Punching Down, or Why I Gave Up on Comedy

As I write this, it’s 11:04 AM on Saturday, October 16, 2021 and I just cancelled my Netflix subscription. If you’re wondering, yes, it is because of the Dave Chappelle special, or more specifically it’s because of the fallout from the Chappelle special and the way Netflix is treating their employees. This post will probably attract people that will tell me I’m being too sensitive or that I just need to get over it. I’ll might also get a few people spouting the classic ‘you will never be a woman’ or telling me to kill myself. I might also get people angry about a white person criticizing a black comedian.

All of these are reasons I didn’t want to talk about the Chappelle brouhaha. When it first dropped, I expected it to be another tempest in a teapot. After all, a standup comic making homophobic or transphobic jokes is about as rare as sand on a beach or feathers on a chicken. I really just wanted to ignore it until it went away so I could continue going to Netflix, staring at the show selection screen, and ending up not watching anything in peace.

Unfortunately, my brain wouldn’t let it go. The more I thought about it, the more I thought about something that has bothered me for a long time. Comedy.

I should start by saying that I gave up on comedy a long time ago. As a rule, I can’t watch sitcoms. I’ve never really been a fan of Comedy movies. Sometimes even ‘comedic’ episodes of my regular shows are difficult to watch. Comedy, by and large, is painful for me.

A lot of people who have read my work will probably be surprised by that, given how much humor I tend to include in my stories. But there is a difference between humor and Comedy. Humor is a joke to break the tension. Humor is playfulness between friends. Humor is a lot of things that make you laugh. Comedy is a genre, and over the last few decades, it has become more and more mean spirited.

Terry Pratchett once said, “Satire is meant to ridicule power. If you are laughing at people who are hurting, it’s not satire, it’s bullying.” A lot of modern Comedy is bullying. It punches down. It makes fun of people who are hurting, who are marginalized, who are othered by society. Modern comedy laughs at people, rather than with people. It laughs at pain and humiliation, and it lacks any empathy for the butt of the joke. Comedy hurts, and I’ve been the butt of enough jokes, because of my gender identity, because of my sexuality, because of my weight, because of my mental illness, and because of my autism that I feel every cutting remark, even when it isn’t directed at me.

So, I gave up on Comedy a long time ago.

Instead, I fill my work with humor. I fill it with characters who have running gags between them. I fill it with moments that are funny because they are breaking social expectations, or because the characters are over sharing. I create humor where both sides can laugh at the joke, even if one of them is pretending not to. I don’t make the humor mean. I don’t make the humor hurtful. Because laughing at someone else’s pain adds to it, and there’s nothing funny about that.