If you type “joke” and “trouble” into a Google search, here are the first three stories that come to light:
- Late night television host David Letterman is in trouble for a joke he told on Monday night warming up his audience. He took questions from the audience. The first question was what advice he’d give to this year’s graduates. We’re told his audience was “stunned” by the “sexist” joke.
“Treat a lady like a wh–e, and a wh–e like a lady,” the host shot back.
The joke — a version of a saying attributed to 1930s screenwriter Wilson Mizner — was met with stunned silence, the source said….
Several fans who passed by the theater on Tuesday evening were outraged by Letterman’s comic misfire.
“Younger people watch his show. We already live in a culture that objectifies women, it’s not right to make a joke like that,” said Joe Logan, 41, a high school teacher from Pennsylvania.
Jerry Stockton, a retiree from Virginia, called the crack “disrespectful to women, and women should never be disrespected.”
“My daughter is going to college in September and I worry how guys will treat her,” he added.
- Jamie Foxx was accused of transphobia for a joke he told at an awards show Sunday night. He made some barbs at the expense of Bruce Jenner, the former Kardashian spouse who is seeking a gender change.
“We got some groundbreaking performances here, too, tonight,” the Oscar winner began. “We got Bruce Jenner, who will be here doing some musical performances. He’s doing a his-and-her duet all by himself.”
He followed that with another jab at the former Olympian, saying, “Look, I’m just busting your balls while I still can.”
- Trevor Noah, the impersonator and stand-up comic who’s been tapped to replace Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show, received criticism for a history of tweets that made fun of Jews and women.
Within hours of the announcement that he had been named the new host of “The Daily Show,” the comedian Trevor Noah was subjected to the full scrutiny of the Internet. As potential audience members scoured his past work and social media presence for more clues to Mr. Noah, a South African comedian, they uncovered many posts on his Twitter account that they deemed offensive to women or Jews.
Even worse, the tweets weren’t terribly funny.
Whether it’s Daniel Tosh being forced to apologize for a rape joke or Seinfeld’s Michael Richard being run out of town for ranting at a heckler with racial insults, comedy is being policed for better or for worse by social media mobs.
Dave Chappelle was the king of Comedy Central just a few years ago. But if you take any random bit of his from the past, it probably wouldn’t pass muster with half of Twitter. Take this “Chivalry is dead. And women killed it” bit (NSFW, extremely so):
The strict sex roles and heteronormativity of it all would set off trigger warnings from here to Berkeley. He’d be accused of slut-shaming and contributing to rape culture.
Sometimes it seems that the only comedy that’s generally acceptable is that of the extremely safe Louis C.K.
The social justice warriors are creating a culture where comedians can’t make most jokes about race, sex, sexual choices, or any of the things that used to be staples of the comedy circuit. One joke in a stand-up set bombs for being over the line and the social media mobs come forth with pitchforks and your career is over or your comedy is seriously proscribed. It’s a free country, though, which means, in these cases, that if a bunch of coddled children can’t handle transgressive comedy without losing their minds, they can make life for a comic a living hell. Just because you’re trying something out in an intimate setting with a particular group of people doesn’t keep them from blasting it on the internet for a global audience that couldn’t possibly understand what you were going for. Comedians such as Chris Rock say it’s just not fun any more.
As even Letterman’s stale joke sends grown men to the fainting couches, it’s obvious that comedy clubs are going to undergo serious transformations. I’ve seen the future. It’s comedy speakeasies.
I have seen the future and basically it’s speakeasies for comedy.
Mollie (@MZHemingway) March 30, 2015
Here’s how PBS describes speakeasies of old:
As law enforcement officials shut down saloons across the country, speakeasies — illegal bars — sprouted up quickly. They were given their unique name for the need to whisper, or “speak easy,” as patrons attempted to cross their illegal thresholds. A secret knock, password or handshake could get a prospective drinker through a door that appeared to lead to an ordinary apartment, deli, tailor, or soda shop. Once inside, however, there was plenty of drinking and entertainment, including torch singers, cabaret singers, and vaudeville acts.
The problem with comedy is that people can share what happens in the club with anyone in the world. In the future, when comedy speakeasies are the only way for people to hear transgressive jokes about race and sex, people will have to have the password. But they’ll also have to be patted down for recording equipment. No phones. No audio recorders. No pens and pads. Any recitation of the bits will be fully denied.
It may already be happening. In a recent interview, Chris Rock said that Dave Chappelle is banning phones from his sets. It’s a smart move. The speakeasy era has begun.