On similar note, I want to say something about “jokes” that are offensive. A lot of everyday racism gets a pass under the guise of being “comedy,” but that doesn’t make it any more okay. Sure, I get that things like satire and self-deprecation can work wonders to ease the pain of everyday racism, but those things can only be used by the victims of racism, or marginalized groups.
I’ve already written about comedy before, but let me take this opportunity to say a bit more about the dangers of problematic ideas passing as “jokes.” once I sat through a painfully awkward and kind of terrible comedy show. My former neighbour – a comedian pretty active in the Montreal circles – invited me and friends to what can be called a “rehearsal” between him and his friends before they got onstage for bigger festivals like Just for Laughs. Since the show was free and I had nothing else to do, I happily said yes and brought some friends along.
But what I saw that night wasn’t comedy; it was just a bunch of misogynist slurs from an obviously broken-hearted man about women being “crazy,” then some healthy racism thrown in to make it even better.
One of “comedians” (a white man, of course, but thankfully not my neighbour) made a very problematic slur about Asians. I was sitting in the front row in the very small and intimate pub (there were maybe about 10-15 people in the audience), and I showed very obviously that I found the joke neither funny nor amusing. After the disaster of a show, he asked me outside: “hey, did you find that joke okay?” – of course, because I was one of the few Asian members in the audience (I think it was just me and my friend Marc who could be identified as Asian in the audience) which made me an expert on All Matters Asian. I told him no, it was not okay, and that it’s racist. To my comment, he responded: “well, it’s just something we used to say in the 90s, you know?” The 90s! Like that makes it okay!
It was an example of how a lot of mainstream “comedy” is just insecure white heterosexual masculinity venting against the “other” supposedly emasculating forces.
To the “calm down, it’s just a joke, can’t you laugh at anything?” camp: I do appreciate comedy that can be smart and insightful. Comedy can be a powerful tool that exposes the contradictions of society – which is what I get from watching people like Margaret Cho and Paul Mooney. But as I said before, these are people of colour who examine the absurdity of racial stereotypes (and sexual ones, for Cho) and make us confront them too. That being said, I am aware that such comedy may lose its delicacy and complexity when facing a younger audience. For example, my 16-year-old brother, who watched endless amounts of The Chappelle Show, just thinks black people are crazy crack heads as he continues his sheltered existence in a mainly white suburb.
I can’t seem to write a pithy conclusion after all these diversions – so I will summarize my scattered post in three short points:
a) We should absolutely take any “jokes” that perpetuate violence/racism/misogyny/homophobia/transphobia seriously because they affect how we perceive the “norm” – in many cases, white heteronormative patriarchy.
b) Good comedy that’s smart and does not put down one group of people for cheap laughs DOES exist, though they may lose their “goodness” when received by different people.
c) Please report the Facebook Page and spread the word.