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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There are 59 comments.

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  1. Member

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

    • #1
    • July 19, 2018 at 8:16 am
    • 16 likes
  2. Member

    Everybody is a victim and if you’re not, you’re the problem – even so-called comedians. Dana Carvey was funny, the woman at the Press Correspondence Dinner was not. They don’t know the difference between poking fun and full-on humiliation. Remember the funny Steve Bridges?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4N93jLVPIA

    Kimmel stopped being funny – what happened to Jim Carey? We need more laughter and pushing the envelope while maintaining good taste. Where is the next Norman Lear?

    • #2
    • July 19, 2018 at 8:29 am
    • 4 likes
  3. Inactive

    The gulf between to harridan like this and a hilarious storyteller like John Mulaney is immense. Mulaney may be a liberal but he mostly avoids politics so that he can tell funny stories, and even when he ventures into the political realm clearly from the left its still funny to those of us on the right. 

    She’s retiring? Good riddance I say. 

    • #3
    • July 19, 2018 at 8:33 am
    • 17 likes
  4. Member

    The comedy is to be found in the entertainment media knowing deep down that the product sucks while still so earnestly begging you to consume it.

    Eat those soggy flavorless vegetables, young man! They’re good for you!

    • #4
    • July 19, 2018 at 8:33 am
    • 8 likes
  5. Thatcher

    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?

    • #5
    • July 19, 2018 at 8:40 am
    • 10 likes
  6. Member

    When I was in college an alumnus was invited to talk in a creative writing course I took. He really was an interesting guy with an entrepreneurial streak, he started off as an entertainer at a theme park, then later originated the idea of corn mazes, and eventually wound up as a producer either in Hollywood or Broadway, I forget which.

    The one thing that stuck with me from his talk was that he liked to assign a dollar value to entertainment value, say three dollars for a laugh. The way he put it, if he charged you six dollars to enter a corn maze, He had better deliver at least the entertainment equivalent of two laughs during the experience or he didn’t do his job. 

    All that to say, If I ever actually paid to see Nanette, I would be demanding a full refund from the theater.

    • #6
    • July 19, 2018 at 8:41 am
    • 6 likes
  7. Thatcher

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: 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.

    Jon,

    Whom has comedy hurt? Not me, not me.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #7
    • July 19, 2018 at 8:49 am
    • 3 likes
  8. Member

    Why do I suspect that, upon her “retirement,” this person of whom I had never heard before, is going to now be inescapable in pop culture for a short period, and, once this stunt fades, will be back doing what she calls comedy within two years, max?

    • #8
    • July 19, 2018 at 9:12 am
    • 19 likes
  9. Moderator

    Yeah I don’t get Gadsby. One of my progressive female friends posted a clip of ‘Nanette’ with the caption “omg she is so funny lol!” so I watched it. It wasn’t even remotely funny. She was talking about how she cursed out a guy for implying that anti-depressants might affect your art because they affect your brain (he was correct!). Something something her comedy wasn’t for him (how inclusive!).

    • #9
    • July 19, 2018 at 9:18 am
    • 4 likes
  10. Member

    Eustace C. Scrubb (View Comment):

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

    Hater. Why would anyone want to change a light bulb? The lightbulb is perfectly happy as a light bulb.

    • #10
    • July 19, 2018 at 9:19 am
    • 17 likes
  11. Coolidge

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: Much of her past work focused on self-deprecating jokes, but now that’s problematic. “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.”

    No it’s not. Self-depreciating humor is one of the rare kinds of humor that isn’t based on being cruel to someone else. Lots of comedy is making people laugh at someone else’s expense. There’s a thin line between a good joke and a cruel insult. Being able to laugh at yourself is higher comedy. If you do it right, you’re not getting the audience to laugh at you, but to laugh with you. And not at someone else.

    • #11
    • July 19, 2018 at 9:22 am
    • 12 likes
  12. Member

    I don’t get the Curt Schilling reference.

    • #12
    • July 19, 2018 at 9:27 am
    • 2 likes
  13. Member

    Buckpasser (View Comment):

    I don’t get the Curt Schilling reference.

    I thought that at first too. I think it was the British use of ‘bloody’.

    • #13
    • July 19, 2018 at 9:34 am
    • 1 like
  14. Member

    Eustace C. Scrubb (View Comment):

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

    Three, actually. One to change the bulb and two to tell her how much better she did the job than a man would have.

    • #14
    • July 19, 2018 at 9:34 am
    • 5 likes
  15. Member

    Kozak (View Comment):

    Eustace C. Scrubb (View Comment):

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

    Hater. Why would anyone want to change a light bulb? The lightbulb is perfectly happy as a light bulb.

    The bulb might want to be a socket! 

    • #15
    • July 19, 2018 at 9:35 am
    • 9 likes
  16. Podcaster

    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. 

    • #16
    • July 19, 2018 at 9:36 am
    • 13 likes
  17. Coolidge

    Netflix’s subscriptions are down. One has to wonder why, with such wonderful entertainment as the referenced comedy special, and that new Michelle Wolf show….

    • #17
    • July 19, 2018 at 9:38 am
    • 7 likes
  18. Member

    Kozak (View Comment):

    Eustace C. Scrubb (View Comment):

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

    Hater. Why would anyone want to change a light bulb? The lightbulb is perfectly happy as a light bulb.

     Not if it identifies as a ball point pen. 

    • #18
    • July 19, 2018 at 9:38 am
    • 4 likes
  19. Coolidge

    Don’t know how it can be said the Left has given up on comedy – their whole movement is a joke!

    • #19
    • July 19, 2018 at 9:42 am
    • 6 likes
  20. Member

    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?

    • #20
    • July 19, 2018 at 9:51 am
    • 9 likes
  21. Member

    You can be funny while telling the most awful stories. Anyone else remember the specials that John Leguizamo used to do? I think the first was called Spic-orama.

    • #21
    • July 19, 2018 at 9:59 am
    • 4 likes
  22. Member

    The other day, my wife and I got talking about “stuff”. I found the old George Carlin routine on “stuff” and we watched it. It was hilarious (and non-COC in places). That is humor that doesn’t divide or put down, but illuminates what is common to all of us. I think that is the best humor, but it is hard to find any more.

    • #22
    • July 19, 2018 at 10:03 am
    • 5 likes
  23. Member

    Significant segments of the left have become just what much of humor used to target–pious, autocratic, conventional groupthink. Rather than take aim at themselves, comedians are packing it in. Self-preservation.

    • #23
    • July 19, 2018 at 10:30 am
    • 5 likes
  24. Coolidge

    American Ninja 1 – my favorite scenes (part1)

    37 second run time —

    https://youtu.be/ihEMhqdZB2E

    The above is a very enjoyable film clip that was entertaining.

    However if things in California don’t soon change for the better, such a film sequence will be destroyed – as it characterizes Asians as only being capable of being ninjas. (Expert on child development says: “Many Asians are doctors and lawyers, accountants and teachers. Unless those aspects of reality are shown in the film sequence, it would be destructive to the ego development of children of that ethnicity to view this very limiting portrayal of their career potentials.”)

    • #24
    • July 19, 2018 at 10:45 am
    • 1 like
  25. Coolidge

    So the NYT thinks the most memorable moments of comedy in 2017 weren’t funny. I might be off base here but that seems problematic.

    Will the best moments in writing involve demonstrations of illiteracy?

    • #25
    • July 19, 2018 at 11:45 am
    • 7 likes
  26. Member

    TGPlett (View Comment):

    So the NYT thinks the most memorable moments of comedy in 2017 weren’t funny. I might be off base here but that seems problematic.

    Will the best moments in writing involve demonstrations of illiteracy?

    Depends on who is illiterate. Think back a year or two to the National Debating Championships, where one team completely ignored the subjects to be debated and instead did this weird presentation of rap and general shouting. They won the championship.

    • #26
    • July 19, 2018 at 11:57 am
    • 5 likes
  27. Member

    I walked into a room of young women watching a Margaret Cho special 10 years ago and the only noise was from the TV. No laughter, at all. I’m sorry but if you can’t even make a group of people who agree with you laugh you are not a comedian, you are a sidewalk preacher.

    • #27
    • July 19, 2018 at 12:27 pm
    • 9 likes
  28. Member

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Depends on who is illiterate. Think back a year or two to the National Debating Championships, where one team completely ignored the subjects to be debated and instead did this weird presentation of rap and general shouting. They won the championship.

    Really?

    That’s almost not funny.

    • #28
    • July 19, 2018 at 12:31 pm
    • 2 likes
  29. Member

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: The Left Gives Up on Comedy

    Rush has been saying for years that the left has no sense of humor. For example, when Trump quipped that maybe the Russians can find Hillary’s ‘missing’ emails, the left could see no other explanation than that Trump was suggesting the Russians hack her server. 

    Anyone with even a mild sense of humor knew what that was. It was a sarcastic shot at the inept attempts to find those emails. But since the left has no such sense, it had to be evidence of collusion. 

    If every joke is to be interpreted literally and with no sense of humor, then the vast majority of jokes are offensive. Which is exactly where we are today. Nothing is funny, unless it is about our orange Hitler. That is hilarious… 

     

    • #29
    • July 19, 2018 at 12:53 pm
    • 11 likes
  30. Member

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

    • #30
    • July 19, 2018 at 12:57 pm
    • 16 likes
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