Good comedy isn’t on anyone’s side
On Chris Rock, the easily offended, and the anti-woke crowd.
The Chris Rock special aired live Saturday night on Netflix and of course social media tribalists turned it into an invitation to post whatever “See, *I* was right all along” propaganda they were gonna post anyway. Easily offended libs were, you guessed it, offended and anti-woke conservatives were all “he’s one of us.” Blinded by their partisanship, both sides missed the point that good comedy isn’t on anyone’s side.
An artist speaks for themselves, they gather information and filter it through their heart and mind and speak their truth, unfettered. They don’t care about the consequences. A great artist is the antidote to society, the guardrails and the leader.
The "You should never joke about _____” crowd
Let’s start with the offended.
A silly thing going on these days is how intention and context don't matter anymore. Is someone saying something at a comedy club or at a rally? Is the end goal to get laughs or incite hate? Because that matters. Online dialogue, however, frequently cherry picks incendiary quotes, takes them out of context, and compresses any nuance.
(Caveat: It’s totally reasonable to not like a joke or think it’s unfunny for you, I’m just arguing that doesn’t mean it’s truly offensive/shouldn’t be told to others.)
Oddly, many of the people complaining about offensive standup material are also “trust the science” left-of-center folks. Why’s that odd? Because, in a way, comedians are joke scientists. Our data: Laughter.
Before a comedian like Rock tapes a special, he’s toured all over North America telling these jokes night after night. Thousands upon thousands of people have heard these bits, in small clubs and theaters, in big and little cities, and in red and blue states. If a joke is truly as bad, offensive, and wrong as the offended claim, it wouldn’t survive this process.
Comics start out with a hypothesis, test out its validity, and then repeat that test over and over again. That’s why we care so little about online blowback to a special. Audiences have already delivered their verdict in real-time every night. If you dig the scientific process, trust the “science” of standup too.
It’s silly to claim a joke is offensive and shouldn’t be told when, night after night, rooms full of people demonstrate how much they disagree with you via their laughter. To decide that YOUR opinion is more valid than theirs feels pretty damn narcissistic.
The “This proves I’m right about woke people!” crowd
And then there are the right wing pundits that love to pounce on any joke by Rock, Bill Maher, or Dave Chappelle as “evidence” of how much these comics are aligned with their conservative talking points.
Right-wing pundits are seizing upon Rock's jokes about abortion, corporate virtue signaling and Meghan Markle, all proceeded by his invocation of their beloved term "wokeness," as evidence that he's one of them now, or some grand sign that a cultural reckoning is coming.
You silly goons. Comedians, like most people, don’t buy into your tribal nonsense. Great comedy calls bullsh*t on everyone on all sides. Have you listened to Rock and Chappelle talk about police brutality? Or Maher talk about Trump? Which side do you think George Carlin represented? ‘Cuz I can find you a joke where he totally attacked that side. These men aren’t on your team; they’re on no team.
Your narrow-minded bubble gives you the illusion that everyone in the world is also involved in your Red Sox vs. Yankees-esque scrum. We’re not. Most of us are in the middle and think things are more complicated than this reductive pov.
On top of that, don’t even assume what’s in a comic’s act is literally what they believe. After all, these are jokes, not a political platform. In fact, many comics are deliberately provoking because watching someone dig themselves out of a hole they created is great standup fodder.
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Heroes and villains? Nah.
The bigger reveal here is what online platforms are doing to discourse (medium/message). They’re making weird people think they’re normal.
We lived through a pandemic, one that guided many people — including politicians — to spend more time on online platforms, where sounding like the kind of person people would avoid at parties can get you incredible engagement. With the advent of social media generally, we are more aware of the edges and margins of our politics and somehow less aware of the people who are smack dab in the middle. Our media has a tendency to favor extremes — telling us a lot about the people on the farthest fringe (cult members, Instagram influencers who think that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote) and less about the people those extremes leave behind.
If you immediately go to your tribalist corner after watching a comedy special, you’re mostly just revealing yourself as an extremely online fringer who doesn’t understand we’re not all playing by foolish binary rules where one side is heroic and the other is villainous. Good art doesn’t play by those rules, it makes up its own.
Watch my new special free on YouTube: “Substance.”
NYC comedian Matt Ruby performs sets on weed, booze, shrooms, and sober in this one-of-a-kind standup special/documentary/experiment. Will he crash and burn or stick the landing? Watch to find out! 🌿🥃🍄🚫
🎯 If you're a low level state politician and Jon Stewart wants to fly to your state to interview you, you might wanna consider saying, "No thanks."
🎯 Crypto guys are just poker players who can use Telegram.
🎯 "Why did you move from NYC to LA?" "I wanted more snow."
🎯 "I got that rizz!"
-Me, arriving at a pot luck dinner with risotto
🎯 Something you never hear anymore: "Who am I to judge?"
🎯 "H!tler was a great public speaker." Really? Dude was just yelling a lot, that heil-ing thing was super weird, and his whole vibe was trés thirsty if you ask me.
🎯 Re: vaccines...I'm not good at reading science stuff. Are the hospitals still using refrigerator trucks to store all the dead bodies? No? Then, I'm gonna go ahead and say I'm for 'em.
🎯 TikTok creator? Phew, i'm tryna think of something less stable than building a career on a social media platform (avg duration of those is tiny) owned by the Chinese government (which the US gov't hates). It's like building your house on a fault line owned by a sinkhole.
🎯 Marcels gonna Marcel:
Wordworker and Vidhead for hire
FYI I do writing, video production, and other stuff for corporate clients (often tech companies). Viva capitalism! For example, here’s a new video my team just created for Collie, an engineering management tool:
You can see more samples (of writing and vid work) here. Wanna discuss a collab? Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
😈 Listen to my podcast: Kind of a Lot with Matt Ruby. Latest ep is all about therapy-speak, mental health, and victimhood. Here’s a clip:
😈 Low ticket warning for my show in NYC on March 9: Misguided Meditation with Matt Ruby: Mindful Comedy Show + Open Bar. Discount code “exhale” for $5 off. Get a taste of the cool visuals in this IG reel…
😈 Recently at my other newsletter “Funny How: Letters to a Young Comedian”…
🗯 C.S. Lewis on verbicide, the willful distortion or depreciation of the original meaning of a word.
Verbicide, the murder of a word, happens in many ways. Inflation is one of the commonest; those who taught us to say awfully for ‘very,’ tremendous for ‘great,’ sadism for ‘cruelty,’ and unthinkable for ‘undesirable’ were verbicides.
Sounds like a Carlin bit.
🗯 We All Want Ja Morant to Grow by Chris Herring.
There is one thing about this entire issue that is grating on my nerves, though. I worry that some folks—the athletes and some fans who wish them well—are advantageously invoking mental health when it comes to explaining why players need the time away, even when it’s somewhat evident that the highly problematic behavior is what prompted the sabbatical in the first place. And it seemingly reduces the idea of getting help to convenient, fallback phrasing whenever a recognizable name slips up in the public eye.
🗯 Ted Chiang, sci-fi writer, believes our fears about A.I. are best understood as fears about capitalism.
I think that this is actually true of most fears of technology, too. Most of our fears or anxieties about technology are best understood as fears or anxiety about how capitalism will use technology against us. And technology and capitalism have been so closely intertwined that it’s hard to distinguish the two.
🗯 No one trusts anyone anymore, according to Mike Binder.
Celebrities, too for the most part have driven their credibility off of the side of the road. When the triple hyphenates you crave went from Actor-writer-producer to Actor-writer-activist, show business had officially closed down and re-opened as another run-of-the-mill clown shop. Sports stars don’t fare much better. Selling their souls and their soles to China and the corporations that China bought to get to them. Flying private planes around the planet telling us what not to drive, say, read, look at, or think about, while they paint giant BLM banners on the floors of their games as if it was garlic on their door late at night to ward off the werewolves.
🗯 Mark Manson, who wrote Will Smith’s autobiography, describes the pitch that landed him the gig.
We had a dinner the last night, and he just out of the blue was like, “What’s up, Mark? Are we going to do a book or what?” And I was like, “Well, I’ve got an outline in mind,” and I told him the thing I just said about emotions and his ability to use his emotions to adapt to things. I also said it’s probably why he’s such a good actor, is that he’s able to summon emotions and play with them and react to them in a masterful way. And I said, “I think the book should be built around emotion. It starts with fear. It moves through all your defense mechanisms into your fame, into all the success, until that facade collapsing, and it eventually, finally ends up at love, at a very genuine, authentic love,” which is something that it took him a long time to get to.
And I said, “As you move through all those emotions, there’s a word for somebody who’s able to move through setbacks and deal with any sort of negative emotion and harness it to advantage them. It’s Will. So that should be the name of the book.” It was like the Fresh Prince came back. He was just like, “Hell, yeah.” He gets up, starts slamming stuff on the table. He’s like, “Hell, yeah. Hell, yeah, we’re doing that.”
That’s it. Thanks for reading. Leave a comment/send a reply/tell a friend/do a little dance/make a little love/etc. ✌️