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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Humorless Comedians

It is a mystery why completely humorless people insist on working as comedians:

Comedians are always supposed to punch up

; i.e., if you’re going to make fun of people, don’t make fun of people who have less privilege than you do. It’s why LGBTQ comedians can make fun of straight people, why single people can make fun of married people, why women can make fun of men.

People who use the expression “to have less privilege” should not attempt to do comedy because that’s like somebody who weighs 500 pounds doing ballet.

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20 thoughts on “Humorless Comedians

  1. I have three less privilege.

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    • And this is precisely what we are discussing in the other thread: an attempt to impose a vague feeling of guilt on the readers by assuming this petulant and aggrieved tone. I hate such articles.

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      • Yup. Imagine though. My actual historical identity forms the unacknowledged traumatic core of most Westerners — i.e. their fear of being identified as a ‘colonialist’. I’ve had this kind of aggression addressed at me endlessly. It’s even been formalized in the sense of what some take as Critical Theory.

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        • Postcolonialist theory ran into an enormous dead end a couple of decades ago, and it’s still standing there, beating its head against the wall. Latin American studies, for instance, are hopeless because of that. It’s just my personal opinion, of course.

          I know you’ll hate it but I’ve got to say it: you are a total “return of the repressed” for many people. 🙂

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          • “I know you’ll hate it but I’ve got to say it: you are a total “return of the repressed” for many people. :-)”

            To the degree that they torment me, I like to torment them back.

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      • This Jewish prof began a guilt campaign against me at the end of my thesis process and I still don’t really understand why. (I did ask.) But he was going to and hither implying that I’d done something I oughtn’t to have and that my supervisor looked in poor shape and so on. Since he couldn’t communicate any useful content to me, I just made my escape.

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        • What I hate the most are these roundabout, vague hints. Why couldn’t he just tell you directly what the issue was?

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          • I figured he was infantile and lacked the facility for communication.

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          • What I hate the most are these roundabout, vague hints. Why couldn’t he just tell you directly what the issue was?

            He probably did not know himself. Sometimes it takes someone a long time (minutes, hours, days, or even years) to figure out what an issue is, beyond a vague feeling. I have experienced this myself from both sides.

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            • If someone starts to gesticulate wildly, whilst making all sorts of insinuations that are frankly intellectually insulting (and one would struggle to see how they were not intended to be), that shows a lack of self-containment that is nothing but astonishing in an adult.

              Look at it this way, my basic psychological disorder or malfunction was due to my capacity for severe emotional control that was so extreme it entered into the realm of the pathological. Since I have this capacity for control myself, I do not take kindly to those who demonstrate they do not have it. If they are trying to make me lose control so as to exert their dominance, they will find that this does not occur, as losing control is not part of my character structure. Instead I gather my resources and retain control. But the attempt to undermine my since of ethical rectitude and self-justification in the world was not helpful. I had to keep a compass and otolith and know which way was up. If someone implies that all the patriarchal abusers and avengers in my life had been right all along, that is severely undermining. It’s not only undermining to me but undermining to them, since habits of domination can express a terrible insecurity that needs to be redressed.

              In any case, those who act out reveal their lack of wisdom and perception.

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  2. Jones on said:

    “… because that’s like somebody who weighs 500 pounds doing ballet.”

    I’ve seen this in Australia — I can supply pictures if you’d like … 🙂

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  3. Benoni on said:

    I don’t like to excuse racism, sexism, queerphobia, etc. just because they’re delivered in the form of “jokes”.

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  4. Agree with you on privellage being over used as a reason/excuse etc. But the overall point is completely true. I love going to comedy clubs, and you get the biggest laugh when “punching up”. And there is probably good reason for this. Its not that funny to make fun of those who are repressed, especially not in detail.

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  5. Stringer Bell on said:

    “Comedians are always supposed to punch up”

    I’m just going by the headline you posted. Didn’t read the article.

    Having said that, I’m recalling something I read a long time ago about comedy, which I thought was particularly insightful. The primary source of comedy is the sense of relief at seeing the fracturing of the many narratives we arrange to make sense of our existence. So, a fart reveals us to be nothing but disgusting animals. Satire reveals the inconsistency of our beliefs, and so on.

    Conservatives, I think, are just more invested in these narratives. You see this in their politics, and also the way they practice religion (You mean to say I’ll be reunited with people I love after I die and people I don’t like go to a bad, overheated place? AWESOME!). You could even say that they’re the very opposite of funny because they’re so invested in burnishing the very ideas that comedy is trying to demolish, even .

    In that context, I don’t see ‘punching up’ in a Marxist sense of making fun of the privileged/rich/powerful/upper classes, but punching up in the sense of poking holes at dominant and established narratives.

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    • One of the best underrate comedians is Dambudzo Marechera. He’s such an interesting phenomenon in terms of this notion that comedy should serve a political agenda, because the Western leftists (whom I call faux-leftists) do not see his comedy at all. They just feel sorry for him and think he is insane. But he makes fun of his intellectual role in Zimbabwe for instance, by suggesting he is the not to be taken as an enemy of the state, but just the court jester. He begs the big black chief (depicted in colonial terms as a savage) not to hang him upside down in his chicken coop. This is deadly political humor — indeed it may have turned out to be deadly for Marechera. But Western intellectuals are like, “no, no, no, you can’t make fun of a black person, especially Zimbabwe’s new prime minister.” As it turns out, Marechera had prophetic insight in making fun of Mugabe for his repressive politics as far back as 1980.

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