A number of months ago, some feminist critics expressed exasperation that Issa Rae, creator and star of the award-winning web series, The Adventures of Awkward Black Girl, would tell an ableist, homophobic, and transphobic joke. Sometimes, though, I hear a lot of ugliness come through the mouths of comedians–not the haha kind of ugly, either. I greatly respect Issa Rae as an artist. She makes comedic gold out of the awkward stage of life that we experience in our 20′s. Her series is insightful and relatable. However, she has apparently fallen into the trap of nervously separating from the less-thans. Like many other comedians, she rehashes privilege, as if that is the same thing as telling a joke.
Many comedians fall into this same pattern. Having attended a number of open mics and having listened to some videos of stand up comedians, I have heard a number of insults against women masquerading as jokes. Next, Sarah Silverman has a long rant in “Jesus is Magic” where she throws around racial slurs in a kind of gleeful frenzy. This doesn’t seem funny, it just seems like something pernicious that an evil, drunk frat group would write on a poster and show around campus.
Louis C.K. has managed to navigate privilege pretty well. He has successfully managed a joke about rape and a joke about his relation to minorities. He can do so because at the root of his punchlines lies the understanding that the the status he possesses just for existing as a white man is groundless and ridiculous.
In other words, his punchline is something other than, “Haha, I’m so amazing compared to you!”