Hamil with Care

Five Things Comedians Should Ditch In 2017

At the start of a new year it’s good to lay your cards on the table, to acknowledge what set you back in your previous trip around the sun in order to chart a path forward. With the power and authority vested in me as the author of a weekly comedy web column, I hereby present a grab bag of things that comedians should do away with in 2017.

Saying “special snowflake” like it’s a bad thing
All my life I’ve wanted to be a special snowflake. I’ve spent years cultivating my snowflake-specialness, and I believe the highest calling of any advanced human civilization is to liberate its people to pursue the lives of special snowflakes if they so desire. Snowflakes are unique, delicate and beautiful and their existence is the result of fragile and temporary conditions. They’re a miracle, by god! That’s why it was so disturbing for me to discover that the term “special snowflake” is now being used as a pejorative. Can you believe it? (Yes, you can.) The same “alt-right” people who believe that a “social justice warrior” is a bad thing have dragged us so deep into the nihilistic swamp of doublespeak that words no longer seem to have any meaning. 

But I’m not gonna let them do it this time. Everyone I’ve ever loved or admired was a special snowflake. I’m raising my infant son as a special snowflake. From here on out, a special snowflake is a good thing to be, and we should encourage those around us to become even more of one this year.

Comedian bios
So-and-so has been wowing audiences all over the Pacific Northwest with his unique brand of observational blah blah blah fuck it. Are you famous? Then just say that: “Steve Comedian Guy was on national television.” Are you not famous? Then it’s doubtful anyone will ever read your bio. You might as well just drop in that Latin filler text you see on unfinished websites: “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur etc.” Or perhaps use the space to workshop the first line of your sci-fi novel, jot down a dream you had or share a family recipe for lemon meringue pie.

Alt-comedy cadence
Standup comedy is such a world unto itself that it’s possible to completely submerge yourself in it. A devoted new comedian can listen to untold millions of hours of podcasts from their favorite comedians during the day and then go to a different open mic every night of the week to hear even more comedy.

Alt-comedy cadence is the sound of a closed loop. Comics pick up little speech affectations from their heroes and then play them back to their peers, who also adopt them, gradually reinforcing a particular way of talking that exists nowhere but at comedy open mics. Of course, all comics pick up verbal tics and intonations from their colleagues; some degree of influence is inevitable. But alt-comedy cadence takes it to the extreme. You know it when you hear it. It’s insufferable, a lilting mannered style both awkward and rehearsed. If someone talked like that near you at a coffee shop you’d move to another table.

Being amazed by weed
Anyone here smoke weed? This guy does, look at him! He’s stoned right now! How stoned are you, dude? It’s okay; I’m stoned too. I probably got a little too stoned before I went onstage! I’m stoned on weed! It’s legal now! Give it up for legal weed! Anyone notice that buying weed now is a lot different than it used to be, back when you had to buy it from a dealer? And now you can just go into a store and buy it because WEED IS LEGAL NOW? WEED WEED WEEEEEED MAAAAAN.

Oh, what’s wrong, are you tired of hearing about weed? Are you a normal adult who’s been responsibly indulging in marijuana for decades and quickly adapted to its legalization with so little fanfare that the novelty of its commercial availability wore off about a month after the law passed? Well, that’s too bad because every comedian on this bill is REALLY EXCITED TO TALK ABOUT WEED, STILL.

The illusion of having any power to change minds 
Comedy lost bigly in 2016. We had Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, John Oliver and Stephen Colbert, Larry Wilmore and The Onion all delivering devastating satirical critiques daily, and Trump still won. This was very painful for those of us (me) who like to think of comedy as some sort force-multiplier for truth, a crucial tool for cultural evolution. It may still be those things, but comedy has proven an insufficient instrument for changing the course of the nation or preventing self-inflicted catastrophe. Even worse, many comics were at the cultural vanguard of the anti-“political correctness” movement that tenderized the electorate for the coarsest of pussy-grabbing presidential discourse.

Before the election even the laziest, most pandering Trump jokes got big laughs from all quarters. What we understand in hindsight is that many of those people laughing in the dark were Trump supporters. They could afford to laugh because they know that their guy is the most flagrantly ludicrous public figure of the past half-century. They just don’t care. They aggressively, laughingly, belligerently don’t care.

Trump’s kleptocratic, white supremacist vision for the country is so totalizing and awful that to make light of it is to normalize it. So until we figure out how to make fascism funny in a way that doesn’t inadvertently render it palatable, maybe comics should take a moment to humbly admit what we really are: harmless jesters dancing for crumbs in a declining empire.