References to political correctness became ubiquitous during the Republican primary race and has spread elsewhere. Recently some well-known comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and Bill Maher complained that they were avoiding college campuses on their tours because colleges had become too ‘politically correct’, and audiences were sometimes booing them for jokes that were considered offensive and thus preventing them from offering up edgy humor. But John K. Wilson writes that rather than the audiences being too thin-skinned, it is these very wealthy comedians who are hypersensitive, thinking that they have a right to not have to experience a negative reaction to their humor.
Unfortunately, some millionaire comedians seem to think that they’re entitled to get laughs with anyone criticizing them. Seinfeld recently told Seth Meyers, “There’s a creepy, PC thing out there that really bothers me.” And then Seinfeld explained the evil PC thing that had bothered him so much while telling a joke about cell phones recently:
“I say, ‘They don’t seem very important, the way you scroll through (your phone) like a gay French king.’ … I did this line recently in front of an audience, and comedy is where you can feel an opinion. And they thought, ‘What do you mean gay? What are you talking about gay? What are you doing? What do you mean?’ And I thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’”
Yes, are you kidding me? Jerry Seinfeld is still doing unfunny “gay men are limp-wristed” jokes in the 21st century? Is he that much of an old hack?
But another comedian Sarah Silverman says that the problem may not be that colleges are too politically correct but that older comedians don’t seem to realize that times have changed and they are trying to cling to old forms of humor that current students don’t find funny.
“To a degree, everyone’s going to be offended by something, so you can’t just decide on your material based on not offending anyone,” she said. “But, I do think it’s important — as a comedian, as a human — to change with the times, to change with new information. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with changing with the times. I think it’s a sign of being old when you are put off by that.”
As an example, Silverman brought up her own issues using the term “gay” as a pejorative years ago.
“I stopped myself and said, ‘What am I fighting? I have become the guy from 50 years ago who said, ‘I say colored, I have colored friends,’” she told senior West Coast editor Krista Smith.
“You have to listen to the college-aged, because they lead the revolution,” Silverman also said. “They’re pretty much always on the right side of history.”
Here’s the clip where the exchange begins at about 2:50 mark.
Silverman is right.
Robert Smigel is the puppeteer who does Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and he too comes to the defense of young people and says that if you listen to them, you will learn how things have changed about what people find funny and what they find offensive and unfunny. The audience knows and to scold them for not laughing at what you think is funny is to quickly make yourself obsolete.
One thing Silverman did complain about performing on college campuses was the ubiquity of cellphone use among college audiences. It spoiled it for performers, especially stand up comedians, that depend upon relating with the audience to see people disengaged. The people using their phones may be texting to someone that the show is great but that is still rude. I know that when I am giving a talk, it is discouraging to see people with their heads down over their phones and it must be a lot worse for comedians who feed off audience responses.
I think as a matter of simple etiquette, people should put away their phones when they are in the company of others who have a rightful expectation that you are there to converse with or listen to them and others. I know that at university meetings, many of the attendees will be looking at their phones while the meeting is going on and people are speaking. And these are often faculty who, oblivious to the disconnect, complain about students being on their phones during their classes.