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Why I Quit College Comedy Shows

 

“I got married “old school” — to a woman.” It was my first college show and I didn’t want it to be my last. I had heard the war stories from my fellow comedians: preternaturally sensitive college students, indoctrinated by academic and administrative lifers who are liable to faint at the sight of a sombrero. American colleges, it seemed, comprised a continent-wide archipelago of young people with the kind of ideological fealty to authority one associates with North Koreans.

I got lucky, though, in that my college debut was at West Chester University’s Freshmen Orientation Day. Instead of being surrounded by note-taking faculty, these freshmen were seated with their parents and siblings, lending the show a relative air of fun and freedom. Everything, it seemed, has been turned upside down. Gone are the days when you monitored what you laugh at in the presence of your parents: Thanks to the fevered political climate that prevails on American campuses, the presence of parents was actually liberating.

At least, that’s what my comedy instincts told me, but I wouldn’t know for sure unless I used material like the “old school” line above. Would the joke — ahem — trigger the immediate, guttural laugh I’d learned to expect from normals? I decided to go for it. Happily, the laugh was explosive and long-drawn out, as if it were self-reinforcing. One exception was the burly African American father in the front row who was sitting between his wife and their two teenage sons. Instead of laughing, he slowly nodded in the affirmative as a beatific smile crossed his face that seemed to say “College can try to kidnap my kids’ values, but not today.” The response seemed to signal that my act was not going to be what many parents in the audience feared: a sampling of the political correctness and identity politics that their adult children would be immersed in over the next four-plus years.

The show went very well and my college agent and I were all pleased with the result. I would receive further college bookings in Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. These shows, I was delighted to learn, were fun.

What, then, went wrong with my budding career in the college market? It’s a chicken-and-egg problem. In order to do college shows one must audition at college showcases where you inevitably find the soul-crushing, comedy-killing groupthink Caitlyn Flanagan describes in her excellent article in The Atlantic “That’s Not Funny! Today’s College Students Can’t Seem To Take A Joke.” Flanagan describes what she calls the “logic problem:”

Trying to explain to these kids any of the fundamental truths of stand-up – from why it’s not a good idea to hold a comedy show in the cafeteria during lunch hour, to why jokes involving gay people aren’t necessarily homophobic – is a nonstarter, and only serves to antagonize the customers… The logic problem is also responsible for the fact that many of the comics at the convention weren’t very funny, and several of those who were funny didn’t get much work, despite garnering huge laughs and even standing ovations.

This certainly describes the lay of the land at the showcases I attended, where performer after performer aggressively avoided violating the students’ twisted conception of tolerance. The showcase audiences are comprised of small teams of students assigned to take in several days of rock bands, comics, speakers, Muslims, and variety acts on behalf of their respective student bodies. Female students vastly outnumber male students. Various degrees of gender confusion are prevalent and, seemingly, reveled in. The emotional immaturity of students is striking, as if they’d be much more comfortable donning Mickey Mouse ears than, say, a military beret. This wasn’t Soft America, but Bounty Soft America.

As the gatekeepers to the college market, the showcases provided me something I hadn’t encountered in more than two decades of doing comedy: Audiences I didn’t like.

As for my fellow artists, many took time during their eight-minute sets to establish their victim bonafides, typically with some grievance against American society or living with a syndrome. The popular comic who closed the showcase, for example, departed from the apparently mundane task of making the audience laugh to open up about overcoming what he called “social anxiety disorder,” which I took to mean shyness. Another young woman — a speaker clad in high cut-off jeans — all but compared the frequency with which she was allegedly raped on campus to stubbing one’s toe.

Not surprisingly, booking safe bets at these events is the order of the day. By “safe bets” I don’t mean artists least likely to be unfunny or uninspiring but, rather, those who are in overt lockstep with the culture of grievance and victimhood. The showcases provided me with a firsthand glimpse of postmodern academic culture that on-campus shows did not. It was a parallel university that at no point intersected with the real universe.

Any hope one has that the fevered notions that prevail on campus will one day come in contact with reality is dashed with a visit to TheDemands.org, a leftwing website which has helpfully collated the clinically insane demands of America’s college students. Imagine dealing with, as administrators at Tufts University must, the demand that at least 13 percent of Tufts undergraduates identify as black.

Having performed at only two showcases, it’s tempting to think that I’m premature in turning my back on the college market altogether. Surely I can put “different eyebrows” on my act as I do for corporate audiences, for example. But standing in front of my college agent’s booth with her other clients after both my showcases was an experience as humiliating as it was indelible. While students lined up with giddy excitement to book various spoken-word artists (poets unshackled from the oppressive need to rhyme), I was left alone to nod and smile at passersby who politely smiled back as I battled the impulse to get drunk as quickly as possible.

Sour grapes? Absolutely. My experience doing college shows afforded me wonderful experiences and great memories. The flights, the rental cars, the sometimes less-than-ideal show settings didn’t bother me. I loved chatting with the locals at greasy spoons in small towns like Powell, Wyoming. The gorgeous posters created by the enthusiastic students to promote the shows adorn the walls of my home. The fantastic smell of old theaters made of heavy stone reminded me why I got into this business in the first place.

But, so long as the National Association of Campus Activities (NACA) continues to primarily serve the ideological rather than the entertainment needs of its clients, I’ll have to build on my success in other markets.

Published in Culture, Education, Entertainment
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Members have made 66 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of Eustace C. Scrubb Member

    @daviddeeble “Why did the straight, white male succeed? Because of the dominance of the partiarchal society!”

    How was that? Do you think I can make it on the circuit? I’ve got a million of ’em!

    • #1
    • February 1, 2017 at 12:49 pm
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  2. Profile photo of The Reticulator Member

    “I have three children, one of each.”

    I tried not to laugh. Didn’t work.

    • #2
    • February 1, 2017 at 12:53 pm
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  3. Profile photo of OldDan Rhody Member

    Thanks!

    • #3
    • February 1, 2017 at 1:02 pm
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  4. Profile photo of Nanda Panjandrum Thatcher

    Dave, so sorry you got NACA-ered! Their loss…Glad the earlier tour was fun; and that you were in West Chester – not far from “Right of Nowhere”. Maybe next time, a little closer?

    • #4
    • February 1, 2017 at 1:03 pm
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  5. Profile photo of Bryan G. Stephens Reagan

    I loved this!

    • #5
    • February 1, 2017 at 1:12 pm
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  6. Profile photo of David Deeble Member
    David Deeble Post author

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):
    Dave, so sorry you got NACA-ered! Their loss…Glad the earlier tour was fun; and that you were in West Chester – not far from “Right of Nowhere”. Maybe next time, a little closer?

    Nanda – Next time I’ll have to plan better! It would have been so much fun. I will tell you this: contriving a reason make it to your neighborhood is on my agenda!

    • #6
    • February 1, 2017 at 1:24 pm
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  7. Profile photo of David Deeble Member
    David Deeble Post author

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    I loved this!

    I’m glad you enjoyed it, Bryan.

    • #7
    • February 1, 2017 at 1:25 pm
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  8. Profile photo of Nanda Panjandrum Thatcher

    David Deeble (View Comment):

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):
    Dave, so sorry you got NACA-ered! Their loss…Glad the earlier tour was fun; and that you were in West Chester – not far from “Right of Nowhere”. Maybe next time, a little closer?

    Nanda – Next time I’ll have to plan better! It would have been so much fun. I will tell you this: contriving a reason make it to your neighborhood is on my agenda!

    HAPPY, HAPPY, JOY, JOY!

    • #8
    • February 1, 2017 at 1:32 pm
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  9. Profile photo of Dorrk Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    “I have three children, one of each.”

    I tried not to laugh. Didn’t work.

    Even this joke is hopelessly regressive. There are at least 32, but probably somewhere closer to infinite, points of gender along the anarcho-queer spectrum.

    Today’s version of this joke would be more like:

    “I have one child. I had five, but I late-term aborted the straight white males who rejected their reassigned sex organs. Unfortunately, the one that’s left — a two-spirit Asian-hispanic three-year-old — is also a Republican. Luckily, ze identifies as an 18-year-old, so I’m kicking zer out of the house next week, armed with a map to the closest Dignity Village and I-Can-Read books on community gardening and safe-practices for toddler sex workers.”

    • #9
    • February 1, 2017 at 1:34 pm
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  10. Profile photo of Wiley Member

    Yes, I’ll be juggling grocery bags at the next party.

    • #10
    • February 1, 2017 at 1:36 pm
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  11. Profile photo of Fake John/Jane Galt Thatcher

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    “I have three children, one of each.”

    I tried not to laugh. Didn’t work.

    I have three children. We are waiting for them to tell us what gender they are.

    • #11
    • February 1, 2017 at 1:38 pm
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  12. Profile photo of Miffed White Male Member

    I was on the Activities commission in college (early 1980s), primarily for music acts and film. In fact we actually hosted a NACA showcase on campus. This was before ideology mattered in choice of acts. But knowing the people that were on the commission with me back then (mostly Reagan-hating, whacko left-wingers, even for the time), I can’t even begin to imagine what sort of nuttery must be going on today.

    • #12
    • February 1, 2017 at 1:49 pm
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  13. Profile photo of Vance Richards Member

    I always thought judging comedy was pretty easy, if I laughed, then it was funny.

    But I guess now we need to think about “Should I have laughed? I laughed from a place of privilege, what would the less privileged think? Oh no, that comedian turned me into an oppressor . . . he must be stopped.”

    • #13
    • February 1, 2017 at 1:51 pm
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  14. Profile photo of Kay of MT Inactive

    I loved it David!

    • #14
    • February 1, 2017 at 2:22 pm
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  15. Profile photo of Max Ledoux Admin

    I’ve watched your act dozens of times on YouTube, Dave. I’m pretty sure I know all your current jokes. You still make me laugh. The highlighter gag is one of my favorites.

    • #15
    • February 1, 2017 at 2:38 pm
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  16. Profile photo of David Deeble Member
    David Deeble Post author

    Thanks for up voting me to the main feed, friends. Maybe it’s because I’m on a cruise ship at sea but I don’t actually see it on the main feed so that I may share it with others. Any help on this issue? Thank you!

    • #16
    • February 1, 2017 at 2:58 pm
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  17. Profile photo of Nanda Panjandrum Thatcher

    Max Ledoux (View Comment):
    The highlighter gag

    I know you’re gonna ace this one, Dave: I’m gonna be there to see it…I can’t wait!

    • #17
    • February 1, 2017 at 2:59 pm
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  18. Profile photo of Ilan Levine Member

    Incredible talent! Would you mind notarizing my will?

    • #18
    • February 1, 2017 at 3:12 pm
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  19. Profile photo of Randy Weivoda Thatcher

    David Deeble (View Comment):
    Thanks for up voting me to the main feed, friends. Maybe it’s because I’m on a cruise ship at sea but I don’t actually see it on the main feed so that I may share it with others. Any help on this issue? Thank you!

    I think that breaching the threshold no longer automatically moves a post to the Main Feed. I believe a signal is sent to the editors so they can review it before moving it up.

    • #19
    • February 1, 2017 at 3:16 pm
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  20. Profile photo of Sandy Member

    Love, love, love the act. As for NACA, sad.

    • #20
    • February 1, 2017 at 3:26 pm
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  21. Profile photo of David Deeble Member
    David Deeble Post author

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    David Deeble (View Comment):
    Thanks for up voting me to the main feed, friends. Maybe it’s because I’m on a cruise ship at sea but I don’t actually see it on the main feed so that I may share it with others. Any help on this issue? Thank you!

    I think that breaching the threshold no longer automatically moves a post to the Main Feed. I believe a signal is sent to the editors so they can review it before moving it up.

    Thank you, Randy.

    • #21
    • February 1, 2017 at 3:41 pm
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  22. Profile photo of David Deeble Member
    David Deeble Post author

    Sandy (View Comment):
    Love, love, love the act. As for NACA, sad.

    Thank you, Sandy: I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    • #22
    • February 1, 2017 at 3:42 pm
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  23. Profile photo of Nanda Panjandrum Thatcher

    David Deeble (View Comment):

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    David Deeble (View Comment):
    Thanks for up voting me to the main feed, friends. Maybe it’s because I’m on a cruise ship at sea but I don’t actually see it on the main feed so that I may share it with others. Any help on this issue? Thank you!

    I think that breaching the threshold no longer automatically moves a post to the Main Feed. I believe a signal is sent to the editors so they can review it before moving it up.

    Thank you, Randy.

    David Deeble for “Contributor” status!…Who’s with me?

    • #23
    • February 1, 2017 at 3:54 pm
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  24. Profile photo of Randy Weivoda Thatcher

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):

    David Deeble (View Comment):

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    David Deeble (View Comment):
    Thanks for up voting me to the main feed, friends. Maybe it’s because I’m on a cruise ship at sea but I don’t actually see it on the main feed so that I may share it with others. Any help on this issue? Thank you!

    I think that breaching the threshold no longer automatically moves a post to the Main Feed. I believe a signal is sent to the editors so they can review it before moving it up.

    Thank you, Randy.

    David Deeble for “Contributor” status!…Who’s with me?

    Definitely!

    • #24
    • February 1, 2017 at 4:02 pm
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  25. Profile photo of RightAngles Member

    poets unshackled from the oppressive need to rhyme
    normals”

    Too many great lines to quote. Hilarious post and hilarious video!

    • #25
    • February 1, 2017 at 5:29 pm
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  26. Profile photo of Genghis Coolidge

    That’s good stuff, David. Thanks for the video. All the best going forward.

    • #26
    • February 1, 2017 at 5:48 pm
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  27. Profile photo of Matt Bartle Member

    “Parallel University” is a useful term!

    • #27
    • February 1, 2017 at 6:37 pm
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  28. Profile photo of Sabrdance Member

    If you’d like to completely bypass the NACA folks, I bet I could convince some College Republicans to invite you to campus. Kind of like a more tasteful version of Milo.

    • #28
    • February 1, 2017 at 7:24 pm
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  29. Profile photo of Nanda Panjandrum Thatcher

    Sabrdance (View Comment):
    If you’d like to completely bypass the NACA folks, I bet I could convince some College Republicans to invite you to campus. Kind of like a more tasteful version of Milo.

    Perfect, @Sabrdance!…@daviddeeble is the Mort Sahl of cogent, conservative, enlightening political humor – and juggling.

    • #29
    • February 1, 2017 at 7:29 pm
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  30. Profile photo of kelsurprise Member

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    poets unshackled from the oppressive need to rhyme
    normals”

    Too many great lines to quote. Hilarious post and hilarious video!

    Right? I laughed out loud at the “unshackled” description.

    And I love this: “The fantastic smell of old theaters made of heavy stone served as a reminder of one of the reasons I got into this business in the first place.”

    • #30
    • February 1, 2017 at 7:31 pm
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