Boilerplates 101: The Edgy Comic Response

[Check all that apply: □ White □ Male □ Straight □ Cis □ Able-bodied] comic [insert name] made an appearance [□ at venue □ on chat show □ in film/series] yesterday, during which he said [alt: tweeted yesterday]:
[insert quote]
Ha ha oh my aching sides.

This [□ misogynist □ racist □ homophobic □ transphobic □ disablist □ fat □ rape □ other: _________] joke is par for the course for [insert name], who was last seen mocking [insert marginalized population with relevant link] on [□ Twitter □ The Tonight Show], following which came a mountain of valid criticism [insert relevant links] which devolved into a debate about "free speech," while serious attempts at conversations about how humor transmits bigotry were drowned out by all-caps accusations of humorlessness and not being hip enough to understand sophisticated "edgy" humor conveying millennia-old prejudices.

[Insert name] took to Facebook to defend his garbage joke and post a paragraph break-free rant about [□ language policing □ political correctness □ censorship] and the art of comedy, which he appears to believe exists in a void.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, [insert name]'s fans defended the comic in the usual spectacular fashion:

screen cap of a series of tweets from the Twitter account of KyriarchyEnforcer69 @Glibertarian420, whose bio reads 'Steeped in privilege. Love the kyriarchy. Can't defend it hard enough. Ron Paul fan.' The tweets read: 'dont go to comedy shows if your just going to get offended. get a sence of humor. free speach ever heard of it? fat bitch. its called AMERICA.

[Insert name] also tweeted: "I am a self-styled provocateur who's not afraid to shock and offend in the service of humor."

Which, sure. I mean, he's definitely a "provocateur" if provocateur is broadly defined enough to encompass a playground antagonist who pokes other children with a stick. If anything designed to provoke any response can make one a provocateur, then give [insert name] his trophy for Provocateur of the Year or whatever.

But "provocateur" really should mean something loftier—not a person who engages in the tiresome bigotry of [□ misogyny □ racism □ homophobia □ transphobia □ disablism □ fat hatred □ rape apologia □ other: _________], who tells and defends [□ misogynist □ racist □ homophobic □ transphobic □ disablist □ fat □ rape □ other: _________] jokes, just to elicit an entirely predictable (and legitimate) negative reaction from people getting poked with the stick, who are then immediately dismissed with charges of "humorlessness" or a lack of sophistication required to get the nuances of a joke to which the punchline is, at its essence, you are less than me.

A provocateur, if the word is have real meaning, is someone who challenges existent paradigms and marginalizing narratives, who presents a radical thought that makes people sit rather uncomfortably in their privilege and urges them to wander off the well-worn path of their socialization. It's someone who changes minds.

It isn't someone who calls people [insert relevant slur(s)] and pretends that it's brave.

The irony of [insert name] calling himself a "provocateur" is that he routinely insists that he is not trying to elicit reactions, but just say whatever the fuck he wants to because it's funny.
[insert relevant quote from interview in which comic defends joke on the basis that comedy is about Whether It's Funny, and the best comics are those who prioritize the art form and don't cave to the PC police]
That sounds less like a provocateur and more like a sociopath, whose cavernous void of empathy allows him to substitute self-indulgent id-fulfillment for complex ethics.

[Insert name] is the comedic equivalent of the shit-stirring contrarian who comes into a social justice space and disgorges with a whiff of Pleistocenian air the most exhausting of ancient stereotypes, only to punctuate it with: "There, I said it!" as if zie were Spartacus throwing off the shackles off political correctness, and not just another impolite asshole who doesn't even have the decency to wipe the glyptodon scat off hir shoes before taking a privilege dump in the middle of the living room carpet.

"Women are overemotional! There, I said it!" Yep, we've never heard that one before, brave little soldier.

[Insert name] nonetheless actually believes himself to be some sort of prophet, some kind of revolutionary whose hackneyed observations about oppressed populations is actual genius. He's not being ironic after all. He's really just a straight-up fucko.

And [insert name] is seriously kidding himself if he thinks material that dates back to 1600 BC can be called "edgy" with a straight fucking face. There isn't anything less edgy than ancient bigotry.

See also: "Challenging taboos," "pushing back boundaries," and other euphemisms for using as humor various forms of prejudice and violence by which privileged comics will never personally be victimized, the sting or threat of which will never even touch them.

The sting or threat of which they believe they can absolve themselves by pretending that comedy exists in a void.

The thing is, comedy does not exist in a void and context matters.

Comedians are social commentators—their job is to remark upon culture and its various absurdities and failures, and just because their objective is to make people laugh doesn't absolve them of the responsibility that any professional social commentator or critic with any integrity has, which is to expose, not entrench, the cultural narratives that are damaging to the marginalized, voiceless, and dispossessed.

If you're telling jokes that entrench privilege, you're not a comic. You're a professional bully.

Absolving comedians of any and all responsibility for their material necessitates deliberately misunderstanding or ignoring what the actual role of a comedian is, what purpose they are meant to serve.

It doesn't matter if they don't want that role and purpose and responsibility; that's the trade-off for a public career in which your content is culture. Ignoring it doesn't release one from the responsibility; it merely makes one an asshole.

And, generally speaking, a shitty comic. Because the thing about doing socially irresponsible comedy is that those caverns are well-fucking-mined by now. There's some rich irony in someone rehashing a tired-ass riff on WOMEN AMIRITE? accusing the people who aren't laughing of being the ones without a developed sense of humor.

Finally: Asking someone to be a little more considerate isn't the same thing as censorship. Or PC policing. Or lacking a sense of humor. Or being easily offended. Or whatthefuckever.

I am challenging [insert name]—and his vociferous defenders—to greater empathy, to understand the power of humor from the perspective of the marginalized person who is its target.

I am not the thought police.

The entire rest of the world, with its privileging of men and heterosexuality and cisgender people and thin (but not too thin!) and tall (but not too tall!) and able and healthy white bodies and religious people and people who desire and have sex and people who can and want to be parents and the wealthy and the traditionally educated, and all the ways in which the rest of the world facilitates and upholds that privilege, and all the ways in which the rest of the world marginalizes and demeans and treats as less than all the people who deviate from those privileged "norms," and all the ways the rest of the world has indoctrinated you into that system of privilege, and socialized you to believe it's the natural and right and immutable state of the world, and all the shills for the kyriarchy who fill the ether with self-reinforcing rubbish on a constant loop so you swim in a sea so thick with the detritus of Othering that you don't even notice it on a conscious level anymore, and all the bullies who emerge to kick you back in line if you do, if you have the temerity to question the message, and all the other bits and bobs of the brainwashing to which we are all subjected since the day we're born as part of scheme, nearly incomprehensible in scope, to ensure that challengers to these traditions are never made, and, if they're born, are squashed with the weight of mountainous tidal waves of blowback in the other direction…? The purveyors of that shit are the goddamn thought police.

And you know what one of the biggest lies they tell you is?

That it's the other way around.

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