Hamil with Care

Comedy Tips for Joseph Backholm

Dear Joseph Backholm,

I noticed that you’ve decided to try your hand at comedy and as a fellow comedian I think I can help. I won’t take up too much of your time because I know you’re a busy man—you went from losing the fight against gay marriage as chairman of Preserve Marriage Washington to heading up this year’s “bathroom privacy” Initiative 1515. You’re also the director of the Family Policy Institute, which is a great name, by the way—whenever an organization has the words “family” and “policy” in it I can rest easy knowing someone out there is concerned with the intimate details of my domestic life and busy working on legislation to enforce it.

Joseph, I know you’ve got a good sense of humor because I saw the logo you chose for the new initiative—it’s hilarious! There’s a stick figure man peering over a wall to ogle a woman, conjuring up memories of ‘80s teen sex romp Porky’s. Right next to this depiction of illegal voyeurism is the word “Yes,” making it look as if you’re saying that you’re pro-peeping Tom. The whole thing has a nostalgic John Birch Society “red menace” vibe. So many levels of irony!

Plus, your opponents have pointed out that “1515” looks like “ISIS,” which is a totally different group of religious activists. Also, as I’m sure you know, Backholm is one of those Republican surnames that sounds like it could be a euphemism, like “Brownback” or “Santorum.” You guys must laugh so much around the Just Want Privacy HQ!

Let’s look at the bit you workshopped at a recent meeting of signature gatherers for I-1515 in which you quipped that your clipboard jockeys should harass women in public restrooms if they refused to sign your petition:

“For the gentlemen, what I would encourage you to do, if you want to be so bold and to make the point, take your petition and stand outside the women’s restroom at the mall, and if any of the women don’t want to sign it, just go ahead and follow ’em on in. [Laughter] Maybe this will be a better time to sign our little petition.”

I’ll admit you got a laugh, nailing one of the basic rules of comedy: Know your audience. You chose the perfect subject matter for that crowd, and it paid off. But something about the joke just isn’t working for me. Since I’m an experienced standup comic, I thought I’d give you a little input on your new material, one joketeller to another.

I’m not trying to be one of these uptight scolds who can’t take a joke, like the trans women who are angry that you call them “men dressed as ladies” or the gay men who get all offended when you merely suggest that they molest their own children. It’s just that the premise doesn’t make sense coming from you. For the leader of a group concerned with women’s safety to make light of hassling women in public restrooms, it’d be like the head of Homeland Security making bomb jokes in the TSA line at the airport. You just wouldn’t do it; it goes against the stage persona you’ve already established as the family man who’s deeply concerned with what happens where ladies pee.

That’s why your humorless opponents pounced on it, framing you as a hypocrite who’s more concerned with persecuting trans people than protecting women. It’s not your fault, though; what we instinctively find funny often resonates on a subconscious level and sometimes as a newbie you’ll write a joke that tells the audience more about your innermost motives than you’d prefer to reveal. I see this happen all the time at open mics.

Take it from me, Joseph: not every bit is gonna work for every crowd. The same joke that kills in a room full of paid signature gatherers can stir up a shitstorm of outrage from the keyboard commentariat. Doesn’t it suck to be willfully misrepresented? Seems like some people have nothing better to do than spread lies about a besieged minority just to make themselves look like paragons of virtue. And their criticism is sticking; so far you’ve only gotten about 10% of the signatures you need to get 1515 on the ballot.

Oh well, if this whole bathroom thing doesn’t work out, you’ve always got comedy to fall back on. Have you ever been to an open mic? You’d fit right in!

Good luck out there!