Saturday, April 8, 2017

Why feminist comedy just doesn't work

There are a few feminist activists, who try to be comedians. At least one of them even tried to make a series about it (I think it was on Netflix). They all fail spectacularly. They, naturally, attribute it to misogyny, patriarchy, oppression and what not. However, that's not the reason why their "comedy" doesn't work. The actual reasons are several.

For starters, and perhaps most importantly, they don't understand that mockery is not comedy. Mockery might be funny to (a portion of) likeminded people, who might laugh at the targets of the mockery, but to the general public it's just not funny.

If you look at good comedians, there are several essential characteristics, and common traits, to their comedy. For one, it's often self-deprecating; in other words, the comedian is making fun of him or herself. And it's always light-hearted, not overly self-indulgent, whiny or "emo".

A good example of such comedy is a joke by one of the most famous comedians (unfortunately I can't remember exactly who, but might have been the great George Carlin), which goes something along the lines of: "As a kid, when people asked me what I will be when I grow up, and I told them a comedian, they laughed at me. They aren't laughing now."

As a comedian, you should never make fun of your audience, nor in general of any large group of people, even if they aren't your audience. The more this "comedy" is just outright mockery of the audience or a group of people, the less funny it is. Sometimes comedians may make fun of celebrities, but it's always light-hearted, not mean-spirited. It's always something that the target of the joke would laugh at him or herself as well. Likewise if a (good) comedian ever makes fun of a group of people, some particular demographic, it's also likewise light-hearted rather than mean-spirited. Mockery, insults and accusations just aren't good comedy, and is not fun. And these feminist comedians have really hard time understanding this.

Another thing that they do not understand is that political messages, and political activism, doesn't make for good comedy. Making a political statement or a claim about something related to politics or society, even if indirectly, without a punchline or an absurd twist, just isn't a joke. It's not comedy, no matter how much you try to dress it as "humor".

Humor, a joke, is funny when there's an unexpected twist in the punchline that plays with the mental image formed by the setup: First form a rather mundane mental image of something, and then suddenly twist it into something absurd. This sudden change from mundane to absurd is what makes people laugh.

A good example is the cliché old joke that goes something like: "I flew this morning across the Atlantic to get here. Man, are my arms tired!" The joke works because the premise forms a mental image of something mundane and normal, and the punchline then elicits a completely absurd interpretation of it. This sudden juxtaposition of the mundane with the absurd is what makes people laugh.

Even when a good comedian deals with some political topic, a good comedian doesn't take sides, and instead makes a complex topic into humorous banter. For example Chris Rock is a master at this. As an example, in a standup comedy routine he deals with the issue of the "n-word privilege". Rather than take sides, he makes light-hearted fun about how complex the whole thing is.

However, if you are just making a political statement, some kind of factual claim, or just mocking a group of people in a mean-spirited way, this kind of juxtaposition is completely lacking. It doesn't elicit laughter. It's just not fun, even if the "comedian" tries to dress it as if were a joke.

This is why comedy just doesn't work for political activism. It has to be light-hearted and in good taste, it shouldn't be mean-spirited and just outright attack the audience or a group of people, and it most certainly shouldn't be mockery. Also virtue-signaling is never good for a comedian. Light-hearted (but not whiny) self-deprecation works as humor significantly better.

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