Tag Archives: Feminism

Comedy Weeds

Comedy Weeds

I’ve been thinking three things about comedy lately:

1) How much I love it.
2) How angry and outraged comedy is making people.
3) I’m not going to list a third thing, because comedy is all about breaking rules.

Up to a point, it’s natural that comedy challenges and upsets people, but I like to think about how and why.

Partially because it makes me feel better about all the money I spent on my liberal arts degree. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Visual Art, Rhetoric, and Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature. Yes, a BS triple major. It’s an ALMOST useless liberal arts degree.

The one class that has been endlessly valuable to me was a class about comedy theory. A class about analyzing the function and purpose of jokes.

I think about that class every day of my life.

Almost all theories of comedy boil down to this: comedy functions on contrast. We break into laughter when two ideas are smashed together in surprising and satisfying ways. Humans are hard-wired to laugh at incongruity. If you doubt this, go tell a child the sound a duck makes is “moo.” The child will laugh and/or get really mad and hit you with a toy truck.

Every joke has a set-up and a punchline; an expectation and a surprise. Obviously, you can’t just throw two contrasting things together for the hell of it. That’s when you end up with tweets like this:

Citizen Kane and Peanut Butter. #PutTwoThingsTogether

The success of a joke is in the clarity of the set-up and the surprise of the punch-line.

Sometimes, the set-up is an actual line.

Set-up: Why did the chicken cross the road?
Punchline: To get to the other side.

When this joke was new, it killed. The expectation for an elaborate, clever response was set-up and then broken by a simple, obvious response.

A lot of modern technology cracks unwitting set-up and knockdown jokes. For example:

Me: Hey, Google Maps, how should I get to Chipotle from here?
Google Maps: Drive your car into the Pacific Ocean, Joseph.

But a lot of what makes us laugh doesn’t have a literal set-up line. The set-up line is just a “truth” we’ve culturally agreed on.

Back when we culturally agreed that men do not wear dresses, a man wearing a dress was hilarious. Now, not so much. As a joke, it’s tired and expected. As a cultural truth, many of us believe traditional gender norms are changing. Anyone can wear a dress and if you don’t like it you can go drive your car into the Pacific Ocean.

A lot of our humor is getting weirder. Strange cultural truths are being challenged. For example, our long held belief that handsome, charismatic leading men don’t look like otters. But as Benedict Cumberbatch and Tumblr proved, holy shit, that expectation can be broken. And it’s very satisfying.

BenedictOtter

We laugh when we see someone slip and fall on a patch of ice because the sight of another person flailing their limbs in a desperate attempt to stay upright shatters our innate idea of humans as advanced, intelligent beings.

Set-up: I am a dignified, respectable human in control of my body.
Punchline: Ha, ha, motherfucker, you just broke your coccyx.

Comedy, by its nature, is violent. It’s all about breaking, shattering, falling, killing, and driving into the Pacific Ocean.

But just because it’s inherently violent, doesn’t mean it has to be offensive.

I think a lot of outrage about comedy is because of the targets comedians pick. A lot of jokes still function on the agreed upon cultural “truths” that women are whiney or gay people are always flamboyant or all straight men only listen to women talk so they can “hit that puss.” (That last one is an actual joke I heard an actual comedian say out loud on purpose in 2015.)

Sometimes the audience is offended, but often the joke just isn’t funny to a lot of people because we don’t share that truth anymore. The set-up makes no sense so why would we be entertained by the punchline?

People talk about don’t punch down, instead punch up. Which makes sense to me. Don’t make fun of poor people. Instead make fun of the giant asshole corporations that are keeping them poor.

I think that’s a great starting point.

But even if you pick a worthy target for your comedy, it’s still an aggressive violent pursuit. It’s still punching.

If all you want to do with your comedy is punch, that’s great! There are plenty of weeds that need to be pulled out of our cultural garden. If the violent action of tearing a living thing out of the ground can create the positive, healthy reaction of laughter, then we’re already doing well.

Comedy is always destructive. It always will be. It’s always going to rip the weeds out of the garden. But I’m trying to think of clearing the weeds as just the first step. Since we’re tearing shit out anyway, maybe we can plant something new.

A new idea.

A new truth.

A new way for the chicken to cross the road that no one has ever thought of before.

A joke so powerful, it can pay off all of my student loans at once.

I can dream.

Thanks again for reading! If you enjoyed this, you can help make more comedy possible by supporting me on Patreon here!

3 Comments

Filed under Comedy Real Life

Beer, Burgers, and The Future

Beer Burgers and the Future

To me, the Super Bowl commercials are like a cultural state of the union.

My initial reaction to the picture painted of modern America this year was: We are afraid of death and we want to fuck our cars.

I think the subtextual messages of the commercials are important because I think those ideas are more lasting than the actual commercial message. For many of the spots, if you happen to look away at literally the last two seconds of the commercial you will have NO IDEA WHAT WAS BEING ADVERTISED.

You’ll just be awash in a montage of the Grand Canyon, beer, small children, breasts, puppies, Liam Neeson, expensive cars being driven by the ghost of your disappointed father, and if you’re me, a sudden desire to move to Canada.

One theme I was affected by was the desire for kindness and human connection.

Coke’s ad featured a plot of strange soda-based cyber terrorism in which some sugar water infects the internet and instead of corroding the enamel from our teeth through wi-fi signals, Coke sends messages of kindness.

McDonald’s ad showed customers paying for their breakfast burritos with hugs which is apparently a real campaign. I applaud the sentiment, but I’m terrified by the reality. I don’t eat at McDonald’s but if I did I would want a six piece chicken McNugget with honey mustard sauce and a huge helping of emotional distance.

Still, it was an interesting trend. A reflection of forward movement. Coke and McDonald’s, two of the largest corporations in the world, paid millions of dollars to air what was basically a CRY FOR HELP.

We are longing for more human connection and I’m going to do my best to help with that by sitting alone in my home and tweeting about it.

Anyway, the commercials that affected me the most were two commercials that advanced stupid, outdated gender ideas: Carl’s, Jr’s ad for burgers and objectification and Budweiser’s attack on craft beer and the educated wimps who drink it.

The two commercials resonated for me because of our current cultural discussions about feminism. Particularly, the idea that knocking down old, horrible stereotypes about women is also beneficial to men because in the process we’ll also dismantle old, horrible stereotypes about men, too.

The  Carl’s, Jr. spot was the most offensive ad to me.

HERE’S WHERE I DON’T LINK TO IT BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO GIVE THEM VIEWS.

Basically, a busty woman in a bikini walks around being gawked at by men. You know, to make you want to fuck eat a cheeseburger. In one shot, a tomato is in the foreground to look like it is the woman’s butt. A hand reaches in and squeezes the tomato. In other words, a woman’s body is the same as a tomato–it is something to be evaluated and consumed.

I grew up with these kinds of images and ideas being the norm. I always understood intellectually they were trying to use natural attraction to the human body to sell stuff, but I’ve come to realize it’s so much more insidious than that. Thanks to shitty, sexist campaigns like that, I grew up with the constant message that I, as a man, should treat women like they were a product and if I did not, I was somehow not a man.

More on my lack of manliness, in a moment!

I think it’s important to say these kinds of messages of objectification are not okay. So, the commercial’s message of evaluation and consumption has worked on me. I’ve evaluated my thoughts and I will never consume anything at Carl’s Jr. When I drive by McDonald’s, I will think of a weird, desperate attempt to get me to call my father. When I drive by Carl’s, Jr. I’ll just think, “Hey, fuck you, Carl’s, Jr.”

AND NOW, IN ALL CAPS, MY MANLINESS.

There’s been a lot of excellent dissection of Budweiser’s anti-craft beer commercial.

ALSO NOT LINKED TO HERE.

The ad was very new in its confrontation of the divide between craft beer and traditional “sad dad juice in a bottle” beers like Budweiser. But that ad kicked it old school when it comes to reinforcing stupid gender stereotypes about masculinity.

The ad portrayed people who enjoy craft beer as wimps. According to the words and images in the commercial, here are things that sissy craft beer men do: They fuss, they sip, they dissect, they drink fruity peach beers, they wear glasses, and sometimes they tweet a nice thing to a male friend and don’t even hashtag it #NoHomo.

Okay, that last thing wasn’t in the ad.

Here are the words and images associated with real men who drink Budweiser: Hard, wood, axes, horses, tradition, strong forearms, big pounding horses, throwing a beer to your friend who does not wear glasses and is able to catch the beer without flinching, did I mention horses? Horses being driven by men of authority wearing uniforms?

Seriously, if Budweiser loves horses this much they should just start sponsoring every off-broadway production of Equus.

This commercial, like many other commercials I grew up with, felt like it was mansplaining how I should be a man. The only women seen in this commercial are serving Budweiser, the KING of beers, to men. So not only are the signifiers of HARD, OLD, AXE-WIELDING, FOREARM MUSCLES what I’m supposed to be as a man, they are implicitly not gender neutral attributes.

As much as I reject the casual objectification of women by Carl’s, Jr. I reject the hard-pounding assertion that I am not a man if I don’t drink low ABV canned beer that makes me daydream about riding a big, angry horse.

I grew up letting things like stupid fucking beer and burger commercials tell me what it is to be a man. They are not just commercials. They are reflections of societal norms broadcast to millions of people. Thanks Carl’s Jr. and Budweiser, but I think I’ll decide for myself what makes me a man.

Sometimes, I fuss. Sometimes, I make fast, reckless decisions. Sometimes, I sip. Sometimes, I chug. My forearms are weak and my favorite horse is Rainbow Dash from My Little Pony. I like action movies where Liam Neeson punches ambiguously Eastern-European men and I do push-ups every morning. My weak forearms ache as I type this.

But NONE of these things are gender-specific. Here’s the most important thing about being a man to me right now: I don’t give a damn what it means to be a man. I just want to figure out what attributes matter to being a good human being. The kind of human being who reaches out in friendship and compassion without Coke taking over the internet.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go meet a friend for drinks and pound some Belgian witbier. I have a lot of female friends who can put away craft beer like nobody’s business, so tonight I’ll be drinking #LikeAGirl.

POUNDINGLY,
Joseph

P.S. There was also an ad for Scientology–a massive, well financed, secretive religious organization–that wants you to think for yourself. Thanks, Scientology, I think I will!

If you enjoy my work, you can check out all the comedy words and things I’m making via Patreon.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Comedy Real Life