A few nights ago I went to a comedy show. In the interest of full disclosure, I knew nothing about the comic ahead of time...and this of course was my own fault. A friend had lent me a few DVD's of his work, but I never got around to watching them. I assumed that given my love of laughing, jokes and teasing I would enjoy the comic and even if his material wasn't hilarious, I would still laugh. It doesn't take much.
I have loved to laugh as long as I can remember. I crack jokes constantly. At one point in my life I'm sure it was a coping mechanism, but still all in all I love to laugh. I was voted "Class Clown" in high school. I have pulled awesome practical jokes on people, and have been the target of a few myself. I laugh at slapstick humor like Chris Farley, profane humor like Ron White and Chris Rock and more sophisticated humor like Jon Stewart. I'm not what I would call a comedy snob. I think a lot of things are funny.
So I showed up at this show thinking it would be funny. The opening act immediately launched into a song he wrote about how "Arizona has gotten it right" - referring to the current immigration reform. The song crossed more than a few lines and was quite simply offensive. He then cracked a few jokes about Democrats and launched into a rock star version of the national anthem.
This is probably the moment I should also confess to not being very patriotic. I think my country (and I do claim it as my own) does a lot of stupid stuff. I do not think that just by virtue of my birthplace I'm better or more entitled to anyone else on the planet. I'm bothered by the Pledge of Allegiance and am by and large a pacificist. I don't think we have any business invading other countries, and I don't think Muslims are to blame for the downfall of America. I think our own greed is.
So, the main act emerged on the stage and essentially spent 90 minutes making jokes of every stereotype ever known to white, straight men. Women are nags , Asians can't speak English, Hispanics are dull-speaking and lazy, Blacks speak in incoherent slang, wear big jewelry and listen to rap music all day long, gay men are all hairdressers. You name it, he generalized it. And then to top it off, he mixed it in with some good ol' "God Bless America" kind of Muslim hatred. He actually has a character he does named "Achmed the Dead Terrorist." His mantra, "I keeelll you."
I'm not laughing. As a matter of fact, the two hour show made me realize all that is wrong with my fellow Missourians who find this sort of humor funny. He wasn't laughing "with" these groups of people, he was clearly laughing "at" them. As if by virtue of his whiteness or straightness or whatever, he was obviously superior. To top it all off, his hatred of Muslims is so en vogue these days that it made him all the more popular with the folks who had paid, some of the more than $100 to see him, to see him and laugh with him.
I felt my face redden a few times, I'm not certain if it was embarrassment or anger...though certainly I felt both. I was bothered for all of the people I knew who fit his categories. My gay and lesbian friends, my Jewish friends, my black friends. And I felt as if I was somehow betraying them by sitting and there and not speaking out. Or at a minimum leaving the show.
I thought about what message I want my kids to have in this life about people who are different than them...I remember taking a barely 5 year old Melena with me to the voting polls in the election of Barack Obama...and the pride I felt at being able to vote, in this country of so much history of racism, for a black man to be our President. I remember the tears rolling down my cheeks as I watched the civil rights leaders of the 60's and 70's watching this man become President, tears rolling down their faces. I remember trying to explain to my 5 year old how important that day was...how much had had to change to reach that day. I recall those weeks after 9/11 and feeling embarrassed for our country as we lashed out at the Muslim community in misdirected hatred. I remember crying for Matthew Shephard. I know what it is to be a woman, and therefore judged to be less than a man. These things that separate us, what do we do with these distinctions? I am not naive enough to believe we are at a place in history where we are able to celebrate our differences. But surely we have come further than this...an arena filled with people who are laughing at those who are different as if they are and always will be inferior. A gathering to celebrate that which we fear...the unknown, the not yet understood.
I'm still not sure what I think my reaction should've been besides outrage. I had plenty of that. But I wonder what else I'm feeling and what lies below my own surface. What prejudices do I have underneath it all? What stereotypes and preconceived notions am I hanging on to that should be let go of? I'm still not certain. I just know that none of it struck me as very funny at all.