The Left Gives Up on Comedy

 

Four years ago, progressives were riding high. Obama was president, healthcare was fixed forever, and the reset-button Ruskies were our best pals. But even in that golden age, there was a growing sense that comedy was … well … problematic.

The 2014 Netroots Nation conference lectured attendees on the systematic oppression of the Humor Industrial Complex while insisting they were far funnier than those evil conservatives. “When the right says we have no sense of humor,” panelist Katie Halper said, “it’s a great way for racist/sexist/homophobic men to make themselves seem funny.”

Now that Trump sits in the Oval Office and Republicans dominate Congress and most statehouses, progressives have thrown in the mic, stool, and the brick-wall backdrop. The most striking example is Hannah Gadsby’s recent stand-up comedy special. Titled “Nanette,” and released last month on Netflix, it’s being heralded across the media for … not being funny.

The New York Times acclaims the set as “comedy arguing against comedy.”

According to The Atlantic, “The most radical thing Hannah Gadsby does in ‘Nanette’ is simple: She stops being funny.”

Cosmopolitan raves, “I cried just thinking about Hannah Gadsby’s new stand-up set ‘Nanette.'” Those definitely aren’t tears of joy. Perhaps Gadsby is dropping stand-up comedy for stand-up tragedy, as Slate‘s Andrew Kahn approvingly dubbed it.

Halfway through her set, the Australian comic officially announces that she’s retiring. “It’s probably not the forum to make such an announcement,” Gadsby adds, “in the middle of a comedy show.”

Kahn knows just who to blame for Gadsby’s retirement. You guessed it: Donald Trump.

Something is changing, but it’s broader than the comedy industry. Nanette challenges an idea of comedy, humor as truth-telling, that passed as common sense until pretty recently. Over the past two years, that idea has come in for a bruising—if not on the stage, certainly in the public square, where buffoonish politicians, racist trolls, and abusive comedians have stoked a debate about the perils of irony. This show ought to be seen as a product of that debate: When you take the anti-irony train all the way to the end of the line, one place you can end up is Nanette.

The special opens with average jokes you’d find at the local open-mic night. Nothing especially funny, but the lines bear the standard set-up/punchline structure. Her comedic premise is the tired identity riff that’s dominated novice comedians’ sets since the early ’90s. You know, the Latino/Asian/Disabled/Gay/Obese comic who bases every joke on being Latino/Asian/Disabled/Gay/Obese.

Gadsby is a lesbian, so most of her jokes reference that fact. I’m one of those odd comedy fans who’s less interested in lesbianism than laughter but to each their own. Yet even the trappings of comedy are abandoned once she announces her retirement.

She complains about her industry. She harangues cis white males. She blasts her fans for wanting even more “lesbian-based content.” And, despite having a hit Netflix special, she complains about her marginalization.

Much of her past work focused on self-deprecating jokes, but that’s now a no-no. “Do you understand what self-deprecation means when it comes from someone who already exists in the margins?” she says. “It’s not humility. It’s humiliation. I put myself down in order to speak, in order to seek permission to speak, and I simply will not do that anymore.”

That’s not humility or humiliation, it’s comedy. People quickly identify with comedians who make themselves the butt of the joke. A few punchlines in, the audience realizes how much they have in common with the fellow human on stage trying to figure out life and often failing. Soon, the audience is laughing with the comedian and at themselves.

But, back to the perils of irony. Growing increasingly angry as her set rolls on, Gadsby repeatedly insists, “I need to tell my story!”

No. You don’t.

The audience isn’t your therapist, it’s a bunch of stressed-out customers paying you to help them forget their own harrowing stories for an hour or so.

Gadsby’s stories certainly are harrowing. She’s suffered physical abuse, sexual abuse, and all sorts of bigoted behavior over the course of her life. Much of “Nanette’s” last half-hour covers the gory details of each. This is great material for a tell-all talk show, but comedy it’s not.

Nevertheless, reviewers insist people watch the show, like a nanny telling you to eat your vegetables.

Disengaging with Nanette because you don’t feel like it’s specifically talking to you does a disservice to your efforts at being inclusive. You don’t need to love Nanette – you don’t even need to like it – but if you’re willing to start the special, you owe to yourself and those around you to at least see the difficult conversation through and hear Gadsby’s arguments as to why comedy can often do more harm than good for the people on the stage.

Sounds fun.

“While it might make uncomfortable viewing for some *cough straight, white, cis men cough*, these are truths many people really need to hear.” Paisley Gilmour adds. “It’s time men pulled their bloody socks up.”

Gadsby is just the latest progressive giving up jokes. Comedians’ most celebrated moments these days are laughter-free. Jimmy Kimmel was praised for weeping through a monologue about healthcare policy. Kathy Griffin fainted during her stand-up set about blowback from her faux Trump beheading. “Saturday Night Live” highlighted a somber musical elegy to Hillary Clinton.

In a 2017 wrap-up, the New York Times enthused that “the most memorable moments of the year in comedy were not funny.”

This age of political buffoonery, media panic, and perpetual outrage is a comedy goldmine — right when many comedians are losing their sense of humor. As the left grows ever more dour, their political prospects will continue to fade. As will the laughter from an audience who could use a break from the anger and despair.

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  1. C. U. Douglas Thatcher
    C. U. Douglas
    @CUDouglas

    Liberals do have something of a sense of humor, but it’s prone to mockery: “Look at those dumb rubes/bigots/etc.” They can’t allow themselves to be mocked which as you note is a prime element of comedy.

    I find when they do manage to make jokes, especially about today’s socio-political area, my liberal friends seem to joke through gritted teeth. There’s a heavy dose of anger in the jokes they share.

    • #31
  2. Kevin Creighton Contributor
    Kevin Creighton
    @KevinCreighton

    Bishop Wash (View Comment):

    Quake Voter (View Comment):

    Who thought that adoption of “that’s not funny” stridency combined with a denial of human group traits, a shared crooked human nature and deep personal faultiness could negatively affect comedy?

    That moment when one of @ExJon ‘s memes shows up as a moment in one of his posts… :)

    • #32
  3. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    I suppose this means I can’t call Ms. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, She Guevara, or Bolshevik Barbie.

    Doug,

    Well, if you’re not going to, do you mind if I give it a try.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #33
  4. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Jon,

    There’s just too much conflict in the World. We’ve got to slow down and smell the roses once in a while. Most of all we’ve just got to laugh a little.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #34
  5. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    There’s a lady at work who wears a T shirt..

    Why Yes. I speak sarcasm.

    I’ve never asked, but I suspect she’s a Trump voter.

    • #35
  6. JosePluma Thatcher
    JosePluma
    @JosePluma

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: That’s not humility or humiliation, it’s comedy. People quickly identify with comedians who make themselves the butt of the joke. A few punchlines in, the audience realizes how much they have in common with the fellow human on stage trying to figure out life and often failing. Soon, the audience is laughing with the comedian and at themselves.

    Yea, but then they’d have to admit they’re wrong about something.  That’s never going to happen.

    • #36
  7. Eustace C. Scrubb Member
    Eustace C. Scrubb
    @EustaceCScrubb

    I used to think it was funny on M*A*S*H when Frank Burns would cut his nose hair. But now I have nose hair issues and I realized that it just isn’t funny.  People have been teased and suffered emotionally for this unsightly problem. But is nose hair unsightly or are we holding people to unobtainable standards of nasal perfection? 

    I just wish someone would write up a list of what is admissable as a subject of humor and what is not. And this project is too important to leave to comedians.

    • #37
  8. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Eustace C. Scrubb (View Comment):
    I just wish someone would write up a list of what is admissable as a subject of humor and what is not. And this project is too important to leave to comedians.

    Correct, the list must be compiled by the most humorless among us.

    • #38
  9. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Eustace C. Scrubb (View Comment):
    I just wish someone would write up a list of what is admissable as a subject of humor and what is not. And this project is too important to leave to comedians.

    Correct, the list must be compiled by the most humorless among us.

    I will provide the humor and sarcasm that the humorless will judge. I’m always willing to help.

     

    • #39
  10. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.:

    Nevertheless, reviewers insist people watch the show, like a crabby nanny telling you to eat your vegetables.

    Disengaging with Nanette because you don’t feel like it’s specifically talking to you does a disservice to your efforts at being inclusive. You don’t need to love Nanette – you don’t even need to like it – but if you’re willing to start the special, you owe to yourself and those around you to at least see the difficult conversation through and hear Gadsby’s arguments as to why comedy can often do more harm than good for the people on the stage.

    I guess this means that Inclusiveness merit badge again this year. Oh well.

    • #40
  11. JosePluma Thatcher
    JosePluma
    @JosePluma

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Eustace C. Scrubb (View Comment):
    I just wish someone would write up a list of what is admissable as a subject of humor and what is not. And this project is too important to leave to comedians.

    Correct, the list must be compiled by the most humorless among us.

    I will provide the humor and sarcasm that the humorless will judge. I’m always willing to help.

     

    We obviously need to reinstate the Ricochet Fairness Protocol.

    • #41
  12. The Cynthonian Member
    The Cynthonian
    @TheCynthonian

    EJHill (View Comment):

    I envision a world where clandestine groups that go by names like “Foxworthy’s Faithful” or “Larry’s Legions” knock on backalley doors and buy and trade comedy routines on flash drives and SIM cards.

    You  might be a redneck if you do that.

    • #42
  13. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    The Cynthonian (View Comment):

    EJHill (View Comment):

    I envision a world where clandestine groups that go by names like “Foxworthy’s Faithful” or “Larry’s Legions” knock on backalley doors and buy and trade comedy routines on flash drives and SIM cards.

    You might be a redneck if you do that.

    Rednecks would buy them on VHS.

    • #43
  14. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    USA Today ran a review of “Nanette” on Thursday. (I was stuck in a hotel with nothing to read.) The gist of the review: This comedy special is not funny at all but… everybody should see it.

    Incredible. Everybody should watch an unfunny comedy special. That’s what Leftist media critics have devolved to.

    I can’t wait to see the USA Today review of the first openly Antifa restaurant: “The food is unpleasant, and served by violent waiters, who burn your parked car while you dine. You should definitely try it out!”

    • #44
  15. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    The Cynthonian (View Comment):

    EJHill (View Comment):

    I envision a world where clandestine groups that go by names like “Foxworthy’s Faithful” or “Larry’s Legions” knock on backalley doors and buy and trade comedy routines on flash drives and SIM cards.

    You might be a redneck if you do that.

    Not if you are using flash drives and SIM cards. VHS tapes in old grocery bags, maybe.

    • #45
  16. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    I suppose it’s futile to note “comedy is not pretty” was a joke, not an imprecation.

     

    • #46
  17. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Songwriter (View Comment):
    The gist of the review: This comedy special is not funny at all but… everybody should see it.

    It’s sort of similar to when someone spouts out standard leftist tropes, and we’re told that their statements are brave and powerful! (No they’re not. They’re boring.) Or when the media fantasized about how courageous they are for criticizing the president. Because that’s so dangerous!

     

    • #47
  18. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Boy, this really sounds like a winning formula.  Start off the show telling some jokes, then spend the second half of the show lambasting the audience for their insensitivity at thinking those jokes were funny.  From reading a couple of the linked reviews, it seems that the critics want straight, white men to watch it so they can feel properly ashamed of themselves.  Maybe they should hand out some cyanide capsules at the end of the show, for those people who want to just kill themselves out of guilt right there.

    “Hey, good show tonight, do you know how much money we took in?”

    “Who cares about that?  How many suicides were there?”

    • #48
  19. Heather Champion Member
    Heather Champion
    @HeatherChampion

    Don’t forget SNL women actually singing, “To Sir, With Love” to a giant image of Obama. 

    • #49
  20. Misthiocracy, Joke Pending Member
    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending
    @Misthiocracy

    Deleted cuz I changed my mind.

    • #50
  21. CarolJoy Coolidge
    CarolJoy
    @CarolJoy

    Songwriter (View Comment):

    USA Today ran a review of “Nanette” on Thursday. (I was stuck in a hotel with nothing to read.) The gist of the review: This comedy special is not funny at all but… everybody should see it.

    Incredible. Everybody should watch an unfunny comedy special. That’s what Leftist media critics have devolved to.

    I can’t wait to see the USA Today review of the first openly Antifa restaurant: “The food is unpleasant, and served by violent waiters, who burn your parked car while you dine. You should definitely try it out!”

    I am trying to remember the name of the theater critic who wrote this about a Broadway comedy: “Much laughter from the back of the theater, where I assume somebody was telling some jokes.”

    • #51
  22. TRibbey Inactive
    TRibbey
    @TRibbey

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):
    Or when the media fantasized about how courageous they are for criticizing the president. Because that’s so dangerous!

    Ah yes, the Green Day American Idiot Tour guidebook.

    • #52
  23. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: Gadsby’s stories certainly are harrowing. She’s suffered physical abuse, sexual abuse, and all sorts of bigoted behavior over the course of her life. Much of “Nanette’s” last half-hour covers the gory details of each. This is great material for a tell-all talk show, but comedy it’s not.

    I believe that someone somewhere said something bigoted to her at some point. But if I had to place money on her veracity, I’d bet that the worst of her abuses were fabricated. She is getting something out of being a victim. Even if everything she said was completely true, why does she need to define herself as a victim.

    • #53
  24. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Do you think comedy is dying. It all seems stale and repetitive now. They all have exactly the same opinions and they aren’t saying anything new or interesting.  

    • #54
  25. TRibbey Inactive
    TRibbey
    @TRibbey

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Do you think comedy is dying. It all seems stale and repetitive now. They all have exactly the same opinions and they aren’t saying anything new or interesting.

    Hmm, what about Bill Burr? His preferred candidate was Bernie Sanders but he seems to have no PC bone in his body.

    • #55
  26. Dorrk Inactive
    Dorrk
    @Dorrk

    TRibbey (View Comment):

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Do you think comedy is dying. It all seems stale and repetitive now. They all have exactly the same opinions and they aren’t saying anything new or interesting.

    Hmm, what about Bill Burr? His preferred candidate was Bernie Sanders but he seems to have no PC bone in his body.

    I also wonder how Louis CK will emerge from his me-too-ing. Even before that, he was willing to poke some progressive sensitivities.

    • #56
  27. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Do you think comedy is dying. It all seems stale and repetitive now. They all have exactly the same opinions and they aren’t saying anything new or interesting.

    It’s only a flesh wound.

    • #57
  28. JimGoneWild Coolidge
    JimGoneWild
    @JimGoneWild

    Eustace C. Scrubb (View Comment):

    So… How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb?

    The bulb has a fluid identity and prefers to have the socket screwed around it — it’s in transition you see.

    Besides, Feminists don’t screw things.

    • #58
  29. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    Comedy that is not funny is how you get more Trump.

    • #59
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