Vanity is defined as excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievements. The American songstress Carly Simon introduced the song You’re So Vain in 1972, telling the story of an aberrant, conceited lover or mate. This muse is about vanity in one sense; it has little to do with an aberrant lover or mate.
The television show Saturday Night Live is arguably the most dominant force in comedy for the last three to four decades. The franchise has introduced and nurtured writers, producers, actors, and comics who have held sway over the comedic world. For years, the show was a reflection of the dominant society, a homogeneous group of white comics who originated from familiar venues (Second City in Chicago by way of example), providing a consistent and familiar brand of humor, even as comics came and went.
The creators/producers remained tone-deaf for years, never understanding why the others may never get the joke. The same old, same old – over and over again – never able to find any women of color, until magically they did; the show even moved past the rule of one (we have one, why are you complaining rule). Writers forever crafting scenes where black male comics were asked to wear a dress, poke fun of black females, as if there were not black female comics in the world who could poke harder, in a less racist, sexist manner. Change has been slow, remember it wasn’t until someone said no, to the dress and mocking black females, did the show magically find one – some black females comics. No Asians, no Hispanics – never part of the formula – always the brunt of the joke. One of the comics hired this new season was a white male whose routine incorporated the debasement of Asians and women; humorous to some – the same dilemma – not to others.
The news account explained that when the newly hire comic’s habit was discovered, the comic was terminated. When asked about his fortune, then misfortune, the comic explained sometimes you succeed, sometimes to you. A half-hearted apology followed – we have all probably extended the same apology – “if I have offended anyone.” He then moved on, bragging he was good enough to be hired by Saturday Night Live. After the initial storm, comic after comic blamed the public, that we – the public – have become less tolerant of comedy. I muse to disagree.
Comedy is the art of observation, the examination of the surrounding world – a sad, tragic, horrifying, terrific, happy world it is – and then translating his/her/our/their observations of this sad, tragic, horrifying, terrific, happy world through words, images, or physical display in order to permit others to look inward, outward; the affect sometimes displayed by tears, laughter, moans and disbelief.
I’m sure the human soul has laughed and cried since day one; crossing continents, moving across plains, foraging for food, making babies; while some smart mouth among the collective commented on the crooked tooth wholly mammoth moving closer, closer, closer while the rest were able to only see their impending death, he/she/they slowed their flight away and told a joke. Telling jokes during conquest – “I killed ten Mate!” – while others in a different position (those conquered or dead) never got the joke. Slaves did more than sing songs. They told jokes too- bet you they did. Our distorted history would have us believe the minstrel characters were those comic, not those who were strong and brave enough and tell the joke from the perspective of the enslaved, not the master. Funny to some, never, never, never funny to others; this is why the heirs of the enslaved will never get the joke of wearing blackface, no matter how well done, no matter how many teeth one shows, no manner how many more pictures spill out into the public forum showing the heirs and beneficiaries of the enslavers/conquistadors/colonists sharing a good hearty laugh, while dressed in character, with darkened skin – ha, ha, ha – indeed, ha, ha, ha.
Telling the joke in honor of ones peoples’ plight; done well, into the night we laughed, reliving history, making history, surviving. This why we complain, not because people and humor have changed. We haven’t changed and comics haven’t either.
The white male comic whose racist and sexist taunts were discovered after his hire is no different than others in the past. His jokes were not told from the perspective of a people surviving gas chambers but told through his eyes only. When caught he should have said as much. Absolutely, the white male comic is no different than the black male comic who sought fit to bash gays. I am sure he has spent a lifetime polishing his routine, compensating for his height after being teased by others, while those of his ilk laughed, laughed, laughed. Telling the joke from a presumed privileged position, making someone else the brunt of the joke, casting aspersions on what he sees as his wholly mammoth. Sputum followed by a cough, tears, laughter at the expense of another, followed by coughs, and tears of the others, forever incessantly made the brunt of the jokes. The black male comic issued the same apology the white male comic uttered – must be taught in comic school – and went back to slashing and burning the gay wholly mammoth.
Sure a comic has to take risks, that’s their calling isn’t it – causing the King and Queen to laugh, surviving, feeding themselves, their families, in order to retain their court jester role. Forever standing tall – among classmates, using humor to make a point, causing teachers around the globe to understand, while she/he remained bent over, laughing. Protesting wars, injustices, the abuse of power; using humor as both shield and sworn; good comedy is and can be both, at the same time. A mediocre comic always reaches for the low hanging cheap joke and wonders why some can’t laugh.
Walking through the forest, telling pee jokes; progressing, developing, maturing to breaking wind, body parts, bodily functions, stinky jokes and then to the ultimate tattoo – sex – a good percentage get stuck on sex (profane references to females and what they did, want to do to all of them), never to mature thereafter. Comic all have and will continue to trudge the same developmental path, some grow and most do not. Their blaming the public is why I muse.
Child and Adolescent pediatricians have documented over time the development stages of children. Comic are no different, they too go through the developmental stages of growth; developing a shtick, learning how to use timing and mannerisms to distinguish them from the other class clown, becoming a better observant of societal taboos, mores, does and don’ts, spreading their wings into politics, race, and world (sic) peas (sic). The development is not all that complex. We have all seen these developmental stages in our favorite comics.
What I don’t understand are these comics/clown/jesters who ignore who or what they are and turn the finger the wrong way, blaming us for bad jokes (jokes that miss, insults, savage a group of people, and their own inadequacies – an inability to tell a joke which is inclusive. No, no, no, please don’t hear me to say comic care should be touchy-feely people, caring about everyone feelings – that’s not who these people are – a good joke can be cutting, vicious, insulting, much like life.
Historically, a dead court jester is a dead court jester. He/she would love to take the bad joke back – she/he can’t. “Off with his head” is not a pun. We haven’t changed and they haven’t either. Tell the joke, give it your best – isn’t that what you were told by your parents? When you stray too far, examine why and who was insulted and be a big girl, big boy and either admit you went astray or stand by your joke, it’s just money and a job. We’re civilized now, aren’t we! We are going to permit you to keep your head – won’t we! Stop being vain, the song is not about you.