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Drawing by Kristian Hammerstad.
I’ve worked for all kinds of audiences. Big, small, good, bad. I just did my first smoking show in a while: the entire front row was 20-something US Marines smoking cigarettes.
This was hard America.
As long as I’ve been doing comedy, I’ve never performed for an audience that I didn’t like. That is, until I started performing at showcases for college campuses. College shows could be — and often were — great fun. But the showcases? Where thousands of students from colleges around the country load up on a year’s worth of comedians, magicians, rock bands, and a disproportionate number of “spoken word” artists, whatever that means? (I looked it up on Wikipedia, read it twice, gave up trying.) Also available are a large array of advocates for innumerable causes who presumably come to your campus for some old-fashioned awareness raisin’. It’s always advocacy with these people: advocacy for mass literacy, for free education, against U.S. policy in Central America — it consumes them. And if it can fit on a t-shirt, all the better. They really live and breath this stuff. It’s enough to make you wonder how Republicans ever win a nationwide election. Maybe the GOP controls the media or something.
Anyway, the showcase featured one performer after another somehow found a way to shoehorn time into their seven-minute spot to virtue signal, share their tale of woe, highlight the plight of pregnant men and what have you.
The highlight of my exceptionally unexceptional tenure on the circuit was at a rural college in eastern Pennsylvania. It was a faculty-free show for students and their families to acquaint everybody with the campus. The audience was mainly freshmen and their families. In the front row is your all-American black family: the shy, wide-eyed freshman, his little brother, and his mom and dad: the latter looking very much like he’s bracing against something he expects me to say. Like what? That maybe I work dirty or offer up politically correct pablum or something.
I opened the show with a story about how I got married “old school — to a woman.” The joke got laughter that evolved into applause but not from the father in the front row. Instead, he unfolded his arms, looked me righting the eye and began nodding in the affirmative.
It’s all a reminder that when you send your kids to college that they — not the faculty — are the closest things to adults in the room.
Whatever happened to taking things in the spirit in which they were intended? To assuming good intentions in people most of the time? To poise? Look, I get it: ours is an era of contentious politics. Republicans don’t want their sons marrying Democrats and Democrats don’t want their sons marrying women.
There’s just too much material you can’t do on campus. I tell audiences how I remember when you had to wait until they were born to determine their gender: “Nowadays, of course, you have to wait until they’re eighteen.” At colleges? Maybe a quickly-stifled laugh followed by widespread embarrassed gasps.
We’re at a point now where if you still have a sense of humor you’re considered part of the problem. So no, I have no interest in returning to the college circuit – and just as assuredly I won’t be missed. It’s not that today’s college students have no sense of humor. It’s that no one wants to be the first one to laugh.
Are these sour grapes? You bet they are. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting small-town colleges, renting a car and driving through places I never even read about: Powell, WY, and deepest, darkest Vermont (whose junior senator is 77.)
It’s hard not to feel for these kids. Their parents are going bankrupt pouring money into an outrageously expensive an increasingly useless college degree while their adult children spend what should be the greatest part of their lives in a stifling ideological environment which pervades North Korea-like into comedy as it does into everything else.
George Carlin sharped his ax performing at what were then called gin joints. Robin Williams? He was discovered performing on the streets of San Francisco. Steve Martin was a writer during the still-golden era of television. Can you name one comedian who makes you laugh who made their bones performing for college audiences?
So, no, America’s Next Great Comedian isn’t going to emerge from the college circuit. Which raises the question, is comedy still funny? Apu? Gone. As if he never existed. It just goes to show you that when liberals cry racism, it’s always minorities like Apu who get fired. Now vegans have joined the growing list of off-limits groups who shan’t be joked about, which is pretty much the most vegan move ever.
When did we cross the republican as “identifying” as a member of a group of which we are demonstrably not? It’s been a goldmine for comedy but only because it’s so farcical. You’d think progressives would have learned this lesson when the Great War began openly identifying as World War I.
Rachel Dolezel represented a point on the cultural timeline when progressives’ second foot joined the first in becoming untethered from planet earth. You recall Dolezal: the white woman who “identifies” as black. Not to be confused with the white senator (D) who identifies as Native American or Rep. Robert Francis O’Rourke (D), who identifies — I hope I’m not exercising my privilege here — something called a “Beto.”