This is a letter to all comedians and comedy lovers alike. For the sake of all of it, please read:
I'm not starting this off with a quote that we can all connect with. I'm refusing to make this a kum-bu-ya moment. I am tired. Tired of hearing about comics and audience members alike who are destroying why we all enjoy comedy to begin with. The latest one to come across the wire is Eddie Griffin. When I heard about this latest incident, I cringed because it was yet another comic forgetting that with a mic comes responsibility.
I am a comedian. Most of you have never heard of me. And that is fine. In fact, most of you have literally never heard of me, because I didn't get my start at open mics. I got my start touring the US and performing in front of all Deaf audiences with a sign language interpreter. My mother is Deaf, I have brothers who are Deaf -- I am not Deaf. I don't know if you've ever had the challenge of making "Deaf" jokes in front of a Deaf audience. Or pointing out what is ridiculous about Christian culture in front of a church. Or AA jokes in front of AA meetings. It was not easy, but it is how I got my comedy legs. And throughout it, I learned a powerful lesson, one that is really very simple and is ultimately what separates a comic from a bully with a microphone:
If the person or group I am making jokes about is not laughing, I am doing something wrong.
I'm not talking about people who "can't take a joke," or people who are too sensitive to be in comedy shows. Those people suck. They make life difficult. I am tired of seeing Twitter "@" replies to comedians who are doing their jobs and infusing levity and then some killjoy comes through and takes them seriously. Or worse, they come along and insult the comic, thinking they are funny. I am not talking about these people. These people -- no one needs you to take up arms for. We all know when we see them. They suck. When done correctly, we are amazed at how comics elevate the heckling back to something that makes us laugh again. They will forever continue to be fair game.
I'm talking about most ordinary people who long to be able to laugh at themselves as much as we long to be able to give them that outlet. And there is no one who needs the light of truth that comedy can bring more than people who have been marginalized -- except maybe the people who are doing the marginalizing.
So what do we do? Do we judge our success by how many people are laughing? Or do we judge success by who is laughing? If the person you are making fun of is running for the exit while people are throwing drinks and glasses en masse, then maybe you've forgotten why you are a comic in the first place?
This is not an entry about semantics. If you want to debate how many glasses were thrown and why and when, and who is right or wrong -- that's not what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about what in the hell is happening and getting us back to the heart of it all.
Are comics going to misstep? Yes, absolutely. Are we going to push boundaries and offend in the process? Yes. We should. Comedians absolutely have the right to create, to make mistakes; our very existence depends on creating without fear of offending you.
What we absolutely do not have the right to be is f*cking dictards, claiming to be good at our craft at the same time. Because even a dick is sensitive to outside factors.
So I state:
Comics: There's a difference between us and the bullies, and we know it. Comedy remembers responsibility to something, and most of time that is to a sense of decency, timing, and place.
Audience: Most comics work really hard. Your favorite comic, the one that makes you laugh is probably one that also makes you think. And if you're sitting next to a douche who insists in interrupting the show -- in essence -- being the bully with a microphone, he or she is fair game. "Fair Game" does not mean "unfair game" -- it doesn't mean we get to say and do what we want, racial epithets or rampant homophobic slurs in tow. It simply means we will do what comedy allows us to do: And that is to do what unifies the comedian and the craft and the audience. Comedy exists to silence the bullies, not to be the bully.
I may get rebuttals that I suck and there's no hope for me. Who am I? And shit, maybe there's not a comic in the world that relates to what I'm saying. That's fine. But on the off chance I do know what I'm doing and what I'm talking about: Please to the Lord of all things good and funny, never let me be Eddie Griffin. Give me clarity so that I never have really bad moments like Daniel Tosh and Tracy Morgan and if I do -- let people see the heart behind the comedy is good and kind and represents why we are all there to begin with ... and while I'm praying to the comedy gods, may Tina Fey read this blog entry.