Dear Lindy and the Editors of Jezebel,
Thank you for reading this letter, if you are reading it at all. I am a stand-up comedian, independent filmmaker and freelance journalist, and I've also unsuccessfully run for mayor of my hometown and for U.S. Congress. I just graduated from the Columbia School of Journalism and am a big fan of Jezebel. I've enjoyed reading many of your articles for many years and was even featured on the site as the witness in the Nic vs. Nora Peoples' Court video last year. However, this is not the beginning of a cover letter.
On Monday, while I was sitting at my corporate job waiting on some corporate things, I decided to check into Twitter via my iPhone to pass the time. I don't tweet that often and am not very good at it. I have less than 400 followers. At 29, I guess it's going to be that newfangled thing I never got. I usually just tweet insults at soccer players who no one cares about. But on this day I was in a tweety mood and retweeted several news stories: one about the secretive new abortion law in Ohio, one from Sen. Bernie Sanders' on student loan rates, and one to Michael Hastings' widow sending her my best wishes.
Then I saw a retweet from writer and former comedian Molly Knefel, from your writer, Lindy West. Lindy had just revealed that Kurt Metzger, a New York City comedian who has been a vocal critic of vocal critics of misogyny in comedy -- like West herself, who does a heckuva job -- had admitted on Facebook that he once choked an old girlfriend in rage. It's pretty weird, but as Metzger has been one of the loudest and weirdest defendants of free speech in comedy -- rape and everything else -- it's normal Facebook fare. In fact, talking about choking an old girlfriend is not the most messed up thing Kurt's talked about on Facebook. For me, this wasn't a scoop at all. But West felt this was huge news. It proved to her that Metzger had abused women. West even tweeted a screenshot someone took of the comment on Facebook. She is very good at tweeting!
Of course, as much as I respect Kurt as a comedian, this was a disappointing thing to learn about him. But I also didn't see why anyone should care years later, especially in this age of NSA leaks and whistleblowers, so I replied to West's tweet with a tweet that tweeted: "Who cares? I don't condone it but why would someone start smashing @kurtmetzger's things? What should he do? #wewerentthere." Of course, let me reiterate again that I am not very good at Twitter. Right off the bat, the point I wanted to make was, "What should [Kurt] do... now?" i.e., "Does this prove a point now? Is it important?" It doesn't seem that what Kurt admits to on his wall is very imperative right now. I felt good about my tweet, got back to my corporate work and expected to hear nothing of it.
Boy was I wrong.
About 3:30 p.m. in the afternoon my iPhone starts going Twitter crazy like never before. Tweet after retweet poured in about how I am a horrible person who doesn't understand women's issues, that I'm defending domestic violence, etc. etc. Whoa, nelly!
Lindy West had retweeted my tweet. Not only that, but she pointed me out as part of "a culture of young men who don't understand what it means to take [misogyny] seriously." Oh boy. Apparently I'd fucked with a pro, and by "a pro" I mean a person who sits on a phone or a computer or something all day and just tweets FOR A LIVING. Yikes! As I began to reply to all the nasty tweets coming in, I realized Lindy West was trying to make me pay with all 29,000+ of her mighty Twitter followers. By the end of the day, I had been called a douche, my mom had been insulted, one of my favorite fellow comedians, W. Kamau Bell, had gotten involved, and even West herself referred to me as a "little baby," telling me to "grow up" like I was the problem. Perhaps I should have thought more thoroughly about tweeting such careless Twitter fodder to a journalist who prides herself on tweet fights and begins articles with "Oh my GOD, you guys. Oh my God."
And here is my problem with Twitter, even though I totally gained at least five new followers from all this.
Several people on Twitter told me, without knowing who I am or what I've done with my life, that I hated women and was defending the abuse of them. People who don't know me, don't know that I've campaigned and donated money for women's rights, that I've had to physically keep a man from hitting a woman before, that I've had to call the cops on domestic violence. They don't know how much I respect women, my mom and sister most of all, or that I'm a shy, awkward dude who has had at least four women break his heart and it doesn't make me resent them, it just makes me love them even more.
And this doesn't even cover my own opinion as a comedian about misogyny in comedy that everyone, including West, seems to be weighing in on. I've never posted about it on social media, but now I should make my own opinion known, especially since I have more than 140 characters to do so. I do not make rape jokes and I do not think rape is funny. There. BUT it does still happen in real life outside of comedy clubs in places where there is no laughter even though we don't need to joke about it. Look, I still remember the rape joke I heard that first made me hate rape jokes forever: "I said to the girl, look, if you didn't want to be raped then you shouldn't have left your window open!" Boom. Lindy, I watched that joke kill in Ohio with many different audiences for many years. I never wanted to joke about rape because of it and never have. Does this mean I can go tell other comedians what jokes they can say? No. Does this mean I laugh at rape jokes when I hear them? Nope. Will I hear a rape joke some day that might make me laugh? Yes, probably, Lindy, because that's what comedy is: it takes horrible subjects like rape, murder, and the Holocaust and makes them funny. It is the point of comedy's existence -- to get an honest reaction of laughter from fellow humans no matter how grim the subject matter.
Lindy, you're a better journalist than just blasting what's on Kurt Metzger's Facebook wall, even though he's prime for trolling. But he's not news. None of us is, we're just comics making jokes. Not all of them will be funny or appropriate all the time. I support you in your fight against domestic violence, the abuse of women and misogyny, but your fight to ban horrible things from comedy is fruitless. You're chasing a paper airplane around the room -- not on misogyny and women's rights in general, of course, but you need to stop caring so much about what these guys say on stage. Stop tweeting about it like it's news and the source of the problem. I believe you are capable of more than that, and you should be exposing and stopping abuse in other parts of the world besides comedy clubs and Twitter.
So I know I just wrote 8 trillion fucking words about it, but here's my offer to you. How about you stop yelling at people on Twitter for a day and we go raise money for women's charity? Or we go volunteer at a shelter? As your Twitter handle is @TheLindyWest and mine is @TheTravisIrvine, I'm sure we'll be @TheBestProWomenVolunteersEver!
Travis M.* Irvine
*The M is not for misogynistic
Follow Travis Irvine on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheTravisIrvine