A reader writes:
I am a comic who, until I got a TV writing job a year ago, made most of my income touring colleges. It’s not as black and white as Chris Rock’s interview suggests. Different types of schools have different crowds, just as clubs in every city differ. Engineering schools have better crowds than even the best clubs. They’re intelligent and earnest. Jesuit schools are great too. Major public universities are like club audiences, but younger. They’re a little bit of everything.
Then you have the worst two: liberal arts colleges and Christian schools. The two political extremes are the worst. But they’re horrible in different ways.
Liberal arts schools are exactly as Rock describes. Christian schools aren’t bothered by political correctness. They just want their comedy to be “nice.” They get uncomfortable when you’re dark. Who wants nice comedy?
My trick for these schools is a “fuck these people” approach. I just do everything I know they won’t like. When they get uncomfortable, I let them know that they’re wrong. At first, they don’t like that. Usually, after 2-3 times of calling them out for being awful, they loosen up, realize no one is getting hurt, and enjoy the rest of the show. The worst thing you can do is pander to them. You have to confront their uptightness. Usually they change. Sometimes the Christian schools never come around, but the liberal arts schools almost always do.
The bookers at these schools are the real problem, much more so than the general student body. Check out this email my comic friend just got from Swarthmore:
I thought I would be the first to take a crack at explaining uptight Swatties to you…
Something I like about Hari Kondabolu is he distinguishes between offensive and hurtful — so, jokes can be offensive or crude, without being hurtful. Things that are hurtful: rape, racism… We can talk about whether funny rape jokes are possible (personally, I think Louis CK pulls it off, because his jokes are about rape culture, instead of the “haha she was raped”). Jokes about race are funny, but I would recommend against relying on racial stereotypes, and I think Swatties would like it better if a racist was the butt of a joke instead of a victim of racism. I also would stay away from things like acting “retarded” or making fun of disabled people for being different. Sorry, I’m not trying to be the PC police here!!
Swatties would laugh if you made a joke about them being uptight/righteous/liberal/whatever, and they would laugh at jokes about how frequently we say “problematic” and “heteronormative”. Swatties are overly intellectual, geeky, and socially awkward. Although we do have significant number of student athletes, religious students, and sorority/fraternity members, they are made fun of more here than you might see elsewhere. We never get enough sleep, study too much, watch too much Netflix, and frequently complain about our dining hall… Typical college kid stuff.
Relevant to the night you are performing: we never have successful Friday night parties (because homework..?). I think a lot of people will come out to this, though, since we never have this kind of campus event, and non-party-Friday-night-things usually go well.
I want you to have the best show you can, so I am just sharing my thoughts on how to keep the crowd with you.
I told him to do whatever he would do if he didn’t get that email. If people don’t like him, fuck them. He did that and had a great set. Sometimes I think young people on the left only want to be uptight and sometimes forget and have fun for a few minutes.
Thanks for covering this subject.
Another continues to:
Regarding humor and political correctness, Paul Cantor, the University of Virginia Shakespeare scholar, wrote a wonderful essay titled, “Cartman Shrugged“, which explores the transgressive humor of South Park. The genius of Parker and Stone is that they are left to defend freedom from the encroachments of both right and left. Both sides have their own versions of political correctness, or cant or pieties. And both need to be skewered, relentlessly, to protect everyone else’s freedom:
This is where libertarianism enters the picture in South Park. The show criticizes political correctness in the name of freedom. That is why Parker and Stone can proclaim themselves equal opportunity satirists: they make fun of the old pieties as well as the new, ridiculing both the right and the left insofar as both seek to restrict freedom.
“Cripple Fight” is an excellent example of the balance and evenhandedness of South Park… The episode deals in typical South Park fashion with a contemporary controversy, one that has even made it into the courts: whether homosexuals should be allowed to lead Boy Scout troops. The episode makes fun of the old-fashioned types in the town who insist on denying a troop leadership to Big Gay Al (a recurrent character whose name says it all). As it frequently does with the groups it satirizes, South Park, even as it stereotypes homosexuals, displays sympathy for them and their right to live their lives as they see fit.
But just as the episode seems to be simply taking the side of those who condemn the Boy Scouts for homophobia, it swerves in an unexpected direction. Standing up for the principle of freedom of association, Big Gay Al himself defends the right of the Boy Scouts to exclude homosexuals. An organization should be able to set up its own rules, and the law should not impose society’s notions of political correctness on a private group.
This episode represents South Park at its best—looking at a complicated issue from both sides and coming up with a judicious resolution of the issue. And the principle on which the issue is resolved is freedom. As the episode shows, Big Gay Al should be free to be homosexual, but the Boy Scouts should also be free as an organization to make their own rules and exclude him from a leadership post if they so desire.
This libertarianism makes South Park offensive to the politically correct, for, if applied consistently, it would dismantle the whole apparatus of speech control and thought manipulation that do-gooders have tried to construct to protect their favored minorities.