Anti Cancel Comedy
Happy Friday War & Peaceniks! Welcome to our cancelled culture!
Dave Chappelle once helped a Trans Woman. He talks about it at the end of his last special, The Closer. Her name was Daphne Dwarman, she was a comedian, who Dave allowed to open for him once. He talks about her lovingly, especially after he talks about Daphne killing herself. And then Dave tells us how he set up a trust fund for Daphne’s daughter. After that Chapelle says, “Empathy is not gay. Empathy is not Black. Empathy is bi-sexual. It must go both ways. It must go both ways.”
It is a touching moment. A meaningful moment. Unfortunately, it comes after a twenty minute rant of Chappelle’s opinions about Trans people. Which are as damaging as Daphne’s story was poignant. Maybe that’s what he means by “both ways?” His Trans “jokes” are not jokes. They are lazy tropes. “Big adam’s apple, ha ha!” “Look at those knuckles, yuck yuck.” “Peeing standing up?! Knee slapper!” Hack.
He kicks the bit off by telling us that “gender is fact,” and how Dave considers himself a TERF, people who “look at being trans the way a black person looks at black face.” He’s not even attempting a joke. Dave is simply telling us that Dave’s point of view is fact.
Chappelle spends a lot of time in his $20 million special, part of a $60 million deal, complaining about “getting cancelled.” BTW, I’m not saying Dave should be cancelled. I am pointing out that there is no chance that will happen to Chapelle. So what the fuck is he whining about?
On the other hand, Louis CK did deserve to be cancelled. He sexually harassed women comedians. Many. He admitted to it. After CK harassed fellow comedians with less power than him, if any spoke up about it, his manager made sure they didn’t work. Sure, when it came out, CK’s TV show got cancelled. Yes, he likely gets booked in different venues now. But he is not cancelled. He just won a Grammy. Three weeks ago. I don’t think any of the women he harassed won a Grammy.
Jerry Seinfeld worries so much about getting cancelled he won’t play colleges. Note: no one ever cancelled Jerry for dating a teen whilst in his late thirties.
If you pay attention to these things, and I do, you’ll note that those in comedy who whine loudest about #CancelCulture also belong to comedy’s most protected class: Men. Particularly rich men. Rich men who then rarely actually get cancelled.
Kathy Griffin was cancelled – truly, legit cancelled – for holding an obviously fake severed head of Donald Trump. And it was funny. But CNN refused to put her on New Year’s Eve, when they let Andy Cohen get totally shitfaced on live TV. Janeane Garofalo was blackballed for being against the Iraq war too loudly. But Dave Chappelle and Jerry Seinfeld complain about cancel culture while cashing HUGE checks, while Rapey CK gets a Grammy. Neat.
The BIG fear of millionaires like Joe Rogan is that “comedy” will be somehow cowered by a twitter mob - too afraid to say anything controversial. Of course, he makes these points in between apologizing for his epically racist “jokes,” and collecting $200 million from the biggest audio platform on the planet.
Comedy is hard. But we need it to push the boundaries of “civil society.” That’s comedy’s job. But I will admit, it’s gotten more difficult as culture has changed, and since the internet allowed people to comment on stuff that you thought was only for a club in Des Moines.
Yet, as much as I feel that Chappelle’s special isn’t special; I believe he should have a forum to do lazy hack jokes about something he clearly does not understand. I just want him to better understand what he’s talking about, so he can write better jokes. Or at least actual jokes.
In the effort to aid teaching poor millionaire comedians how to avoid stepping in their own shit, today I am announcing that I have joined a podcast solely dedicated to that task.
It’s called Cancel Culture: Each week four diverse Gen Z women comedy writers MUST write a joke about a conventionally taboo topic. That joke must be able to be told by an old white straight, cis dude (aka me), without getting him (aka me) cancelled. Why? To show it is possible, fun, and NOT as hard as rich comedian dudes purport it to be.
We’ve recorded these episodes so far:
Over five episodes so far, we discovered these four common key elements for modern comedy without cancellation:
Don’t punch down. This is a most obvious and long-held rule of comedy. Kicking someone because you believe they are lesser will get laughs. But it shouldn’t. Relying on this is like adding the word fuck in every punchline. It works but it’s hack. Rosebud Baker shows how to flip privilege and punch up.
Admit your POV. If you are telling a rape joke - which so many male comics do - tell us how much you know about rape first. Then read #1. Then try the joke. Donald Glover accomplishes this incredibly well with a rape joke in his special.
Tell it to other people who are not in your bubble. Just because it kills in the subreddit doesn’t mean it’s ready for open mic night.
Maybe don’t. No one puts a gun to anyone’s head and says “the world needs your take on JK Rowling’s take on Trans Ladies.” BUT IF YOU DO feel the need to share your must see comedy gold, especially if you plan to make money on it… Do the first three things; grow a thick skin; and be prepared for slings and arrows - like every other grown-ass human on the planet. It’s called accountability.
True, it is harder for men to be funny than it used to be. Because back then, no club would ever have two women comics on the same bill, and Louis CK had most of them banned anyway.
But rich angry comics, all comics in fact, need to stop blaming wokeness for when hack bits with aged racist stereotypes and moldy mid century gender politics cause a flare up they can’t handle. It is more than possible to write dangerous jokes about rape, gender, sex, race, pedophelia, class, mental health, and everything else polite people don’t discuss at Thanksgiving until they’re drunk… without getting cancelled.
The keys: admit what you don’t know; ask people who do; don’t be an asshole to people who don’t deserve it. You still have to be that one intangible thing: funny. Which is still as hard as ever. But as Dave said after declaring “gender a fact;” if you start from a place of empathy, if your joke fails, it will just bomb on stage… without exploding in your face.
Have we managed to walk that line with our jokes? Take a listen and find out!
Enjoy the weekend!