Comedy: Final Thoughts

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0102   |   December 16, 2019

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Comedy: Final Thoughts

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What can you learn about a culture through comedy? What can you learn about people, and maybe more importantly, what can’t you learn about them through comedy? The hosts agree it’s time to stop canceling people for trying to be funny.

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C.T. WEBB: 00:19 [music] Good afternoon, good morning, or good evening. And welcome to The American Age podcast. This is C. Travis Webb, editor of The American Age. And I’m speaking to you from Southern California.
S. FULLWOOD: 00:29 Hi. This is Steven G. Fullwood, and I am the co-founder of the Nomadic Archivists Project. And I’m coming to you from Harlem. And it’s about 30-35 degrees here and I have a cold, I’m sure you can hear it.
S. RODNEY: 00:45 Hi. My name is Seph Rodney, and I’m an editor – a senior editor, actually – at Hyperallergic and recent author of a book on the personalization of the museum. And I am a full human being, speaking to you from the South Bronx.
C.T. WEBB: 01:02 This is to remind our listeners that we practice a form of what we like to call intellectual intimacy, which is figuring out things out loud and together. And today, we are nominally concluding our conversation on comedy. And our podcast is going to be a little bit shorter today than usual, just because there are a number of time constraints. But, since intellectual intimacy is at the heart of what we do, one of the things– we talked a bit before and each of us has particular things going on in their lives. Steven’s dealing with the cold. And we were talking about just how that sort of pulls everything into it for him when he gets sick. The outlook on his life shifts when he gets sick. And that really resonated with me. It’s the same for me, for sure. Everything takes on a slightly different hue.
S. FULLWOOD: 02:02 Vibration.
S. RODNEY: 02:03 Yeah [laughter].
C.T. WEBB: 02:04 Yeah. Vibration. And I thought that is exactly what comedy is, right? It’s that shift on the point of view and that sort of lateral movement that takes something, potentially or in reality, entirely fucked up [laughter], just completely wrecked and in reality nothing funny about it. And it can take something even as awful and terrible as suicide or as awful and terrible as cancer, awful and terrible as the Holocaust even, or the history of racism.
S. RODNEY: 02:48 Yeah. White supremacy.
C.T. WEBB: 02:51 Yeah. White supremacy. Yeah. And make it funny. And that’s a great thing, because what the hell else are you going to do?
S. RODNEY: 03:05 So, I want to jump in and say I think that’s very true for the clips that pertain to Travis and I. I think that Louis C.K., Jim Jefferies, Patrice O’Neal, they definitely slot into that. They do that kind of– they shift the focus a little bit to take something that is really hella messed up and make it funny. But I think Maria Bamford does something slightly different. I think she takes something that’s just quotidian and she makes it weird. She queers it. And that’s, I think, the difference. And I was thinking about this yesterday, about the clips that we presented to each other and to the audience, how – of course, given who we are – they were at some deep level really political. Except, I think, for Maria Bamford. And I think this actually tells me something about Steven, which I sort of grokked but I’m more clear on now. That Steven really appreciates the weirdness of the world, the things that don’t quite fit in. It’s the kid in kindergarten who has the square peg and he’s got the round hole, and he’s just banging it. He’s just trying to get it in [laughter] and it’s not happening. By golly, he’s not giving up [laughter]. He’s not– [laughter]
C.T. WEBB: 04:31 I was with you all the way till the end when you made Steven sound like a totally crazy person [laughter].
S. FULLWOOD: 04:39 No, that’s pretty much– I’m okay with that. [laughter] I’m completely okay with it.
S. RODNEY: 04:44 I just see Steven shaking his head [laughter].
S. FULLWOOD: 04:48 That’s true. It’s funny because I appreciate the weird things. I also appreciate the dark weird things, you know?
S. RODNEY: 04:56 Right. Right.
S. FULLWOOD: 04:58 I was thinking about what you said earlier about the political and just thinking about how– well, there’s a piece that Maria Bamford has on “This Is Not Happening” and – as it starts – she’s going, “I’m in county slippers that are not my own. You tell whoever the fuck you want.” And then she [laughter] goes on to talk in another clip about how you get in, and they’ll get you in, but you got to pay to leave. And so, we’re talking about a medical system that is really broken and has been broken for a while. That I like about the way that she– her politics are very subtle. They’re very, very subtle. They’re not in your face about how she sees the world, but also how we treat each other. And so, I love that. But, earlier on, I was thinking about how humor in my childhood– I don’t know if you guys watched Carol Burnett as a kid?
S. RODNEY: 05:55 I did, yeah.
C.T. WEBB: 05:55 Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
S. FULLWOOD: 05:56 I loved Carol Burnett. I remember how I loved watching them break. Just watching them have a good time doing it. It means a lot to me. It permeates a lot of parts of my life. I love seeing people dance. It doesn’t matter how good or bad they dance, it’s irrelevant. If they’re smiling and laughing, I am so bringing potato salad to that particular party. No problem. [laughter] We’re good, we’re good. At the very last–
C.T. WEBB: 06:23 [crosstalk] No. Please, go on.
S. FULLWOOD: 06:25 No. I was just saying, briefly or just to wrap up, that I really enjoy humor that allows more people in, right? I don’t mind darkness because I feel like I get the dark humor from my friends in hush tones or behind closed doors. When it’s out in the open, then I’m like, “Yeah. Let’s all talk about this.” Because it feels cathartic. And it’s kind of the way that I think. So it’s that weird square-peg-round-hole way that I think the world actually operates versus the one we’re trying to force on people. That has been my clown-in-the-church thing forever, so.
S. RODNEY: 07:06 Well, this is the thing that I appreciate about you. And I think it’s similar to my– or comes to the surface in my interactions with our mutual friend, Damien Mingus. He will acknowledge those things that are actually where we live. Here’s a real quotidian example. You do that thing where you’re walking in one direction, a person’s walking in the opposite direction, you both try to shift at the corresponding direction so you end up doing this little dance, right? I know, up until a certain point in my life, that I was never ready to just sort of look at the person in the eye and just sort of acknowledge that, “Oh, that’s what we’re doing, this silly thing. This is crazy. Let’s stop doing it.” Or, “Wasn’t that fun?” Where Mingus would be the first person to do something cute to acknowledge it, to just say, “Thank you for this dance,” or whatever it is. And I think that’s what you’re talking about. And I think that it’s taken me a long time to get to the point where I’m comfortable enough in my own skin to just do that, to recognize where we as human beings actually live. We live in that absurdity. That absurdity is this sort of measure in some ways of our entire lives. I know most of our lives is just absurd. I mean, ridiculous. So I think that that is also part of the through line to all the comedy quips and all the comedians and all the kind of humor that all three of us really appreciate.
C.T. WEBB: 08:45 I agree with all of that, Seph. And, Steven, I was going to say that – you talked about Carol Burnett – the thing I remember is Tim Conway just coming out on the stage and already breaking down laughing, not even really being able to get through his bits or whatever. So I have very fond memories of that as a kid. It reminds me, what does it say about us though as we lose our sense of humor as a culture? It started out that it was white males couldn’t make certain kinds of jokes. And so, okay. All right. We can certainly– there’s a lot going on there. And maybe grant a reasonable degree of sensitivity around what can be said by a white hetero male performer. Okay. Fine. But it’s moved well beyond that now. I mean, it’s now not only white hetero males who cannot make certain kinds of jokes, it’s also now moved into Dave Chappelle and stuff. So even people who are not recognized as the central pillars of a Euro-American identity are just torn to shreds, on social media at least, by their effort to move laterally and make something funny. And I don’t tend to get hypoplectic about cultural moments because they come and go so quickly, right?
S. FULLWOOD: 10:32 Absolutely. Yes.
C.T. WEBB: 10:32 I mean, for a couple years people are obsessed with this, and then they’re onto something else. But cultures do reach fever pitches at times. And there are dramatic and real historical consequences to those. I mean, there have been a number of moments of certain kinds of religious enthusiasm or religious fervor in the history of the West that have led to some fairly terrible outcomes. So my question to both of you is, do you feel like this is just a moment in this sort of hypersensitivity to comedy and to acceptable forms of humor, or do you feel that the pressure cooker is continuing to build towards whatever end?
S. FULLWOOD: 11:28 I’ve been having these conversations with people for a while now about what’s acceptable and what’s not. And I’m like, “Tell the joke anyway and see where it lands.” Because, what you said about the moment here, I feel that the joke itself– humor is not supposed to be policed. Humor is supposed to liberate. Humor is supposed to kind of draw some “Isn’t this ridiculous?” kind of component to it. And with the Dave Chappelle– I’ve discussed it with a couple friends, where I see Dave Chappelle coming out of a Moms Mabley, Redd Foxx kind of tradition.
C.T. WEBB: 12:14 Absolutely. Yes. Absolutely.
S. FULLWOOD: 12:15 And that there’s a joke within the joke within the joke. And so, if you take a look at the top layer and you’re offended, you’re not getting that he might be making a joke about the joke about the joke. And so, I’m just against policing humor. I don’t care if it’s even against me, so to speak. If I get offended, I get offended. But, so what? I’ll get over it. I’m supposed to be an adult, right? So fuck it. I mean, I do think it’s a moment but it’s hard for me to look ahead and it’s hard for me to parse. I know that there’s cruel humor that’s meant to hurt people, and I have a problem with that. But that feels differently from the humor that’s being attacked now as anti this and anti that without it really– sometimes even being pulled out of context. So, that’s my gob, my toss at it.
S. RODNEY: 13:06 I do think that what’s happening is two sort of countervailing movements at the same time. So, on the one hand, there is an effort definitely. There’s a cultural zeitgeist of policing each other, period. Just policing speech and behavior. And policing speech and behavior in terms of whether it conforms to a particular set of politics. At the same time, there’s this retrograde motion towards a kind of patriarchal white-supremacist view of the world, right?
S. FULLWOOD: 13:47 Absolutely.
C.T. WEBB: 13:48 Yeah.
S. RODNEY: 13:48 So you have people marching in various cities – Charlottesville immediately comes to mind – with white heterosexual men basically saying, “You won’t replace us.” Which means a couple of different things, but I don’t want to take up too much time with this point. But one of the things it means is that you will not replace us as the head of the social order, that our values–
C.T. WEBB: 14:14 Yeah. I think that’s exactly what they mean [laughter]. That’s it.
S. RODNEY: 14:16 Well, right. But they also mean something else. I mean, they’re referring to this whole grand replacement theory thing, which is more about demographic replacement. So both things are happening at the same time. And it may be that both movements are informing each other and driving each other. So it makes me think– what is that scientific conundrum? What happens when an unstoppable force hits an immovable object? Right? I mean, there’s some kind of– I think. I don’t want to be all Nostradamus-y about it. But there’s some kind of coming conflagration. I mean, at some point, these countervailing forces are going to come to a head.
C.T. WEBB: 15:01 So, I mean, I just don’t trust any of it at this moment anymore. I don’t trust the numbers or the intensity or the danger of either group. And not to say that I disbelieve it. It’s possible. I just don’t– so these sort of absurd, ridiculous, white-nationalist marches and these movements. I don’t know how much of a threat that kind of white nationalism is. The kind of white nationalism that’s a real threat are the Donald Trumps, things like that. I mean, that’s a kind of white nationalism that has teeth. I mean, real teeth. Cutting-food-stamps teeth. And taking-away-your-medical-care teeth.
S. FULLWOOD: 15:53 Yeah. Reforming policy. Absolutely
S. RODNEY: 15:53 Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
C.T. WEBB: 15:57 Yeah, yeah, yeah. And even on the other side, I don’t know how many people actually really do get that upset by Dave Chappelle or Louis C.K. I mean, it’s on social media. It gets ten thousand likes or whatever. But the average person I talk to– not that I go around talking to a bunch of average people, whatever that means. But, in conversations that I have with people, do not occupy either one of those extreme positions. Although, what I just said is a total and complete lie that I cannot qualify on. I actually have family members that actually occupy both extremes. Literally, both extremes. So, I retract what I just said. I actually said those things out loud. So, you know what? I’m wrong. I’m actually wrong.
S. RODNEY: 16:43 Yeah. I’m glad that you said that because I just flashed on thinking about your in-laws, Travis. And I was thinking, “Yeah, that’s a tough row to hoe.”
S. FULLWOOD: 17:01 Can we just say–
C.T. WEBB: 17:01 Just in case, my in-laws who I love very much [laughter]. Right. Yes.
S. FULLWOOD: 17:05 Right. Right. And I won’t say what I was going to say behind that, so let me say something briefly about that. So I think there’s a conflation with parts of society being equal to others and different groups being equal to others. So some people can’t tell jokes about disadvantaged people but they can tell jokes about the privileged people, right? And that those areas are the ones where people, I think, are not comfortable with. And so, “No, you can’t do this. But you can do this.” I’m not totally comfortable with that idea. I feel like Bette Midler, almost like, “Fuck them if they can’t take a joke.” Right. But that can be taken as, obviously, you being disrespectful or whatever.
S. RODNEY: 17:48 Or oppressive. Right.
S. FULLWOOD: 17:50 Or oppressive. And I feel like we’re not all coming to the table with the same amount of information or interest or engagement. And I think if you’re not engaged and you’re mad about something, the onus is upon you to go learn about what it is that you’re mad about, what you’re frustrated about. And, fortunately, I’m around people who are really, really smart and have actually thought about these things and can link those things. And so, yeah. So I was just thinking about it earlier. I want humor, and I don’t want to be told what I can laugh at and what I can’t laugh at.
S. RODNEY: 18:20 Amen.
S. FULLWOOD: 18:21 And then, also, we’re not policing the powers that be. We’re policing each other. So that’s some bullshit.
S. RODNEY: 18:26 That’s right. Right. Which we do not need to be doing. Again, I want to go back to that story of being in Toronto with my ex Maya and seeing a First Nations guy drunk in the middle of the day and saying something– I don’t remember what I said. But I said something disparaging about his situation. And Maya tried to shush me. And I was like, “What’s he going to do? Cut me with his broken dreams?” I think it’s still fucking funny. And when I told this joke to someone else I was dating later, she was like, “How could you? That’s horrible.” I’m like, “Baby, I got–“
C.T. WEBB: 19:08 So you were dating Scarlett O’Hara, apparently. You were dating Scarlett O’Hara, apparently [laughter].
S. FULLWOOD: 19:12 A lot of pearl grabbing. Lots of pearl grabbing.
S. RODNEY: 19:13 Yeah. A lot of deep sighing and a lot of chest heaving. But I have broken dreams too is the point. It’s like we come to humor having had these experiences on some level, regardless of how we appear in the world, gender expression, class expression, ethnicity. We come to these things from a deeper place.
S. FULLWOOD: 19:44 Oh, absolutely.
C.T. WEBB: 19:44 Yeah.
S. FULLWOOD: 19:45 We’re about 20 minutes now? [laughter]
C.T. WEBB: 19:48 Yeah. Well, no. I was about to say, “Steven, do you want to take us out?” Do you have anything you want to close– you were about to say something when we were talking about Scarlett O’Hara.
S. FULLWOOD: 19:56 Well, I was thinking about this idea of the person who is most offended probably finds it the most funniest but wants to appear, put on the facade, that he or she or they are a little bit more socially whatever the word is.
C.T. WEBB: 20:15 Sophisticated.
S. FULLWOOD: 20:16 That’s the word.
S. RODNEY: 20:16 Appropriate [laughter].
S. FULLWOOD: 20:17 Appropriate, yeah. So I don’t trust that. I don’t trust that.
C.T. WEBB: 20:21 Well-mannered. Right? Well-mannered.
S. RODNEY: 20:22 Yes. Yes. [inaudible]
S. FULLWOOD: 20:23 At the very least, a facade. I question the facade. So yeah, that’s it.
C.T. WEBB: 20:29 All right, my friends. I’ll talk to you soon.
S. RODNEY: 20:32 Yeah. Later.
S. FULLWOOD: 20:32 Cool. Take care. [music]

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**No references for Podcast 0102**

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First referenced at 05:19

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_text _builder_version=”4.0.6″ max_width=”50%” module_alignment=”center” link_option_url=”” locked=”off”]Maria Bbamford

“Maria Elizabeth Sheldon Bamford is an American stand-up comedian, actress, and voice actress. She is best known for her portrayal of her dysfunctional family and self-deprecating comedy involving jokes about depression and anxiety.” Wikipedia[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row _builder_version=”3.25″][et_pb_column type=”4_4″ _builder_version=”3.25″ custom_padding=”|||” custom_padding__hover=”|||”][et_pb_divider divider_style=”outset” divider_position=”center” divider_weight=”2px” _builder_version=”3.19.15″][/et_pb_divider][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][/et_pb_section]


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