5. TRULY TUESDAY: NETFLIX COMEDY SPECIALS AND "CANCEL CULTURE"
Yesterday, "Saturday Night Live" announced that newly-hired cast member Shane Gillis would not be appearing on the show's upcoming season after all, following the viral spread of a podcast Gillis recorded in 2018 containing racial slurs and offensive language. (In the clip, which you can watch here, Gillis and co-host Matt McCusker discuss Asian immigrants living in Chinatown. Other clips that resurfaced following Gillis' hiring by "SNL" contained material about Muslims and terrorism, homophobic slurs and Gillis and McCusker using mock Chinese accents.) These events come just one week after the release of Bill Burr's latest Netflix comedy special, "Paper Tiger," which itself was directly on the heels of Dave Chappelle's divisive new special, "Sticks & Stones."
All these stories touch on a major divide in the world of professional comedy that has become a significant theme in coverage of 2019 entertainment. On the one side are comedians, commentators, and viewers who feel that political correctness and "cancel culture" have gone too far, and threaten to have a "chilling" or suppressive effect on things comedians feel that they can talk about and analyze, while still maintaining a career. On the other side are comedians, commentators, and viewers who would like to see professionally produced comedy reflect wider societal and cultural values, such as tolerance and respect.
It's worth noting that some commentators reject the entire notion of so-called "cancel culture" or "outrage culture." In Forbes this week, Dani Di Placido argued that Chappelle and Burr's specials actually demonstrate that complaints about "outrage culture" lack merit. Though both specials generated some level of controversy, Di Placido argues that this ultimately served as little more than free marketing. At no point was there ever a serious chance Chappelle or Burr would be silenced for their views. In fact, it's hard to really think of a comedian who has been successfully silenced due to things they've said on stage.
I've watched both specials, and though comedy is certainly very subjective, I will say that I found Chappelle's material unpleasant and mean-spirited, but not Burr's. While Chappelle speaks to grand issues, and positions himself as sort of a Last Honest Man type, Burr's stories and anecdotes are more personal, which make them both self-effacing and kind of charming. Honestly, much of Burr's special feels so dated, it's almost nostalgic. His insists that men who claim to be "feminists" are actually hiding some secret misogyny and bad behavior of their own, a common argument/allegation that dates back to the 1970s at least. He does, however, have one segment about sexual assault, in which he goes into a personal story about how it has impacted his life, that I thought was very well-done and thoughtful. It's better than anything in Chappelle's special, to my mind.
Personally, I think the media and fans are wrong to present this discussion as a binary, between "comedians must be able to say whatever they please, unfettered by any criticism" and "comedy should never be offensive or push any boundaries." This is a false choice. In fact, to my mind, we already have a pretty solid system in place. Comedians say what they please on stage without fear of censorship, and then viewers and the media react accordingly, based on the views and perspectives being expressed. I don't always agree with Ricky Gervais on Twitter, but I think he summed it up rather well recently: "You can joke about whatever the f*ck you like. And some people won't like it and they will tell you they don't like it. And then it's up to you whether you give a f*ck or not."
Both "Dave Chappelle: Sticks & Stones" and "Bill Burr: Paper Tiger" are streaming now on Netflix. If you have thoughts on comedy in 2019, "outrage culture" or any other issues raised in this column, feel free to respond by hitting REPLY on this email. I'd love to hear from you. - Lon