Comedy Isn't Actually All About Pushing Boundaries, Dudes, It's Mainly About Being Funny

You're not a free speech hero for bravely using racial slurs. You're a hack.

The news that Saturday Night Live had added, and the abruptly subtracted, Detroit comedian Shane Gilles from the cast of the next season has been met with predictable anger from those who argue that comedy is about pushing boundaries, and relief from those that don’t like overt racism.

Gilles, it turns out, had a podcast on which he regularly threw around salty language about the non-white, non-straight and non-male. And this was no secret: it was also the basis of all of his stand up.

SNL have claimed their vetting process was somehow breached (although there are now reports that Gilles was specifically sought out as a “conservative” comic to help counter the perception that the show were left-leaning).

That, it’s fair to say, has not worked.

Now, I did stand up for a little while and was immediately filled with respect for those who can make a go of it. It’s a goddamn hard gig – made harder, admittedly, if you have jokes like “Newtown is Sydney’s most misleadingly named suburb; I’ve lived there for years and not seen a single newt.”

Yeah, my stand up career went great, thanks.

But what I learned by watching and doing and watching and watching was that the best comedy, or at least the comedy I enjoyed most, tended to be brilliantly witty with a bold, original point.

I also learned that for the most part comics didn’t bother with that because it was hard – but they sure liked using racial slurs or misogynistic and homophobic language instead, because it was much, much, much easier.

It’s like a loud noise in a scary film: you can make someone jump, and it requires zero skill.

Also, it makes it remarkably easy to blame an audiences non-reaction on being a bunch of triggered snowflakes rather than because the person on stage is bad at comedy.

So let’s make something clear. Comedy isn’t about being edgy, or pushing the artform, or taking risks. Comedians can choose to do that, and arguably the best comedy comes from doing that, but it’s a decision.

What comedy needs to be is funny. And if it’s not that, it’s nothing.

And that appears to be the problem with Gilles: it’s not that what he said was too fire for them stuffed shirts at NBC, but that saying that [ethnic slur] could go back where they came from was just racism without any comedic or satirical point. Or as W. Kamau Bell elegantly puts it:

It is arguably possible to make a joke about anything and for it to work, but there’s nothing lazier than being offensive and then whining about how you’re a hero who’s comedy is pushing boundaries, in lieu of being entertaining.

Offending people is easy. Being funny is hard. Stop lazily pretending that the former is somehow the same as the latter, dudes.

Tim Minchin And Ricky Gervais Arguing Over Bullfighting Is No Laughing Matter

It's deeply not funny.

Tim Minchin and Ricky Gervais do not like bullfighting.

It is something which still happens despite all the reasons why it absolutely should not, which is something about which both comedians appear to agree.

But because of Twitter, which is a window into the bleakness of men’s souls, we were treated to the sight of these men having a solid stoush on the subject – which, again, is about something about which they don’t actually disagree.

Has Hey Arnold taught us nothing?

Minchin and Gervais have had very public disagreements in the past, most notably over Gervais’ use of the word “mong” as an insult. Which, again, was really about the two men approaching their comedy differently more than any fundamental disagreement about whether calling someone a race-based insult was a great thing or not.

But in any case, this new spat started with this tweet from Gervais, celebrating a bull who turned on the person fighting him and, not to put too fine a point on it, killing them:

And then Tim Minchin jumped in, pointing out that sure, except a dude died and why are we celebrating that?

This got a lot of support and pushback

But this point led to Gervais firing back:

To which Mr Minchin replied

And meanwhile there were other arguments going on

And in some ways it neatly plays into the caricatures which people invent about both men: Gervais as a man without empathy who gets defensive when challenged (about bullfighting), and Minchin as an uptight killjoy who can’t help but lecture people (about bullfighting).

Which is unfair, because one of those men gave us this…

…and the other gave us this:

…so this is a bit like watching your dads fight. And this close to Fathers Day too! (Although let’s be honest, Minchin makes a strong point.)

Anyway, will this blow up into #bullgate? Feels like we have more things to be outraged about these days.

Life In The Friends Writers' Room Was A Hilarious Nightmare

It would seem that life in the writers’ room for Friends was either the most high-pressure party, or the most hilarious prison sentence.

Yes, television‘s favourite group of… um, pals… was apparently a delight-slash-nightmare, according to an excerpt from Generation Friends by Saul Austerlitz, a forthcoming book about the show. Vulture have published a chapter and… well, it’s an eye-opener.

While the show’s co-creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman ran an impressively supportive-if-competitive room where the best joke won over people’s own egos, there are plenty of quotes that make it clear that writing for comedy is not for the faint hearted.

Or the sleep-hearted. Or the having kids-hearted. Or the wanting to see anyone that’s not also trapped in the writers’ room with you-hearted.

You can understand why, though:

“A single season of Friends would require seventy-two separate plots, each with its own introduction and resolution, each with its own array of jokes and emotional moments. And fully plotted stories would regularly be tossed out because they flopped in rehearsals or during a shoot.”

That’s 12 people doing that amount of writing, rewriting, re-rewriting and punching up (ie: taking something that’s OK and putting the killer lines in).

A good day typically went from 9am to 10.30pm. A typical day, however…

“It was fun to be in a room of raconteurs, entertainers, and one-liner machines bantering, debating, and performing for each other. But there also was no specified end to the workday, no moment when the writers would punch out and head home… On David Lagana’s first day on the job as a writers’ assistant, he showed up for work at nine-thirty a.m. and left for home at six-forty-five the next morning. The last day of the workweek was widely known as Fraturday, as it often did not end until Saturday morning. “

Kaufmann often found herself driving home in the wee small hours to get her kids up, fed, dressed and sent to school before turning around and going back to the office. Writer Jeff Astrof was convinced he’d meet himself going to work on the way home, thereby tearing a hole in the universe.

In fact, the whole Friends’ joke about Chandler failing to be able to do the whipcrack noise came from a writer getting a call from their financee wondering when and if they’d ever be coming home, and another writer trying and failing to suggest they were whipped.

So you know, comedy out of tragedy and all that.

It’s a longish read but definitely ideal for anyone thinking of joining a writers’ room, or who wants to know how many of the humiliating plot points of Friends came directly from writers’ lives (spoiler: all of them).

There is also, however, a story about the writing of ‘Smelly Cat’ which we won’t ruin. It’s pretty good.

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