[EXCLUSIVE] Taking A Step Back: Why We Love Comedy In The First Place
As the only daughter in a family of five, I grew up on things one would not expect of a lady – pro wrestling, video games, and, most importantly, standup comedy. With two older brothers, my interests generally fell within areas that were easily shareable. It was not out of the ordinary, at eleven years old, to find myself sneaking down the stairs to join my older brother (and others) to catch a glimpse of Andrew Dice Clay or Sam Kinison on HBO.
Even at such an early age, there was something inherently understood about comedy for me. Watching Clay or Kinison shouting obscenities and misogynistic jokes was nothing more to me than when my eldest brother would tell me the mailman was coming to kidnap me – both were methods used simply to evoke a reaction. In fact, back in the day, such comedians were referred to as shock comics – because that was their precise motivation – to elicit shock – and the fans ate it up. Hell, I ate it up – here were people whose success was based largely on the fact that what they said made people react with, “Holy crap, did he really just say that?”
While the whole of standup comedy may not share such a shock motivation, these were the earliest comedic imprints on my impressionable, naïve, adolescent mind – that it was hilarious to talk about things that are uncouth to discuss in general society. My young mind was quite able to wrap itself around the fact that it’s an enjoyable release to have a setting in which one was allowed to joke about such topics.
What happened to those days?
It seems that lately, in our overly politically-correct society, no matter who you are – the mailman who really wasn’t going to kidnap me, a comedian, a mother, a blogger, or simply someone who has an internet presence – you are held accountable for every little thing that you say or do. While I’m all for accountability, I can’t help but wonder if we as a society are taking it a little too far. Looking back at the recent frenzy surrounding comedian Kurt Metzger’s recent comment about choking his girlfriend (which, in context, was a response to said girlfriend having destroyed a large portion of Metzger’s possessions in a fit of rage), it seems some female activists/bloggers have selected him as the spokesperson for pro-domestic violence fans worldwide.
If you’re not familiar with the debacle, you can read all about it at the Daily Dot, where Aja Romano recounts the tale of blogger Sady Doyle and her case against the male comedian. While there’s not a lot of ‘back and forth’, per se, Doyle and her cohorts have essentially castrated Metzger for not only his comment, but also for his refusal to respond to her attacks. Doyle even went as far as to accuse Metzger of setting up fake social media accounts with which to taunt Doyle and her allies and called for Comedy Central to fire Metzger, who is a writer for their show “Inside Amy Schumer”.
The frenzy brings to mind a few immediate reactions for me:
Who is actually taking Metzger seriously? Here is a man whose profession is comedy who, if you are following him on Facebook, is notorious for putting out content geared towards evoking a reaction. Let’s also not forget that, outside of the world of standup comedy, the general population still doesn’t quite know who Metzger is. As a comedy critic, I routinely talk about the comedians I’m reviewing or interviewing, much to the dismay of my friends who simply don’t know who any of those people actually are.
Why choose Metzger to make an example out of? A few visits to a Jim Norton show or a quick listen to Opie & Anthony will surely provide better fodder for the anti-domestic-violence cause. That is what comedians do – take the things that we laypeople aren’t comfortable talking about and turning them into something we can all poke fun at.
Does Metzger’s statement actually hold any real threat? Of course not. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single human being who, upon hearing of the fiasco, would say, “Choking my girlfriend? What a novel idea! I think I’ll try that!”
Now, I’m certainly not saying it’s perfectly fine to mock victims of domestic violence or sexual assault – I myself (save for the sudden “Cujofication” of my normally sweet dog) nearly fell victim to an unwanted sexual assault from a cable contractor (one who kept returning to my place of residence to sever my service in retaliation). It was the single most terrifying experience of my life, and it still impacts me to this day. I’ve also grown up the victim of maternal child abuse and watched on several occasions as my mother got physically violent with my father as well. Why haven’t the domestic violence activists gone after female comics who joke about beating men? In case you’re naïve enough to think that female comics never go for shock value, let’s keep in mind whose show Metzger writes for.
So how does someone who has been on the receiving end of an attempted sexual assault as well as domestic violence from her own mother end up in comedy? It’s pretty simple, actually…mindfulness. Mindfulness tells me that a man on stage, joking about rape or domestic violence, isn’t about to act on those jokes. The fact that he can joke about such things indicates a level of awareness that, yes, off stage, these subjects are taboo and wrong. But a comedian’s stage time is an escape for both comic and audience, providing a brief moment in time where one is allowed to enjoy things that are not normally to be enjoyed. Mindfulness tells me that a comedian’s intent is not to bring back my memories of an awful experience because that person has absolutely no knowledge of the baggage I bring with me. A society cannot move forward if everyone in it is too wrapped up in the individual people their choices might offend – if there is no vehicle for emotional and comedic release, we’re all doomed to live very unsatisfying and tedious lives.
Finally, I’d like to remind folks that comedy is never forced on you – yes, it’s unfortunate that a few specific people happened upon Metzger’s comment and ran with it, but these folks are forgetting that they did not have to be there to begin with. America is still a free country that embraces freedom of speech, and it’s not up to you to determine who can exercise that right. Society does not exist to ‘have your back’ if something offends you – you have the free will and intelligence to choose to move on from it and focus your efforts on more substantial causes (like going after the people who are actually committing acts of violence rather than simply talking about them in a comedic setting).