Incompetent Political Correctness vs. Amy Schumer

That Mel Brooks...what a racist!

That Mel Brooks…what a racist!

If you want a template for the argument that comedy and jokes should not tread outside the thick, forbidding red lines of political correctness, you cannot do better than the Washington Post op-ed titled “Don’t believe her defenders. Amy Schumer’s jokes are racist.” Two professors, Stacey Patton and David J. Leonard, made the argument that Schumer’s humor is racist, and did so in as forceful terms possible. For example, they write:

 Racial jokes allow white America to claim that race no longer matters, even as there’s talk whizzing in every direction about how blacks and Latinos are outbreeding whites, are criminals and welfare queens, are “stealing jobs” and victimizing whites through affirmative action policies and denying them the right to use the n-word. Comedy allows these comforting ideas to be shared with a built-in defense mechanism that protects white innocence. 

America’s soil of racism is fed by jokes and incendiary speeches, by stereotypical images and symbols like the Confederate flag. Just as Rush Limbaugh,  Donald Trump and other members of the Republican Party regularly disparage people of color and claim they are simply telling the truth, Schumer can use comedy as a protective shroud to deny the harm and hurt caused by her jokes. A joke is considered benign especially when told by a supposed white liberal feminist. We can distance ourselves from the anger, from the harm, from the ideology, and from the hatred of the “extreme,” but also find comfort in the same anger, ideology  and hatred that is “just a joke.”

The abuse heaped on Schumer, a young, clever, rising comedian that I only recently became aware of because of her hilarious—filthy, but hilarious—parody of “Twelve Angry Men,” is breathtaking. She is called the equivalent of Donald Trump (who himself is misrepresented as a racist who believes all Mexicans—he said some illegal Mexican migrants—were criminals and rapists); she is declared complicit in the Charleston shootings and the creation of Dylann Roof, encouraging gun purchases generally, and “a worldview that justifies a broken immigration system, mass incarceration, divestment from inner city communities, that rationalizes inequality and buttresses persistent segregation and violence.”

This is why Mel Brooks says that “Blazing Saddles” couldn’t be made today.  His brilliant seventies Western spoof, which many, including Brooks, believe is the funniest film ever made (I’d pick “Animal House,” but he’s not far from wrong) was immediately recognized as a devastating attack on racism, despite its frequent use of the word “nigger” and its employment of almost every black stereotype for maximum comedy effect. Schumer is no Mel Brooks, but her audiences aren’t stupid either. They understand that she, like Brooks, is spoofing both the stereotypes and the people who believe them, as well as properly zinging the individuals who craete the stereotypes by their own conduct. There is nothing racist about that at all, unless one has embraced the current, floating, broad and infinitely flexible definition of “racist,” which is whatever a progressive or African American critic thinks will be most harmful to his or her target at the time.

The reason “Blazing Saddles” was understood to be satiric and beneficial to the cause of racial understanding forty years ago, and Schumer’s far less harsh humor is being attacked now is simple: race relations are worse today, thanks to people like Drs. Patton and Leonard, who I would have banned at the box office if they ever tried to buy a ticket to a comedy I was directing, and civil rights establishment that has decided that hyping eternal victimhood is the way to power and wealth.  People like this are incapable of humor, because they have to analyze whether they should laugh before they do laugh. To them, Popeye and the Road Runner encourage violence, Eddie Murphy’s Gumby impression furthers racial stereotypes, and Woody Allen’s movies are anti-Semitic. I’m sure they find Mel’s “Hitler on Ice” completely bewildering.

The Post apparently invited the two clueless political-correctness obsessed academics to write this drivel. Asking them to write about comedy is like inviting  Mike Huckabee to analyze the rhetoric of Dan Savage (and vice-versa). In other words, it was a set-up.

Debra Kessler explored the origins of this strange essay on the comedy website The Interobang.

I spoke with The Washington Post‘s Outlook Deputy Editor Mike Madden …. “This is not the opinion of The Washington Post,” Madden told me, “this is the opinion of a couple of contributors to The Washington Post.”  Of course both articles are editorials and newspapers print conflicting editorials all the time.  But even op-ed pieces are edited and selected and subject to internal guidelines and even op-ed pieces enjoy the weight of The Washington Post banner– one which has a history of protecting journalistic expression feverishly.

Kessler also talked to Stacey Patton, who told her that the Post solicited the piece, and had to persuade her to write it. Apparently they couldn’t persuade her to write it fairly, responsibly, or competently, however:

Dr. Patton said a few things that surprised me. For starters, she said she’s not a specialist on comedy or humor. While she does enjoy comedy (she likes George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Martin Lawrence, the Queens of Comedy, and Bill Maher among others), she told me that watching comedy isn’t something she gets to do often. In fact, before the ‘Schumer issue’ came up, she had never seen Amy Schumer perform stand up, and she had never seen Schumer’s Comedy Central television show. Even more surprising, she said she didn’t watch any of Amy’s performances or shows while writing the article, not even as background for the piece. Her judgement was based on what she read, presumably in The Guardian, which had just published an article accusing Schumer of “having a blind spot for race.”

The Interrobang: Have you ever watched Amy’s television show… in preparation for the article?
Stacey Patton: Nope. Not at all.
The Interrobang: Her stand up set[s]? have you ever watched any of them?
Stacey Patton: Nope. None of them.

Wow.

Let me enumerate some ethical problems with this:

1. It shouldn’t need to be said, but I guess I have to say it: stand-up comedy is performance art. Reading a transcript of what a comedian says is not an accurate representation of what the performer has done, communicates or intended. Delivery, tone, timing, facial expressions, body language all combine to send complex messages., often subtle and nuanced, that someone only reading the words will almost certainly misinterpret.

2. It is obviously unethical to criticize a comedian’s comedy when the critic hasn’t watched the comedy.

3. Worse, Dr. Stacy “Nope!” Patton apparently doesn’t see anything amiss in this, meaning that she is completely ignorant of the topic she has chosen to opine on in the pages of the Washington Post.

4. She likes George Carlin, who mercilessly ridiculed Christians and religious American generally; Richard Pryor and Martin Lawrence, both of whom trafficked in satirical stereotypes of African Americans (and whites) far more pointed than any joke Shumer has uttered; and Bill Maher, who grotesquely stereotypes all conservatives and calls women he doesn’t like “cunts” and “twats.”

The op-ed itself, meanwhile is sloppy and hypocritical beyond imagining. (To answer your question– What about Dr. Leonard, the white, second billed author?—I don’t know. He put his name to this junk. That tells me all I need to know.) For example, it accuses Trump, falsely, of calling all Mexicans “rapists,” then statesthat “Rush Limbaugh,  Donald Trump and other members of the Republican Party regularly disparage people of color…” As written, this really is the kind of blanket, gross, bigoted statement she accuses—falsely, I repeat—Trump of making, but that’s okay! What hypocrisy.  Do you think she has ever listened to Rush Limbaugh, especially as she has leveled this attack on Schumer without having watched her? I very much doubt it. It is a ubiquitous liberal talking point that Rush is a racist: he isn’t, and nobody who actually listens to him would make that accusation, unless they embrace the definition of racism that I mentioned above.

For the final verdict on the Post’s hit piece, I could not be clearer or more eloquent than Debra Kessler, who concludes in part:

I don’t doubt that Dr. Patton means well. She’s a well respected journalist, and from what I gathered in our conversation, very intelligent. She is concerned about very serious problems faced by people of color in America and the world today, and those problems are real and in need of redress. And without the important context of understanding performed comedy, Schumer’s act, and her persona, it might be hard to distinguish Schumer’s point of view from a completely different kind of joke– one that is harmful, and derogatory, and holds no benefit to the community at large. Patton described to me concerns about the type of people who “back during the Jim Crow period, while nearly 4,000 black people were lynched in this country, [were] making jokes; they were singing minstrel songs, putting on black face, telling chicken and watermelon and pickaninny jokes.” Those types of harmful, racially motivated jokes of course still exist today, and are just as rooted in hate as they ever were. And perhaps Patton is correct that the people who laugh at those types of jokes add to what she calls “this ecosystem of nasty rhetoric.”

But that argument ignores that performed comedy that integrates and confronts, and yes even “plays with” race and bias, is not the same as a “chicken and watermelon and pickaninny joke.” There is nuance and skill that a performer uses to communicate that they are not advocating racism and intolerance– on the contrary, they believe in inclusion and tolerance. Laughing at our own shortcomings, biases and history of intolerance can advance harmony in a way that lecturing, and even legislating cannot. When we, as an audience can laugh at stereotypes… we don’t reinforce them, we expose them. And it’s all to the benefit of society.

Patton has made presumptions regarding the racial composition of Schumer’s audience, and she has also made presumptions about the effect Schumer’s comedy has on her audience. Those presumptions are made without any real information, and seem to be based on nothing more than speculation and her own social media following.

Exactly.

Now that would be an op-ed worth publishing.

38 thoughts on “Incompetent Political Correctness vs. Amy Schumer

  1. This op-ed is nothing more than thought and identity tyranny masquerading in the borrowed robes of righteousness. The left thinks it’s perfectly OK to make fun of the fact that Ronald Reagan’s health eventually collapsed from Alzheimers (maybe even it was karma getting its last licks), that Dan Quayle might not have been the brightest bulb ever to occupy the second highest office in the land (hello, Al Gore, Joe Biden, etc.) and generally to hate on believing Christians. It’s also perfectly ok to mock the Southern drawl or do bad UK, Irish, Italian, Slavic, or to a lesser extent, Chinese/Japanese/Korean accent work (some people still get their knickers in a twist if you do a mock “Confucius say…”). It’s also perfectly all right and even expected and funny, to portray men as sloppy, lazy, stupid, and generally incompetent, incapable of doing anything or doing anything right until wifey cracks the whip.

    BUT, mock Obama’s incompetence or the fact that Hillary is shrill AND incompetent, and you are a racist, a sexist, or just someone who can’t handle a black man or a woman being successful. Point out that Islam is a poisonous religious ideology that advocates oppression worse than anything in the west, or play on the stereotypes of turbaned imams preaching destruction and deliberate ignorance, and you’re a religious hater who just hasn’t read up on the Religion of Peace. Let that bad accent work slip east of Suez or south of the Mediterranean or Florida, and suddenly you’re as bad as a blackface minstrel, twanging away on a banjo with a face blackened with burnt cork. Make fun of the snarly humorlessness of academic feminists or play on the stereotype of the “dumb blonde” or any other female stereotype with a kernel of truth behind it, and you’re a chauvinist pig bolstering rape culture. God forbid you poke fun at anything involving gay folks, since any reference to homosexuality must be PROFOUNDLY serious.

    It’s simply a matter of the overwhelmingly liberal popular culture leaders choosing to favor certain classes of people, generally those favored by the current administration, with protection from even the lightest touch of humor, and disfavoring others by turning them into caricatures. Worse still, now anyone who even laughs at forbidden humor has to fear that the social mediaverse will shame him around the world in an instant, and he’ll lose everything he has worked for.

    I wonder if it comes down to the fact that humor, used properly, can be a very powerful light for exposing hypocrisy, contradictions, and shortcomings generally, and the left knows it. By declaring any humor dealing with their favored groups off-limits, that’s one more weapon they take out of the hands of those who disagree with them, a few of those who might speak out cowed, and a few more who might listen deciding to close their ears.

  2. Couldn’t agree more with you.

    I’ve been an Amy Schumer fan for years now (the 12 Angry Men take-off was indeed brilliant). She has earned the respect of her fellow comics for working the rough edges of society brilliantly. We’ll see if she has the staying power to continue doing it, but at this point in her career she’s staked out a Chris Rock-like ability to poke holes in key social issues in a way that only a comedian can do.

    The reviewer obviously had NEVER had any interaction with Schumer, and is above all guilty of writing a review on something she knew nothing about.

    Humorless PC-affliction is the Confederate Flag of the mindless left. There’s nothing good to say about this fool’s so-called review, except to call out WaPo for publishing it (they ought to have SOME form of minimal qualification to get published – lack of a passing familiarity with the artist ought to be at least as important a quality as the ability to spell).

    100% good call.

  3. I suppose I should be offended because white cowboys in “Blazing Saddles” were portrayed as eating too many beans and passing way too much gas. But “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!” It was a funny clever scene as was most of the rest of the movie. The movie probably couldn’t be made today. I will be sure to buy tickets to see Amy Schumer ever comes to a comedy club around here.

  4. “She is called the equivalent of Donald Trump (who himself is misrepresented as a racist who believes all Mexicans—he said some illegal Mexican migrants—were criminals and rapists)”

    Well, actually, he said “some” were NOT criminals and rapists, which would imply that most are.

    I like Amy Schumer, and I haven’t seen the sketches/jokes that are being accused of racism–what specifically is she being criticized for? I didn’t see specifics in the article. I agree with you that there has been a lot of really good humor about race, such as the work of Mel Brooks, but I also think it’s possible to cross the line and make racial minorities the butt of the joke. I can’t decide whether or not Schumer’s do that without knowing what jokes are being criticized.

    • By the act of entering America illegally, all illegal immigrants ARE criminals, whether they go on to commit more crimes is a discussion, pretending that most, or even some aren’t is sophistry.

    • That’s not a fair reading of his obvious meaning. HE SAID:

      “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

      Now, this is rhetorical hash (“they’re bringing those problems with us”) so it requires some translation. But when the statue of liberty says “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, we don’t assume that this is ALL she’s asking for, or that everyone of them is all of these things. Trump is listing groups among those illegally crossing the border. Obviously. He isn’t saying that all the drug-dealers are rapists, is he? Or that those bringing crime are nice people? Nothing in his statement implies that all illegal immigrant Mexicans are rapists, and there is no meaningful difference between “some are’ and “some aren’t”—it’s just uglier the way he said it.

    • Schumer in those racial jokes is playing a tongue in cheek role, very much like Sarah Silverman does.

      In each case, their physical and emotive appearance are very nice-girl, well-groomed, well-educated. Silverman’s ongoing joke is that her character/role is in fact incredibly self-absorbed and narcissistic.

      Schumer’s “role” is the same – she “reveals” her character to be “slutty,” self-absorbed and narcissistic as well, as well as self-hating and racist on occasion.

      Her funniness comes from the clear contrast of all that she appears to be against the socially horrifying things she manages to say as her character – all uttered with the tone and appearance of a perfectly reasonable, “nice” girl. Again, quite like Silverman in this regard.

      One would not POSSIBLY know this had you never seen her work, and were working solely from transcripts. Any humor more complex than “take my wife – please” depends massively on delivery and context. The WaPo reviewer apparently knew none of that.

  5. Maybe they’re just campaining for the coveted Hate-Speech Czar’s position that will be created in the near future, maybe by the Hill-Billy administration?

        • What the hell: My top 10 after Animal House, in no special order:

          Modern Times, The Life of Brian, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Bananas, What’s Up, Tiger Lily?, Blazing Saddles, Arsenic and Old Lace, The Court Jester, Airplane!, The Naked Gun.

          • I’ll see that,and raise you a few more: GroundhogDay, Ghostbusters, This is Spinal Tap, Some Like it Hot, A Fish Called Wanda, The Lady Killers, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and anything of Wallace & Gromit.

          • I just watched Arsenicn and Old Lace the other night and it still holds up so well. If there is a comic actor with better timing then Grant Ive never seen him.

            • Oh, I agree, and the whole cast (Lorre!) is almost as good. Reputedly Grant didn’t like his pure antic comedy performance, but that’s what the material demands. I think he does the greatest double-takes (to the window seat contents) in cinema history. I saw a movie house showing of the film to a full house when I was in college, and the laughs were continuous. A rare example of a stage comedy that at its funniest on screeen.

      • God yes. That musical is horrendous.

        Once Dick Shawn died they should have never thought about doing a musical version of it.

  6. My personal favorite is Gallagher…thereby betraying my age. However, his hatred for ripe watermelons in this day and age would be interpreted as racism.

  7. I’ve seen very little of Schumer (who’s evidently related to the Senator from Wall Street by the way) but I find her little more than the next Chelsea Handler/Sarah Silverman: a fairly good looking, sexy, Jewish girl who talks dirty. I always think of the scenes in “Sophie’s Choice” where the earnest WASP narrator from coastal Virginia first encounters a bunch of Jewish whipper-snappers having really filthy sex conversations during a day at the beach. He then returns to the home of one of the girls he’s sort of dating expecting the talk to lead to action, only to be bitterly disappointed by the ice princess demeanor behind the talk. I suspect this is just a Jewish/Yiddish thing. But it’s made Silverman and Handler and now Schumer a lot of money (and let’s not forget the most wealthy and laziest non-distaff side of this racket: Howard Stern. I just think they’re all vastly over-rated. Nearly formulaic and not brilliant.

    • A slightly different point of view: you’re describing Chelsea Handler to a T, but not Schumer and Silverman.

      None of them are above a cheap pottymouth joke, but Handler doesn’t get beyond it. By contrast, consider a signature Silverman joke: “I was raped by a doctor; which, for a Jewish girl, is bittersweet.”

      It’s vintage Jewish humor in the best tradition of what author Michael Wex describes in “Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All Its Moods,” the essence of which is to find a sow’s ear in every silver lining.

      Think Groucho “not wanting to be a member of any club that would have me.” There’s an edge to Jewish humor born of fear; the phrase “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you” is quintessential jewish humor.

      Silverman is much more matured than Schumer, but they’ve both got the gift. Silverman: “My nana died at 96 years old. Naturally, we suspect foul play.”
      Schumer’s line about Hispanics echoes that big flap that Silverman got into with Asian Americans a decade ago when she used “chink” in a comedic routine. These are subtleties well beyond Handler.

      I would think anyone on this blog who finds PC to be vastly overdone ought to be a big fan of both Schumer and Silverman – each of them, in the grand tradition of Lenny Bruce, take a lot of shots at mainstream PC stupidity.

      And Howard Stern is the best interviewer around: just ask Larry King, who knows a think or three about the art form. He’s doing fantastic work on Sirius XM, and deserves every outrageous penny he gets.

      • For once Charles, I’m going to defer to you on this. I will check out Amy Schumer more thoroughly. My son is a big fan of hers. Sara Silvermann I have mixed emotions about but the line about his grandmother is great. And I’m definitely not a Howard Stern fan. Too many gentile morons idolize him and his schtick. Nor am I sold on Larry King, frankly. A little too obsequious for my money. Glad we agree on Ms. Handler.

        The valedictorian of my college class (who was at least two years younger and vastly smarter than the rest of us) favored the great, “just because I’m paranoid…” line. He could have done stand-up but went to Yale Law School instead. Shortly after Los Clintons and Lanny Davis.

        Cheers.

  8. I”ve never seen Schumer, but I do know the “op-ed piece” has to be garbage. I guess reviewers or critics of comics or television program content or whatever Patton and Leonard think they’re doing — and the Washington Post that gave them a forum for their unsubstantiated opinion — do not have to adhere to any standards or concern for integrity as the professionals do, certainly for movies. Reviewing or critiquing does have agreed-upon standards and rules of behavior, a major one being You May Not Review ANYTHING You Haven’t Seen in Person. Some add “in its entirety.” The opinion-ediots ought to try evaluating the racism, or anything else in say, a live performance by reading the script. That’s inane. Almost as inane as the word “racist” is becoming in this country.

  9. Don’t forget the unspoken victim’s here. These people are professors. People have to take their classes and get graded by them. Some students possibly have them as their mentors for their dissertations. Now you see how these attitudes spread.

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