In late August a memo circulating around the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater in New York City began to raise eyebrows. Founded in 1993 by a handful of comics including Amy Poehler and Horatio Sans, UCB, as it’s commonly known, is a bulwark of New York’s sketch and improvisational comedy scene and a part of an exclusive network of venues known for churning out America’s top-tier comics.
But a group of performers at the theater were worried people were laughing at the wrong things. A foreboding directive titled, “Being a Cis Ally To Trans And Non-Binary People In Sketch Comedy” was dispatched to students and cast members at UCB. The memo, authored by rigorous pronoun enforcers Chloe Koser (She/Her/Hers), Bloom Davis (They/Them/Theirs), and Zachary A. Stephens (He/Him/His), included the gravely earnest sub-header, “Every Person in Comedy Deserves Respect.”
A UCB cast member leaked the memo to his friend Stephen McCarthy, an alumnus who says he was asked to stop performing at the theater in 2016 when he revealed he intended to vote Republican in the upcoming general election.
“In the end they were right, in a way. It was inappropriate for me to be there,” McCarthy said of his departure. “They were trying to do comedy and I was trying to be funny.”
In recent years, the finger-waggers and scolds of the social justice Left have set their sights on dismantling and reshaping comedy, the one area of American culture that has traditionally been off-limits to speech rules, where everyone and everything was fair game for ridicule. Chris Rock, Larry the Cable Guy, Jerry Seinfeld — American comedic royalty less than a generation ago — have all announced they will no longer play colleges due to the tensions they’ve encountered in the socially lockstep world of the American campus. In 2015, speaking to ESPN, Seinfeld caused a stir when he said, “They just want to use these words: ‘That’s racist;’ ‘That’s sexist;’ ‘That’s prejudice,’” adding, “They don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.”
In 2011, while performing in Nashville, Emmy-nominated actor and veteran Saturday Night Live cast member Tracy Morgan attracted the wrath of a local homosexual busybody in the audience after making jokes about gay people. The audience member ran to the press following the performance to complain of the show’s “homophobic” tone.
“I have very thick skin when it comes to humor; I can dish and I can take,” Kevin Rogers, the thin-skinned homosexual, told reporters. “What I can’t take is when Mr. Morgan took it upon himself to mention about how he feels all this gay shit was crazy and that women are a gift from God and that ‘Born this Way’ is bullshit.”
At the time, Morgan starred on the hit NBC show 30 Rock and it looked as though his career was over. Instead, Morgan rushed into indentured servitude with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the gay lobby’s version of the SPLC, and was forced into an apology tour giving media appearances accompanied by a spokesperson who loomed over Morgan as though he were delivering an ISIS beheading video.
When Oscar-nominee Jonah Hill called a paparazzo a “faggot,” he rushed onto Jimmy Fallon’s show to deliver a different kind of performance from his usual slapstick fat man, when he wailed in despair over the infraction like a North Korean who just found out the Supreme Leader died. Then came a glimmer of hope when, in 2017, after a years-long self-imposed hiatus from the spotlight, comic icon Dave Chappelle, once called the “comic genius of America” by Esquire, made a point on his Netflix special to tell jokes at the expense of transgenders and the #MeToo movement. “The joys of being wrong. I didn’t come here to be right, I just came here to fuck around,” he said, adding “as a policy, you gotta understand, I never feel bad about anything I say up here.”
The institutional Left launched an all out assault. A lot had changed since his hit 2006 Comedy Central program Chappelle’s Show, when he was America’s favorite comic. Headlines blasted the Netflix special as “controversial” and “problematic.” “Dave Chappelle’s ‘reckless’ #MeToo and trans jokes have real after-effects,” white liberal Brian Logan of the Guardian wrote. “… he’s now on the wrong side of history.”
Chappelle kept his word and never did apologize for jokes made on his Netflix special. But later that year, when something even more blasphemous and unforgivable than a transgender joke slipped from his mouth, he was forced to issue an apology. While delivering a monologue as guest host of SNL, Chappelle said, “Give Trump a chance.”
Make America Funny Again
After the transgender rule book oozed its way into the hands of performers, the UCB began to feel more like a monastery than a storied house of giggles. Performers, now walking on eggshells, told McCarthy they knew the consequences of rejecting the gendertarian humor guidelines. “If you disagree openly with those people you will get your show canceled for ‘hateful remarks,’ which is what happened to me,” McCarthy said.
The memo, which took a committee of three people to write, gave clear instructions on acceptable humor and what is definitely, absolutely, one hundred per cent not funny. “Directors should lead a discussion and allow everyone in your ensemble to speak up about their comfort playing roles that are gendered,” it read. But personal comfort, it appears, only matters for some. “Can a cis woman play a cis man or vice versa?” The memo asks. “Yes! … as long as it isn’t a joke.”
“‘Man in a dress is comedy trope that is transphobic,” the memo explains. “Monty Python and SNL do a bad job. Kids in the Hall did a great job.”
Other things comedians report are definitely off-limits and absolutely, completely not funny include Muslims fucking goats and blowing themselves up, Caitlyn Jenner’s cyborg pussy, the outstretched arms of starving Venezuelans, every Hollywood celebrity is a rapist, Haiti, Native Americans have lower IQs than lava lamps, and catapulting Mexicans back over the border, Medieval style.
While Kids in the Hall deserves props for introducing the world to Chicken Lady, Monty Python, one of the most beloved comic ensembles of the 20th Century, was most likely singled out because co-founder John Cleese has appeared on numerous television shows recently to discuss the death of comedy at the hands of political correctness. In a viral video, Cleese claimed it was impossible for comics to be spontaneous if surrounded by “super-sensitive people.”
“The idea that you have to be protected from any kind of uncomfortable emotion is one I absolutely do not subscribe to,” he said. “If people can’t control their own emotions, then they have to start trying to control other people’s behavior.”
Appearing on Bill Maher’s show in 2014, Maher asked Cleese his opinion on political correctness. “It starts off as a halfway decent idea and then it goes completely wrong,” Cleese said. “I used to go out and do these race jokes. I’d say, why did the French have so many civil wars? So they could win one now and again. Why are Australians so well-balanced? Because they have a chip on each shoulder. I used to do these jokes, and then I’d say, there were these two Mexicans, and the whole place would go–gasp! I’d say, ‘we can make jokes about Swedes and Germans and French and Canadians and Americans, why can’t we make jokes about Mexicans?’ And they’d say, ‘because they’re so feeble they can’t look after themselves.’ It’s very, very condescending.”
No one wears the crown of feebleness better than transgender activists. The UCB memo — which was not officially endorsed by the theater, but it didn’t have to be — asks if there are any circumstances where “cisgendered” people can play trans people. Cisgender is a term invented by transgender activists to label the over 99 per cent of the population that doesn’t suffer from the mental health condition identified by the American Psychological Association as Gender Dysphoria. “NO. It’s that simple,” the memo answers. But if transgenders want to play everyone else? “Yes! Trans/[non-binary] people can play any role they feel comfortable playing.”
Another deeply problematic instance of word-violence permeating the comedy world, according to the memo, is the term “Straight man,” which refers to the character who sets up and reacts to jokes, such as Rickie Ricardo on I Love Lucy, or Raymond Teller in the Penn and Teller duo. The memo demands this term be retired and suggests using “Voice of Reason” instead.
“‘Straight Man’ being the voice of reason is the only thing this got right,” comedian Jesse Smith, a UCB alumnus and host of Pod Awful, told DANGEROUS. “‘Can a cis woman play a cis man and vice versa?’ Yeah of course they can. Improv is pretend and so are your 53 genders.”
In 2011, New York magazine published an op-ed by Roseanne Barr labeling her television’s “feminist pioneer.” In the article, Barr details the behind the scenes, hellish ride that defined the first couple seasons of her groundbreaking sitcom, Roseanne. She described being wooed by television execs only to find, once the show took off, her creative control was sidelined and the studio even refused to give her a “Created by” credit in the show’s title sequence, deferring instead to a male producer.
“It was pretty clear that no one really cared about the show except me, and that [producers] Matt and Marcy and ABC had nothing but contempt for me—someone who didn’t show deference, didn’t keep her mouth shut, didn’t do what she was told,” Barr wrote. “Marcy acted as if I were anti-feminist by resisting her attempt to steal my whole life out from under me. I made the mistake of thinking Marcy was a powerful woman in her own right. I’ve come to learn that there are none in TV.”
The reboot of Roseanne again made television history in early 2018, with the premiere episode reaching 25 million viewers, an audience size unheard of in recent years for network television. The show — featuring Roseanne’s Trump-supporting protagonist, her pussy-hat resister sister Jackie, biracial granddaughter, genderfluid grandson, and Muslim neighbors — was immediatey picked up for a second season.
Because it was funny. The show was poised to be this generation’s All In The Family. For anyone who wasn’t a partisan hack or journalist, the message of the new Roseanne was clear: like its earlier incarnation, it spoke to the anxieties of America’s working class families but, unlike any other show on television, it also forced both liberals and conservatives to laugh at themselves, and each other, and do so — wait for it — together. It was also perhaps the least divisive thing to appear on network TV for a decade. Even for a show with a pro-Trump matriarch, it also had a strong Left-wing bent, featuring storylines clearly written to pander to the Left’s anxieties about conservatives, such as a scene in which a cashier makes racist remarks to a Middle Eastern woman and Roseanne comes to the woman’s defense. But most remarkably, the show was about family over politics, and the two sides of our deeply divided nation coming together. That is, perhaps, what enraged the Left and the media most about Roseanne.
So when Barr tweeted a joke about powerful Democrat Valerie Jarret’s appearance — who, apparently, is black — comparing her to a character on Planet of the Apes, ABC canceled the show within hours, with Disney president Bob Iger, a Democrat donor, phoning Jarret before he notified Barr. Old episodes of Roseanne were struck from cable channels and removed from online streaming services. Then, in one of the most twisted developments of the entire drama, ABC announced it would air a spin-off, called The Connors, in which they literally kill off Roseanne’s character. One of America’s most enduring comedians was, overnight, unpersoned. New York magazine, like all of Left-wing media, no longer remembered their “feminist pioneer,” who ran for president in 2012 with the endorsement of the Green Party’s black caucus. Barr was now, simply, a “racist,” and few of her contemporaries came to her defense, with the exception of some comedians like Mo’Nique.
Lucilus is acknowledged as the first satirist. He was delighting crowds in 150 BC. Socrates used Socratic irony to make philosophical points clearer and irreverence to make those arguments more entertaining. Comedy, when deployed in the service of social or political commentary, it goes without saying, needs to be funny in order to be effective. When Michelle Wolf took the podium at the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, her routine descended into feminist grandstanding, to the point she actually called Trump a racist and a white nationalist, not as a set-up to a joke, but as the apparent punchline.
Wolf saved her most vicious attacks for the women in the Trump administration, particularly Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was seated feet away on the stage, calling her a liar and an Uncle Tom. Though, personally, we can forgive her everything for that Aunt Lydia joke. Still, this was hardly Democrat Don Rickles’s roast of Ronald Reagan, or Republican Norm MacDonald’s Bill Clinton treatment, both which were in the spirit of what the Correspondents’ Dinner has always been: both sides coming together to have a laugh. Instead, Wolf charged out, bra burning, and delivered exactly what we’ve come to expect from the nation’s highest paid jokesters: rage, lecturing, and group therapy. When audiences howl at late night hosts Jimmy Kimmel or Stephen Colbert making gay sex jokes about President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin — something the gay lobby seems perfectly fine with — it’s a set up that has comedic potential, but it’s never funny, because it so clearly comes from a place of raw bitterness and opportunism. It seems shock comedy is only funny when it avoids being so transparently motivated by a political agenda.
Let’s also not forget, funnyman Jimmy Kimmel, who got his start with what is now deemed anti-woman and misogynistic humor, actually cries on television during his monologue addressing subjects as knee-slapping funny as healthcare reform. Sarah Silverman, of that same generation we might now think of as Missing Link Comedians, followed a nearly identical path as her ex-boyfriend Kimmel. She made a career in the 90s and 2000s off edgy, shocking jokes about race, gender, homosexuality, and pedophilia and has since run to the far-Left entertainment overlords to parrot their social justice talking points, hoping no one will remember how she got where she is today. Or take Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, a runaway hit under host Jon Stewart, who even most conservatives could admit, as he took pot-shots at them, was very funny. Seven months after Stewart was replaced with social justice millennial comic Trevor Noah, the Daily Show‘s ratings tanked 37 per cent, the same year Noah released his book, “Not A Crime,” a title referring to his black skin color.
But perhaps more depressing than the rageaholics of late night television, is a next evolution from the Ministry of Jokes, deconstructivist anti-comedy. Enter the doughy, Australian lesbian who just got a Netflix deal and who is paraded around Left-wing media. Hannah Gadsby has been lecturing audiences on what comedians ought to be talking about to the delight of equally unfunny bloggers and media types. She offers up quips in her performances such as, “I don’t hate men, but I wonder how a man would feel if they would have lived my life.” Not quite Chris Rock’s “Can white people say the word nigger?” joke. “And the correct answer is, not really. You have to check with your nigger consulate, you have to check with your nigger representative, and they will tell you the nigger rules of where you are at that particular time,” he said in a 1996 stand-up bit.
Then there’s Gadsby. “I don’t identify as transgender. But I’m clearly gender not-normal. I don’t think even lesbian is the right identity for me. I really don’t. I might as well come out now. I identify as tired. I’m just tired,” she says in another joke. The most surreal part of Gadsby’s performances is seeing the audience actually laugh, leading one to suspect the venues might be slipping LSD into the drinks.
As smitten, lesbian culture critic Cassie da Costa writes in the New Yorker, “Gadsby gives her audience the benefit of an education. She explains that, for a joke to work, the comic needs to artificially create tension that she can then dispel with a punch line. For Gadsby, this tension has often sprung from her childhood on the Australian island of Tasmania, where homosexuality was outlawed until 1997, and where the community’s hatred of her sexual identity, and willingness to abuse her for it, left her deeply isolated. That description isn’t funny, of course, unless it’s set up to be. Gadsby, late in the show, critiques her own punch lines about the verbal and physical abuse she sustained, leaving the audience to sit with the revelation that pain has to be mined, manipulated, and stripped of context to make a good joke. (‘I have a responsibilty to make you laugh,’ she concedes, ‘but I’m not in the mood.’)” What a rib-splitter!
Lenny Bruce once said, “The only honest art form is laughter, comedy. You can’t fake it.” You can, however, attempt to hijack the art form and bully people into pretending you’re funny if you can tick off the right victimhood boxes. Transgender people, at high estimates, make up about one half of one per cent of the U.S. population, or roughly 1.5 million Americans. For comparison, about 5 million people are dwarves, and plenty of them seem to have no problem using their disability to entertain others. Chloe Koser, one of the authors of the UCB memo, who is transgender, appears to take the bullying approach, insisting audiences love her identity as a crutch to get away with not writing jokes. The person instructing performers at UCB about what is and what isn’t funny boasts a Twitter feed full of such comedic gems as, “I was brainstorming an alternative term to ‘pansexual’ because I don’t like it, and I thought ‘I’m attracted to humans! I’m human sexual! What’s a prefix for humans…’ I landed on ‘homosexual,” and “*guards burst into the throne room. im holding a dagger and covered in blood*/ me: i killed gender/ guard 1: gender is dead!/ *they all kneel*/ all: LONG LIVE GENDER!,” and “want to feel old? the great pyramid of giza finished construction in 2560 bce,” and “ugh i totally botched that murder i did. i buried the body in a shallow hal,” and “If your joke is based on the assumption that lesbians have vaginas and/or that gay men have cocks, your joke is transphobic.”
Not laughing? Good. Consider yourself sane. Koser’s memo posits the question, “What do I do if I misgender someone?” and the answer is a stern, “Don’t. Period.” It points out, “You’re responsible for getting it right … We adjust because we’re good people. If you’re not a good person you shouldn’t be doing sketch comedy.”
When showed the memo, comedian Jim Goad, author of ANSWER Me!, told this magazine, “It’s fascinating they feel the need to announce that they’re ‘good people’—and they accomplish this by eagerly embracing everything that was considered the ultimate evil only a generation ago. This is proof that good people don’t belong in comedy.”
Goad has a point. Surely good comics aren’t just not good people, but they are the fucking worst, most broken people society has to offer. We feel better about ourselves, and love ourselves more, because comics throw their ugliness into relief for us. One way people define love is through the cold hatred and cynicism of a really good stand-up comic. That is the true power of comedy, it is who we become afterwards by reading the negative space around a performance.
Because the Left is such fertile ground for comedic ridicule, conservative and libertarian comics have been seeing an uptick in visibility in recent years online, even if mainstream commercial success may be a ways off. Pat Dixon, a New York comic who has appeared on Comedy Central and has a show called The New York City Crime Report said assuming people in comedy deserve respect is the most laughable part of the proposed social codes. “This list of protocols labors under a major misapprehension: That every person involved in comedy deserves respect. As a professional comedian for 20 years I can say with absolute certainty that respectability isn’t a prerequisite for involvement in comedy.”
“These guidelines may constitute a barrier to comedy. The fact is they hurt comedy, without question. To accept these directives, regardless of intent, is to essentially accept dictates which spring from a misguided premise at the core of a political philosophy which not only has nothing to do with comedy, but runs counter to its spirit.”
That is not to say that the spirit of comedy hasn’t also gone hand-in-hand with political commentary. Some of the greatest comedians of the 20th century were noted for moments of poignancy during their routines. Take Richard Pryor, often called the greatest comic of all time, known for his vulgar epithets and jokes about race who, unlike the Ivy League educated funnyxirs, knew true adversity in his life, growing up in a brothel in the inner city. SNL actually created the five-second delay in its live broadcasts because of Pryor, who was seen as a “loose cannon.” Yet, few would argue that Pryor would be given a platform today, the man who would throw around the n-word throughout his routine and then pause to say, ‘that is a word used to describe our own wretchedness, and we perpetuate it now, because that word is dead. We are men and women now.” And that was two generations ago.
If you ask any comedian who made it big in the 90s and 2000s about their role models, director Mel Brooks, along with Pryor, are sure to come up. Pryor died in 2005, but Brooks, now 92 years old, has become the latest comedic emissary to speak out against the gruesome death of comedy at the hands of “stupidly politically correct” sensibilities.
“It’s not good for comedy. Comedy has to walk a thin line, take risks,” he told The Telegraph in 2017. “Comedy is the lecherous little elf whispering in the king’s ear, always telling the truth about human behavior.” But if that is an unpleasant notion, you can always find solace in Amy Schumer’s vagina.