This whole Trevor Noah Twitter fiasco has gotten me thinking. And anything that gets me to do something besides play early-2000s Japanese role playing games or cluster ideas for tragic 60-year-old Midwestern mom characters, deserves further exploration.
So, we all know Trevor Noah is the new Craig Kilbourn. Which, initially, was great news! He's funny, he's actually quite dashing, he's something other than a white male in his 40s, and he's South African which means his accent is amazing. But then, oh no, his Twitter feed was a disaster of bad, dumb and offensive micro-material. Wherrpsies.
Some of the jokes were just lame. Some were genuinely offensive to some degree or another. Should it cost him the Daily Show desk? I don't know.
As comedians, be it in improv or sketch or stand-up or vaudeville, we fail far more than we succeed. And we're in a world where, to gain visibility and to properly "brand" ourselves (a concept that makes me vomit a little in my mouth), we have to engage across social media platforms that require A) lots of random content that can work on B) anyone and everyone and that C) can exist for years, in writing, and still be funny to anyone and everyone.
This is a fuckload of pressure, to deliver perfect material for every single person with an Internet connection, in large quantities, forever.
So instead of bombing on a bad joke in a dank night club somewhere that is immediately forgotten, all of our jokes, essentially, now have the ability to live forever. Or rather, they have to be crafted TO live forever. On Twitter, on Facebook, on YouTube of a cell phone recording of an improv or standup show.
Every comedian has made a joke they regret, especially improvisers who use no preparation and have zero seconds of joke-crafting time. We've all said either slightly or very offensive things at one point or another, in the heat of a scene. The trick is to immediately recognize it, and know not to do it again.
Improv and sketch comedy, even since I began performing in college in 2001, has changed wildly. Some things we said in our college shows probably wouldn't fly today, just as things said last month at any given improv show around Chicago might be already outdated in terms of cultural sensitivity. This isn't a bad thing; we should always be striving to include our audience rather than alienate them. But it's worth noting and knowing that lots of what even the most sensitive comedians do today will, in ten years, be likely considered crude and offensive. That's just how things evolve.
We always live in the delusion that we're the most evolved humans can possibly ever be, but then another years go by and we realize a whole new array of things we didn't realize before, and we look back on our selves from a year ago or five years ago with a bit of disappointment of our own ignorance. We're never there. In 100 years, our great-grandchildren will look at us with the same quaint shame that we look at our great-grandparents generations, and there's really little we can do to escape that.
Since we're perpetually trapped in the present, the best thing we can do is, with as much vigilance and sensitivity as we can, always strive to punch up instead of down. Target the power structures and powerful groups that control our society and lives instead of those without power. And, when we're called out for being offensive, to listen and try our best to understand so that next time, we can be more successful.
Also, there's comfort in knowing some things will always be funny. Farts will always be funny. Making fun of Dick Cheney will always be funny. Dogs wearing bonnets will always be funny (as long as they seem happy wearing them). Designing Women blazers will always be funny (to me). Golden Girls will always be funny. Comedy will always be funny, because it has no choice but to evolve along with the rest of us.
The worst thing, I think, a comedian can do is swim against the current, get angry, and stop. Quitters aren't funny. Unless they quit because they can't stop farting.