By: Warren Wright
I work at a bar that has a comedy open mic. An open-micer myself, I really enjoy the work environment and look forward to the nights I get to work on open mic night because I get to see comedy. I’ve even done a couple of sets on the job. I’ve always appreciated the community at the heart of an open mic, both the people going up and the people goodly enough to put it on. It’s great to see audience members come out to them and them walk away glad they did. They’re a good time. I’m not ashamed to admit that doing open mics are often the high point of my entire week. It just bugs the shit out of me when people get the clever idea to foul the whole establishment with god-awful jokes about rape, or by referring to women as “bitches”, or whatever travesty inflicted upon those unfortunate enough to be in the proximity during that comic’s set. (The worst I’ve seen was a dude do a joke about the Boston Marathon bombings and the Sandy Hook shooting).
Oddly enough, those jokes don’t go over well. Nor do they strike me as being very intelligently thought out. Those jokes seem to serve no purpose other than making a group of strangers in a bar uncomfortable. I never understood why a person would consciously decide to spew such repugnant garbage into a microphone. I could only imagine if it comes from a place of sadism or just plain stupidity. It scared me to imagine if somehow they were simply honestly and sincerely trying to be funny. I regard that theory as being the least likely.
A joke, traditionally, is told with the intent of getting laughs. Hence the “Comedy” part of the phrase, “stand-up comedy.” The only measure of a good bit, be it a one-liner or a rant, is the audience’s response. Most comics understand that laughter, specifically, is their ultimate goal. After all, making the audience laugh every 5-15 seconds is our job. Any pro in Houston or the world over understands that and makes a living doing so. When you’re watching a comedian play their role successfully, it’s because of a certain creativity and the effort put into turning funny ideas into funny bits. With the objective killing and dying in comedy; and the expectations placed on us, it’s not an easy task. (At least to me). When a joke about necrophilia instead yields groans, it’s because it’s shit. It seems the reason this kind of anti-humor exists is because some people in all walks of life don’t realize the simple concept that is, You can’t say whatever you want. Be funny or get out of our way.
A drunk dude offstage at a bar telling a street joke about the holocaust will seldom get laughs. I remember kids in middle school having arsenals of dead baby jokes. Even then, having the mind of a 14 year old, I found them pretty fucking obnoxious. There’s a reason that those jokes fail. No matter how vehemently you demand the freedom to “speak your mind”, people get offended by things regardless. Todd Akin uses the word “legitimate rape” in a sentence and then John Stewart makes fun of him. Anytime you speak, you speak at the jeopardy of people being put off by your words. Even more so if you’re telling jokes at a comedy club, or you’re appearing as a guest on Fox and Friends. Society has standards. Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequence.
What bothers me most about comics with such flagrant disregard is the how they violate the venue itself. Not only is a comic being a dickhead onstage going to damage his own relations with the crowd, but the crowd will have damaged perceptions of where they were when the saw this. I highly doubt Letterman would ever mention someone’s knack for rape jokes as he intro’s someone on national television. People bitch and moan about “political correctness gone mad”, but so-called “political correctness” is really just the practice of verbal self-preservation. People who firmly believe that they are “artists” and therefore should have carte blanche are missing the point. The whole thing is bigger than them. The impact of the rape comic ripples throughout the entire comedy scene. The rape comic on Monday isn’t going to make people wanna come to the Saturday night show. If only that asshole went with the airplane food material.