What comedians get that pundits don’t

White House Correspondent’s Dinner: You are a bad room. The problem isn’t Michelle Wolf. The problem is you.

Thoughts from comedian/writer Matt Ruby. Want more? Sign up here to get my newsletter.


So this is what happens when you say the emperor has no clothes. Sure, the emperor gets pissed off. But so does everyone else along the parade route who was going along with the whole charade.

I mean, you think she just ran these jokes up the flagpole for the first time at that dinner? You think she was taking chances? Nah. That was a crafted set. I saw her run it night after night for months. She honed it. She perfected every line. She knew exactly what she was doing. Pundits don’t get this because pundits bloviate for a living. Comics actually do research. We know how our material plays. We know what people really think because we’re there in the room with ’em. You’re up in the tower passing judgement. We’re in the arena wrestling pigs. So don’t lecture us about what’s funny. We’re immune to your consultations. We’re quite aware what we’re going through.

Telling a comedian who is doing honed material that he/she is wrong is silly. It’s too late. We’ve already been proven right in the court of comedy clubs. We already have the evidence. The verdict is in. Saying we’re wrong for doing a joke that we know works is like insisting DNA evidence is false. We just think you don’t understand science.

Washington Post says “Groans and cold silence followed.” Perfect! That crowd of stiffs is a bad room.

This is the difference between working a crowd and online/TV punditry. Being on TV or writing thinkpieces or chiming in on Twitter is not the same as testing ideas in front of a roomful of people every night. That process is a crucible that tells you how people really feel.

And you know who gets that? Comedians and Donald Trump.

Think about this scenario: You’re a performer. And night after night, you get up in front of a cross-section of America. People from all over. And you run your material. You see where they respond and you tweak accordingly. You add a line here, you drop a line there. You hone it and make it sing. You know when you’ve hit the mark. The crowd tells you with their response. They laugh at this spot, they applaud at that spot. They groan here, they cheer there. You do it enough, it doesn’t matter what the “experts” think. The crowd is the real expert and you know when you’ve got them.

So, did I just describe a comedian working out a set or Donald Trump running for President? Is there even a difference?

I remember reading how Trump didn’t even like the phrase “Drain the Swamp” but he tried it after someone suggested it. It hit and so it stayed in the act. Every comedian knows what that’s like. The crowd teaches you every night: Do this but don’t do that.

Sure, Wolf and Trump have completely opposite points of view. But they both understand how completely out of touch everyone who attends that black tie circlejerk dinner is and know America’s on a different page.

As a comedian, you have rough sets. You learn that sometime it’s your fault and sometimes it’s the room. Michelle Wolf is a great comic and that was a great set. The problem is the room.

P.S. Did y’all really think the smokey eye line was more offensive than the Uncle Tom line!? Comedy tip: Being called an Uncle Tom is the worse thing. The hilarious thing is she actually did make a really mean joke based on someone’s appearance and it was Mitch McConnell and no one even gives a f — k because we all hate Mitch McConnell.

P.P.S. Please stop referring to comedians as “elites.” We are mostly dog walkers who perform in basements, get paid in drink tickets, and live above a bodega in Bushwick with three roommates who own skateboards.


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