy scene and its name is “cancel culture.” Cue the theatrical music! 

I think there is some merit to this cancel culture phenomenon. Is it an overreaction sometimes? Sure. But you have to consider this: when the pendulum swings so violently to one side, it’s because it has been held on the other side for far too long. Hopefully after the drastic swing we find some balance. Besides, people only tend to be really outraged when this happens to a white man. But I digress. 

A few weeks ago a comic was fired from SNL before he even made his debut. Reactions were across the board. Some comics felt sadness at first for a peer who came that close to his dream only to have it taken away for something stupid he did years ago. I met this comic earlier this year in NYC. He was a really nice guy and he didn’t have anything too racy in his set. And I’m sure that’s who most people met. So when you hear that he’s been fired you think it might be unjust. “He’s such a nice guy!” Then there was one clip going around of him making one quick joke about Chinese people. I saw it. It wasn’t great what he said, but it didn’t seem worthy of a firing. “Chinatown is nuts!” But then he goes on to use an ethnic slur. But for those who don’t read past the headline, his firing seems outrageous and unfair. If you go back even more, he uses homophobic slurs and says some pretty disrespectful things about women. 

In his apology he wrote “My intention is never to hurt anyone but I am trying to be the best comedian I can be and sometimes that requires risks.” I think you can take risks without resorting to racial and homophobic epithets. Maybe you’re going for the shock value here. Now call me old fashioned, but I just don’t find it very funny to use those words. Honestly as a comedian I find it lazy.

And it was just in the past year or so. So let’s not act like he’s being euthanized for crimes in his youth. The poor guy. 

Not to mention people who have an opinion on this type of humor should take a look at themselves first. Of course you’re not offended by these words if you’re not part of a marginalized group! You don’t get to have an opinion on other people’s feelings especially when it’s about words that have been used to denigrate minorities. 

I wrote a joke a few years ago about my friend’s kid not going to college because she’s black. When people (rightfully) gasp at that, I go “I’M KIDDING!” and pause and say “I don’t have any black friends.” NOW, let me dissect this joke for you. This is more of a commentary on me not being a shitty person incapable of making friends with POC than anything else. I only did the joke a handful of times. I even ran the joke by some of my African American friends (I have three, thank you very much!) and asked honestly if they were at all offended. They told me they were not.* 

*I know that three people out of millions is not an adequate poll.

Erin Harkes

One night in Utica this young woman came up to me and said “Oh my god that joke about your friend’s kid going to college was hilarious.” I, with trepidation, accepted her praise. 

“You know what you SHOULD say after that?” Something every comic loves.

“What.” I asked, uninterested. 

She proceeded to tell me the most horrible, disgustingly racist ‘tag’ I had ever heard. 

“Are you suggesting to me how I should make my most racist joke even MORE racist?”

“YEAH!” she screamed, laughing maniacally. I walked away disgusted. I never told that joke again. 

Now before you go giving me my NAACP award, know that I am sure to say something stupid and offensive in the future. I’m sure there are parts of my past that I have said very terrible things. (I used to drink A LOT.) I’m not making excuses. I genuinely don’t remember 2003-2010. But part of my recovery requires moments of metanoia. I’ve hurt enough people already. So when I write a joke, I just adopt a philosophy. This is for myself. This is not a suggestion for others. This is just how I choose to write. There are things I find wildly funny that would probably really hurt other people’s feelings. I have a very sick sense of humor. My joke writing is not more important than other people’s feelings. That’s it. 

Dave Chappelle recently released a special wherein he made fun of transgender people. He calls being transgender ‘hilarious’ and compares it to someone thinking they’re really Chinese.  (He then does a hacky ass Chinese accent). I asked my friend Jaye McBride what she thought about this. Jaye is an amazing comic who happens to be transgender.

She doesn’t think Chappelle should be canceled but she, understandably, is no longer a fan. 

“From his first special to this, he continues to treat trans people like a joke or an inconvenience.  He acts like trans people are this blot on society causing ‘cancel culture’ when he’s still cashing checks from his $60 million deal that no trans people can get within 1% of,” she says. “I transitioned twelve years ago and this is the first year where I’m making more money than before I transitioned.  That’s how much less businesses thought of me.”    

The truth is Chappelle won’t get canceled. 

Nor will Shane Gillis. He is presently getting booked for full weekends at clubs across the country. All the attention brought on these comics has as much perks as it does pitfalls. So when people say “cancel culture is ruining comedy!” I honestly have no clue what they’re talking about. Or when they say “you can’t say ANYTHING anymore!” The fuck you can’t! You can still say whatever you want! There are just gonna be different consequences now! Suck it up, snowflake. 

There are always going to be people who are offended at or by something that seems completely innocuous to others. Some people overreact. Some people are bothered by nothing. 

Going after someone’s ethnicity or sexual preference or gender identity is low-brow. Groups of marginalized, underserved, and excluded people do not deserve to be slandered for the sake of a joke. And honestly, what kind of audience is falling out of their seat because you used such hate-filled language? 

There’s a difference between censorship and diligence. It’s not about freedom of speech; it’s about common decency. 

I just pray no one ever records a phone conversation between me and my gay best friend. 

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