Offending Maeve

The Pantheon of female comedians runs from the indomitable Carol Burnett and Phyllis Diller  to the banal but foul Samantha Bee. It used to include Sarah Silverman, but her name can no longer be mentioned. And then there’s Maeve Higgins. “Who,” you ask? You don’t know her name because she’s been canceled, but she would have to matter before anyone would bother to cancel her. And she doesn’t matter, except to the New York Times.

I’ve been doing standup comedy for 14 years, and at some point, I came to despise it. It made me feel bad about myself, mostly. The thing I find hardest is the bullying nature, the punching down. I’ve heard comics onstage mock women and gay people and black people in a variety of ways that still manage to say nothing new. I’ve sat in grimy green rooms and witnessed the ego bloat that comes with applause and money, the rewards that come from maintaining the status quo. It’s gross. But I stay for the rare and magic flashes of connection.

Aside from the advice that after 14 years she might consider getting a barista job, she’s entitled to like and dislike any comedy she wants. As are we all. And she’s entitled to perform any comedy she likes, and if others thought she was funny, someone might recognize her name. But just as other comics don’t write op-eds about how she’s just not much of a comic (although it would be pointless to do so), who is she to damn comics whom people actually find funny because she finds their humor “bullying.” I wonder if Dave Chappelle knows about this?

Sometimes, the funniest thing about comedy is how seriously people take it. I try to avoid the teacup storms that sometimes spill and stain the table around us, but this past week has been messier than usual. A comic named Shane Gillis was hired by “Saturday Night Live,” then fired shortly afterward when footage circulated of him being racist on his podcast, calling Chinese people a racial slur, and when Variety reported that he’d also made anti-gay comments and stereotyped Muslims on his show.

Shane Gillis finally caught the big break and got an SNL gig. Saturday Night Live may not be what it once was, but it’s still a lot better than Maeve performing in her mother’s living room. And then he lost it because of his saying “vile racist” things. Don’t know if he did, or where his words fell on the “vile” scale, although it’s hard to imagine he was up to Lenny Bruce or George Carlin level, and forget about Richard Pryor.

Maeve isn’t wrong to dislike whatever the hell she finds dislikable. If she prefers chocolate ice cream to vanilla, she can eat all the vanilla she pleases. But that’s not enough for the Maeves of this world. It’s not just about her enjoying whatever pedestrian flavor of ice cream she prefers (maple walnut is the best flavor), but about making sure you can’t enjoy the flavor she doesn’t like.

Many of my comedy colleagues are up in arms, at least digitally. They are calling Mr. Gillis’s firing “cancel culture” and worrying about what it means for freedom of speech. I’m laughing.

At least someone is finally laughing in Maeve’s vicinity.

These anxious comedians are worrying about the wrong problem. Here’s where the real silencing happens in the comedy world:So many would-be comics — women, people of color, other marginalized groups — are silenced from the beginnings of their careers. Despite their talent and work ethic, they leave the industry and take their brilliance elsewhere, or perhaps nowhere. Reaching a level in their career where they could even get canceled remains a dream for most.

The qualification for being a successful comedian isn’t one’s skin color or genitalia. The qualification is people finding the comedian funny. No one silenced Eddie Murphy, who leaped from SNL to stardom, because he was funny, and that made people want to see him. Wanda Sykes is funny, as is Margaret Cho. Joan Rivers was funny, but she was Jewish so it doesn’t count.

What they all had in common wasn’t that they met with the approval of some prissy social justice comedian, who laughs not because she said anything funny but at the harm inflicted on another person. Every one of them told whatever joke they chose to tell, and an audience would either laugh or not.

The problem is when Mr. Gillis — and the others like him — frame their words as bold and boundary pushing and brave. What would really be shocking, what would really be exciting and edgy to watch, would be a person climbing down from their safe height and fighting the powerful in a situation where there’s a chance they will lose more than a role on a show.

Was Gillis on top of the mountain, looking down on the little people like Maeve? If social justice comedy was “really” exciting and edgy to watch, Maeve would be on top of the mountain and people would watch her. Then she could fight the powerful and feel so very good about herself.

When anyone disagrees with something a comic says, or there are repercussions for their behavior, the comic too often seems genuinely shocked. Your words have consequences. Imagine! What these men need to learn is that just because you want a job on “Saturday Night Live” doesn’t mean you deserve one.

Gilllis got the SNL gig because they decided he deserved it, not because his comedy met with the approval of the scolds but because somebody decided he was funny. He lost the job because they wanted to hire a comic, not a controversy. There are plenty of comics who need a big break, and it’s easier to cancel Gillis and skirt the snarling mob so the show can go on.

You know who didn’t deserve the gig? Someone nobody thought was funny enough to make the cut, Maeve. Hey, Chelsea Handler’s got a special coming on Netflix, “Hello, privilege. It’s me, Chelsea.” Maybe you can snag a spot getting Chelsea coffee while she explains how privilege has benefited her career. No doubt it will be a hoot.

26 thoughts on “Offending Maeve

  1. Skink

    A Jew, a Mick and a paleoclimatologist walk into a bar. The Jew has a live ferret covered in olive oil in a box, and the bartender says. . .

  2. delurking

    “Joan Rivers was funny, but she was Jewish so it doesn’t count.”

    You know when you land that spot on SNL someone will dig up just this line and get you fired.

    Just about all jokes except puns are funny because of someone’s misfortune. If it is totally OK for people to share a laugh at some white guy’s misfortune that arises because of white guy culture, but not OK for us to share a laugh at some (insert minority here) guy’s misfortune that arises out of (insert minority here) culture, then it gets harder for people from various cultures to understand each other and be friends.

    1. B. McLeod

      Part of the premise of totalitarianism is that everything must be judged solely based on its conformity with the ideology. Clearly, the only permissible comedy skit is one in which Justice Kavanaugh falls in the street, and a bunch of undocumented, black, Muslim, pregnant, LGBTQ Antifa thugs run out to beat him with bats while he is down.

      There is probably a reason why the broadcast entertainment industry has been unable to bring us “the SJW Comedy Channel.”

      1. SHG Post author

        Have you ever considered a bit of subtlety to make your point, just in case you didn’t need to beat it to death, then kick it in the head a few times, then pee on it, to make your point?

        1. SHG Post author

          If you’re a Jew, you do comedy. If you’re black, you dance or sing. If you’re WASP, you form a marching band. What else are they supposed to do?

  3. CLS

    Sadly, Mave’s opinion is pretty common in stand-up comedy.

    The last time I associated with a group of comedians they were discussing what they felt was “hate speech” in the act of a comic working nearby. Applauding each other for their wokeness, the mutual verbal back-slapping continued as they denounced the racist, bigoted funnyman for his hurtful jokes.

    I asked the assemblage if they realized America never recognized speech as “hate speech” legally. Pointed out one guy had an abortion joke in his five minutes, another with a joke some trans people might find offensive, and a third who literally called for the execution of all Evangelical Christian ministers in his act.

    “You do realize you’re silencing the one weapon you have in your arsenal, right? Those things called “words?” was my essential question.

    I got a bunch of mealy-mouthed responses about “punching up” and “finding new angles.”

    Comedians used to be brave souls who spoke truth against the rising tide of idiots, hypocrites and authoritarians. Now they’re just foot soldiers in the wokescolds’ holy war.

    1. SHG Post author

      I couldn’t decide between Amy Shumer and Margaret Cho, so I combined them. Is that bad? (I meant Margaret, but I got the name wrong.)

  4. Tony

    She sorta gave the game away in writing “What these men need to learn…” Is it making comedy a more open and diverse industry for the underprivileged she’s concerned with, or getting rid of all those icky men?

  5. Patrick Maupin

    “The Pantheon of female comedians runs from the indomitable Carol Burnett and Phyllis Diller to the banal but foul Samantha Bee.”

    Oddly, Slate had an entire article a couple of days ago about how “We’re Much, Much Funnier Than We Used to Be.” so your tastes are obviously wrong.

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