In the long run, it really would’ve been better had the Academy hired me to host the Oscars. (I’m available for next year!) The fifth anniversary of this site came and went in August, and I’ve been writing for it this whole time. At least once a week, come to that, though how much depends on all sorts of factors and there have been weeks where I’ve felt as though I’ve posted at least one article literally every day, including Saturday and Sunday. (This is one of those rare sites where we actually have new content on the weekends, because I deliberately post my people articles then simply because there’s so little new reading matter on the weekend.) And while goodness knows not all those articles have been winners, and people have argued with me about some of them, I have written several books’ worth of columns without resorting to cheap bigotry for a laugh.
I’m aware of the issues of privilege. I am white, educated, and heterosexual (or as near to as to make no difference). On the other hand, I am poor, mentally ill, and female. I’m cis, but I’m Pagan. Native-born but on government assistance. I have a regular doctor, but she won’t renew my handicapped placard presumably because she thinks I Just Need To Lose Weight. (Which I do, but that doesn’t cure arthritis or scoliosis.) Most of the people I know can examine their own lives and see where they have privilege and where they don’t—to cite the example I saw the other day, my older sister is left-handed, and that’s definitely a way the world is biased against her.
I think that, if you can see these things, you’re much less inclined to make jokes that rely on stereotypes. Because you’re aware of how the same stereotypes influence your own life. I’ve been shamed in the grocery store for using the word “entitled” in reference to one of my benefits. By the cashier, no less. When people have gone on national television and said that you’re not really poor if you have a refrigerator—and where I live, rental units just come equipped with those, and I certainly wouldn’t have chosen the one I have—it should be harder for you to accept when those same people say sweeping generalizations about other groups.
Sadly, for all too many people, it’s not. It’s been speculated by all kinds of people over the decades that this is in no small part because they want someone to look down on. Some people can’t be proud of themselves unless they’re better than someone else. And so that’s where we get “jokes” that are really just trading in shameful bigotry. Certain comedians may be hacks, but at least they’re not gay or Asian or—gasp—female. This is where we get Straight Pride Marches and people demanding White History Month and so forth. If we’re not all celebrating how awesome they are, are they really awesome? If people don’t tell them how special they are, are they really special?
It has further been suggested that this is one of the inherent failings in right-wing attempts at comedy. They’re picking easy targets. They’re trying to use comedy to enforce the status quo, and that’s really not what comedy does. Even something as apolitical as many Looney Tunes recognizes that the easiest way to get a laugh is to somehow upend the social order. When you’re using comedy to try to make people fit into your required social order instead, you’re pretty much left with dad jokes and lazy stereotypes—and all other issues aside, that’s just not funny. I mean, dad jokes can be, but pretty much by definition they’re usually not.
All of which is to say that I strongly suspect that a certain comedian who was hired then fired from SNL this week would have been one of those people remembered long after the fact as a weak point in the show anyway, because how funny could he have been? (And before he says again that he was once considered funny enough for SNL, he should remember that so was Joe Piscopo.) I’m also distrustful of anyone who says “chicks aren’t funny” and would even be willing to consider being on a show with such alumni as Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph—and even, when she was on the show, Victoria Jackson. Who also isn’t as funny when she’s being political.