Wednesday, October 17, 2018

'Laughter and enjoyment are out, emotional support are in, as Netflix's latest comedy special makes clear...'

From Scott Beauchamp, at AmCon, "Social Justice Warriors Aren't Funny":

“Laughs are cheap. I’m going for gasps.” – Mac in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
There’s an older episode of The Green Room with Paul Provenza when the late Patrice O’Neal, arguably one of the best stand-up comics in recent history, gets serious for a moment, saying: “I love being able to say anything I want. I had to learn how to stop caring about people not laughing. Because the idea of comedy, really, is not everybody should be laughing. It should be about 50 people laughing and 50 people horrified. There should be people who get it and people who don’t get it.”

O’Neal gets right to the chaotic, trickster heart of comedy with that statement. Comedy at its best balances humor against shock–not necessarily vulgarity, mind you, but a sort of unsettling surprise. It’s a topsy-turvy glimpse at an uncanny, upside-down world, which, if the joke lands, provides a bulwark against torpor and complacency. Great comedy inhabits the absurdity of the world. It makes itself into a vantage point from which everything seems delightfully ridiculous, including (often especially) the comedians themselves. We wouldn’t need comedy in a world that wasn’t absurd. Perhaps that’s why Dante only included humor in his Inferno. There is no absurdity in paradise.

Unfortunately, Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, a comedy special recently released on Netflix, only embraces the non-laughter half of O’Neal’s dictum. It’s the very epitome of self-serious, brittle, didactic, SJW “comedy.” It’s not funny. And worse, it’s not meant to be. Gadsby, a queer Australian comedian, uses her “stand-up special” as a way to destroy the very medium she pretends to be professionally engaged in. Her basic argument is that, since comedy is by its very nature self-deprecating (true), people who define themselves as members of an oppressed minority shouldn’t engage in comedy because they’re only participating in the violence already being done to them by society at large.

As Soraya Roberts writes in The Baffler, “[Gadsby’s] performance is not comedy, in fact, but a rejection of comedy­–a medium she boils down to half-truths made up of tension (the set-up) and relief (the punchline), as opposed to the whole truth of storytelling’s beginning, middle and end.” It’s interesting to note here how Gadsby defines comedy down to a vapidly narrow set of very specific and au courant therapeutic concerns. “Laughter is not our medicine,” she actually says at one point in the show. It’s the same predictable posturing we’ve come to expect from mediocre talent riding the wave of SJW self-seriousness, a sort of emotivist mad libs. “Punchlines need trauma because punchlines need tension,” Gadsby harangues the audience. “I will not allow my story to be destroyed.”

The flaws of this sort of SJW anti-comedy are obvious. There’s no shock, no surprise, no wild current of absurd energy charging the room with tension. And so it’s a stretch to even call it comedy in the broadest sense. It’s more like a cross between a TED Talk and a gnostic sermon. But maybe more importantly, if Gadsby’s ideology is taken to its logical extreme, all comedy is verboten, because it would mean either that marginalized people are making fun of themselves (out) or that only non-marginalized people have “access” to “comedic spaces” (definitely out). And so the end game of this specious logic brought to the stage is the self-defeating conclusion that minorities simply don’t do comedy...