Wrong

20 Oct

New York is a haven for liberal beliefs and progressive politics. That’s saying nothing new. Despite this, though, in the last couple of months I’ve witnessed two separate incidents at open mikes where two different guys went up on stage and said the dumbest, most artlessly inflammatory and insensitive things possible under the guise of “comedy.” Both of them went up before it was my turn to perform, and both made me feel provoked enough that I had to respond. Conveniently enough, though, both comedians left before I got up, denying me a direct confrontation. I’m going to share those incidents here so you can decide whether my righteous indignation was, indeed, righteous, or if I’m just trying to play comedy PC police.

First time was at Broadway Comedy Club a month or so back. The Slut Walk had just happened. For those who don’t want to click the link, the Slut Walk is a series of protests where women dressed in various scanty garments march with the basic argument that, no matter how “slutty” they’re dressed, there’s no excuse for sexual assault, and that saying it’s a woman’s fault for getting raped because she dressed a certain way is victim-blaming and making excuses for criminals.

So this comedian gets on stage and begins to completely miss the point of the protest, bashing it, asking, “What’s wrong with just covering up more if they’re so worried about rape?” There was no punchline, just him shrugging and saying what was tantamount to “Guys are just going to rape, why can’t women deal with that?” and expecting the guys in the audience to be like “Yeah, brother, preach!”

I had to grab onto the edge of my seat to not shout something out at him while he was on stage. I wanted to still respect his right to have his seven minutes that he paid for. When it was my turn, I decided whatever material I wanted to work on was not as important as me just expressing how fucking mad he made me, even if he had left. My response was to try and phrase victim-blaming in terms that everyone can relate to, because not everyone can see it from the woman’s point of view, so I put it in terms of something everyone likes: pizza.

What do pizzerias like to do with their pizza? They like the show it off. They put it right there in front of you, showing you how hot and bubbly the cheese is, how savory and greasy the pieces of pepperoni and and sausage are, just dripping with flavor, and they even go far as to say “Come to our restaurant and eat our pizza!” They actually ARE asking for it!

However, if I steal that pizza and eat it without paying for it, it’s still a crime. If I told the cops “They should have covered that pizza up! It needs to be wrapped in tinfoil so I’m not tempted by its deliciousness to steal it and force it into my mouth!” they would STILL throw me in jail because there’s no such thing as slut-shaming a pizza.

Second incident was at the Creek and the Cave. A comedian goes on stage and starts by saying “Transexuals make me mad!” Now, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and think he was going to go into a story about how some transexual was mean to him, but no, he just proceeded to talk about how a woman who “pretends” to be a man (he used the word “pretend” a lot in reference ot people’s sexual identity) is “wrong,” and “You have to have a penis to be a man, am I right?” Once again, a guy asking the audience to be a part of his shitty intolerance, with no actual comedy behind it. Luckily, the audience gave him no such support, only silence. Near the end of his rant (I’m not going to dignify it by calling it a “set” or “material”), people began to laugh, but Alex interpreted it as them laughing at HIM, not his jokes, which I hope was the case.

This time it hit me more personally, because I have friends who are transsexuals, both MTF and FTM. People I value and respect. And this guy went on stage and dehumanized them. I felt hurt, and I felt sickened, so much so that when I got on stage, I fucked up my own material and bombed because I was so incensed I was in no condition to perform. Everything I said came from a place of anger, so much so that even my pre-written jokes just sounded mad.

My response to him (again, after he left), was that since he seems to view women as only useful to him if they have sex with men, transsexuals shouldn’t bother him so much, because if a woman wants to identify as a man, even if you forced her to physically remain female, she still wouldn’t want to fuck you! So why let there be one more useless woman walking the world frustrating your desires when you can have another man who you can vent all your petty grievances about women to?

This comedian was Black, by the way. I am always struck by the irony of one marginalized group attacking another. What I REALLY wanted to say, but didn’t, because he was gone and I didn’t want to offend any people who wouldn’t get the context, was “Don’t you hate it when Blacks try to pretend like they’re PEOPLE? …Yeah, you’re fucking angry that I said that, aren’t you? Well, that’s how a trans person would have felt hearing your shitty ‘joke.'”

As Alex put it, “That guy has probably seen way too many trannies and gotten boners, so now he’s angry about it.”

I felt kind of shaken and distressed after I was done. I was even angrier then because not only did a guy go up on stage and be stupid, but he was so stupid that it negatively affected my ability to do comedy. He was aggressively stupid so much that it DAMAGED me.

Now, what I think keeps these instances from me just being the PC police was that I was totally willing to hear them out if there was an actual JOKE behind it. I am totally willing to admit that something is funny, even if I disagree with the principle behind it. Greg Proops would say that willingness is called “sophistication.” But in both cases there was no attempt to actually spin it into something interesting or clever. They both subscribed to the idea that simply by virtue of standing on a stage in a comedy venue, whatever they said instantly became comedy. The hoped that just saying “bitches be tripping, am I RIGHT?” would elicit laughter from those sympathetic to the phony plight of the victimized man.

That, also, made me even angrier: the implicit expectation both “comedians” had that everyone in the audience agreed with them. Beyond the fact that no, I don’t agree with them and I don’t think they’re right, I look at it this way: It’s one thing for a comic to say something politically incorrect and to present it honestly as “This is my point of view. I know it’s different from yours. Let me show you why I think that way.” One the other hand, to be say, “We ALL think that way, right?” is just saying “I’m going to say something ugly because I feel safe saying it.” It’s the equivalent of looking from side to side to see if any black people are around before you say the n-word. It’s cowardly. Just like leaving before anybody can answer you back.

I say to the perpetrators: You are what’s wrong with stand-up comedy. You are the reason it’s so hard to get people to come to shows people are giving away for free, because the main stream idea of what stand-up comedy is looks a lot like you. Get someone not involved in the comedy community and say “stand-up comedy” and they think of some asshole in front of a brick wall telling you to go fuck your mother, because there are too many people who just try and say ugly, base, dumb things with the hope of commiserating with an audience of equally ugly, base, dumb people, with no attempt to explore the thoughts behind what they say or engage in any kind of thought process at all. I once told a friend of mine in college that I was a comic, and she said “The very idea of stand-up comedy is to be offensive, right?”

The shitty thing is that there’s nothing I can really do about it. To lecture other comedians on how to use their talent to heal and not to hurt is pretentious at best and censorship at worst. But it boils down to this: If I’m able to spend so much time in my own head analyzing my words and actions trying to be self-aware and sensitive, how is it that other people don’t have this same impulse and can gleefully go through life being boors? I don’t get it.

But I can just keep saying what I say on stage, and hope that perhaps my ideas will have as far and deep a reach as the destructive, hurtful ones. I’ve actually incorporated references to these incidents in my act, and have gotten compliments from other comics (just women so far) saying it’s neat to see a man talking about sexism and feminism on stage. People see me and realize that some men can actually be allies instead of enemies. So, I have, at the very least, accomplished that mission, and like with any other bit of pain in my life, comedy will be my path to catharsis.

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2 Responses to “Wrong”

  1. Rebecca 10/27/2011 at 12:56 pm #

    Hey Angel, it’s Rebecca (from Amarna, lo those many years ago). I know I never really comment on your stuff on Facebook but I do tend to read it, partly because I like knowing what’s up with old friends (after all, what is Facebook for?) and because you tend to be funny. But I saw this today and just wanted to say that you are absolutely right. There’s a difference between offensive jokes (which describes many of yours!) and offensive comments. It’s got nothing to do with censorship nor being PC, it’s just straight-out hurtful. You do it right – often offensive, but funny, and done with awareness. And what you’ve said here really makes me wish I were about 3000 miles closer and could come listen to/support you doing stand-up sometime. Hope all’s well with you. – Rebecca

    • angelmcastillo 10/27/2011 at 1:02 pm #

      Thanks for reading! I appreciate the compliments and the support. I hope everything’s going well in England!

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