The Not-So-Great Gadsby: How PC Rage Devoured Stand-Up Comedy
Poor stand-up comedy. For a few decades there, it was on a roll. It was a growth industry. Comedy clubs sprung up everywhere. Comedians proliferated. Most were lousy, but some were terrific. If it wasn't a golden age, it was silver, at least. The range of humor broadened and deepened. Comedians crossed all kinds of lines that hadn't been crossed before. Some comics were highly personal, some were dirtier than anyone a few years earlier could ever have imagined, others kept things relatively clean. Some were obsessed with politics, but their political views weren't always predictable. In any event, there were people in all these categories who were top-notch. A few of the best comedians went on to star in sitcoms -- Seinfeld, Roseanne, Everybody Loves Raymond, King of Queens -- that were among the best TV series of their time.
Then the Zeitgeist underwent a revolutionary shift. Top comics stopped performing at universities -- which had once been profitable venues that welcomed edgy humor -- because students had been taught to take offense at, well, almost anything. Before long, this mentality infected the mainstream culture, too.
Only the day before yesterday, a whole raft of female comedians, inspired by Joan Rivers and others, had made a name for themselves by being outrageous. But suddenly those women -- think Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer, Chelsea Handler -- got infected with the political-correctness bug and stopped being funny. Instead of telling jokes, they lectured their audiences about identity politics and victim grievances.
When hosting jobs began opening up on the late-night talk shows, they didn't go to the wittiest comics out there; they went to staggeringly bland personalities like Jimmy Fallon and James Corden and the tiresomely left-wing Stephen Colbert. Others were tamed: the once wild and risible Jimmy Kimmel became a reliable PC mouthpiece. HBO, Netflix, and Comedy Central, aiming largely at millennial viewers (many of whom have never had any idea what funny is), filled their schedules with the mediocre likes of Trevor Noah and Larry Wilmore.
A lot of male comics -- the lousier ones -- went with the flow, filling their shows with virtue signaling. The lamer they were -- one thinks of Patton Oswalt and Aziz Ansari -- the more they seemed likely to graduate to stadium-audience status. The better male comics just kept plugging away, dealing with the groans at certain gags from audience members who weren't really offended but who, in the current culture, have been brainwashed into signaling offense at the mere mention of certain words. Some of the most brilliant comics -- such as Greg Giraldo and Patrice O’Neal -- actually kicked the bucket before the worst of this nonsense took off. Meanwhile, other first-class (and underappreciated) practitioners of the art -- Doug Stanhope, Norm MacDonald, Dave Attell -- somehow manage to keep their careers afloat, overshadowed by no-talents like Michelle Wolf, who has rocketed to fame of late because of her thoroughly unamusing material about the joys of abortion.