I realize that I'm about to open up a juicy can of worms here. But let's do this thing.
As I sit absorbing last week's festivities I can't help but contemplate a noticeable pattern in comedy: Careless Sexism.
I spent last week gallivanting in New York City taking an intensive Improv 101 course with the Upright Citizen's Brigade. I loved the learning that took place and I met a lot of great people. While it was a beginner class, it was a pretty mixed variety of talent and interest levels.
Some people in the class were stand up comedians who wanted to hone their ability to think on their feet. Some were just graduating high school and looking for something new to try. Some were fellow writers.
And a select few were misogynistic assholes.
Now let's take a pause here.
In all comedy - be it stand up, improv, or sketch - there is this thing called "The Low Hanging Fruit." Dick jokes, racial slurs, jabs at the disabled, women suck.
Sure, sure. If you're thinking it then it's probably been done before. And some comedians can actually obtain this Low Hanging Fruit in a tasteful and funny manner.
After all, who doesn't love a good poop joke?
That's not the point I'm making here. My aim is not to eliminate all inappropriate content from the comedy world and give everyone a soccer trophy. Low Hanging Fruit jokes are here and they are here to stay.
But if I've learned anything from improv it's support. Yes, and.
Being able to stand next to your scene partner and support them unconditionally. To be the trapeze artist; to catch them when they throw themselves into the comedic unknown. Because support was the pillar that I was taught to place improv UPon, the idea of throwing your scene partner under the bus, whether intentional or accidental, eats at the very core of my being.
So naturally it came as quite a shock when I began tallying up the amount of back-handed and sexist comments made in a variety of scenes during my week-long course.
I get it. Improv is nerve-racking.
The thought of having to say something funny in an instant can make even the most level-headed humans become riddled with anxiety. But here's a fun case study.
Picture this improvised scene:
Two disgruntled men are standing outside of a house that has just been foreclosed on. The house belongs to Steve. Steve's neighbor and friend, Bob stands with him. They are both upset and throwing rocks at the house in frustration.
Steve: Man, this sucks.
Bob: Yeah, dude. It does. You just keep doing crazy things and things keep happening to you. This is some bad luck.
Steve: Yeah. (Throws rock at house) I just hope I can beat this pattern...
Bob: Yeah, just like you beat your wife last night...
While the exact details of this scene are fuzzy to me now, I will never forget the sharp pain that hit my gut as I watched these words leave his lips. Collectively the entire class's jaws dropped to the floor.
Are you fucking kidding me? No, you are not kidding me because when people kid it's actually funny.
When, and I repeat when has violence against women ever been funny?
This isn't Low Hanging Fruit, my friend. This is Pull Your Head Out Of Your Asshole and Think About What You Are Saying.
In addition to the wife-beating comment, I also tallied up a garden variety of other comments including calling a woman a "bitch" for no reason, a nude dating scene where a woman was told to keep her legs closed because "I don't want to see that while I'm eating" as he proceeded to wave his parts around, and even a comment made to an immigrant waiter to "go away, you're taking good people's jobs."
Allow me to poke holes in why these comments are not funny from a non-feminist perspective because while my feminist insides are screaming I do think it's important to separate the two.
Here are my discontents as a comedian:
- In improv, it is essential to play "to the top of your intelligence." This means that improvisors must choose content with the logic and reasoning parts of their brains. It then follows that if you are playing a circus clown that you might be knowledgeable on which types of clown shoes produce the best squeaky noise and how to best tie balloon animals at a children's birthday party. Therefore if you are going to make a choice to call a woman a bitch, you had better be making an intellectual social commentary on the topic. See video below for the kings of social commentary, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele.
- There's so much more to play with in an improvised scene than the obvious. Why limit yourself? A nude dating scene at a restaurant could be so much funnier if other things were considered. Does this restaurant have any nude meal deals? Topless Tapas for $5.99? Are you required to shower before before you dine like at a public pool? I have so many questions about this reality and none of them include you shaming a women's body parts.
- If you are going to take a stance on a political issue, be it immigration, abortion, gun laws, gay rights, etc. you best be prepared to get down and dirty with the details. A simple comment will simply not do. That's just lazy comedy. Which "good people" is this immigrant taking jobs from? Which jobs? Do you have a proposed solution to the immigration policy? Shall we build a moat around America and pour scalding hot oil down on anyone who attempts to enter our castle doors? I want the details here, people.
It came as no surprise when I learned that one of the gentlemen with the above comments is joining a frat this year and only has two female artists on his iPod. He was also convinced that the best way to get women to talk to him on Tinder was to say really offensive, gross things to them.
Now I want to also make a point of saying that I understand that not all men in frats are sexist scumbags. It would be unfair to classify all men in this way. It just so happened that the improvisor I took issue with just so happened to be in a frat and just so happened to have some very interesting views on women. Maybe some views that he doesn't even realize are stone cold sexism.
Some might simply say, "Boys will be boys," to which I say no. Absolutely not.
Humans should be humans.
Teach your sons and daughters to be smart with their humor. Speak up when you don't feel empowered. And shape up when you say something stupid.
Sometimes we get nervous and sometimes we grab onto the Low Hanging Fruit because it's right at our immature fingertips.