Who told comedians we’re required to laugh at all their jokes?

When comedians grew more sensitive than their audiences

Shamontiel L. Vaughn
Jan 23 · 7 min read
Photo credit: Thought Catalog/Unsplash

I saw her unraveling while she paced the stage, and my first thought was, “Whose idea was it to invite this particular comedian?” She’d come to my college campus for comedy night but spent majority of the time complaining that we were “too sensitive.” It just never seemed to occur to her that she simply wasn’t funny to the hundred or so students in the audience. At one point, she got mad and said she would insult everyone in the room from left to right if anybody dared to say something smart to her.

And when someone finally yelled out that she was just not funny, she screamed something to the effect of, “If you were worth it, you’d be sitting here with a bitch instead of your boys.” That got a couple of “ooohs” out of the crowd. Still though, none of us left that campus comedy night thinking she was a hit. And I’ve been hesitant to pay even $1 for comedy shows ever since. Nothing will suck the funny right out of you quite like a comedian who looks like she needs therapy. I’ve seen this same comedian through the years, occasionally in low-budget TV and movie roles. And she’s still not funny. She plays the overly-aggressive-chase-the-man roles that have become way too stereotypical for a certain type of woman.

And I sigh because I really wanted her to be funny, and you probably still wouldn’t know her name without a Google search. But there are many comedians that are household names who get bent out of shape like she did — ones who really just don’t understand why you’re not falling to the floor in convulsions at all their routines. News flash: Comedians, your audience is not required to laugh at your jokes. It’s your job to make us do so.

Photo credit: Shots by PRIIINCESSS

Your funny friends are a hidden treasure

There’s something gloriously satisfying about being around genuinely funny people, especially if they’re not “too cute” to be funny. Funny people make my day, and I’ve been lucky enough to have a funny social circle.

One of my mother’s childhood friends has two daughters that are walking, talking comedy skits. If you glance at them, they just look like the kind of pretty, shapely women who would sit in the VIP section of clubs and be snobs. But as soon as they open their mouths, it’s on! It made absolute sense that one of the two took wedding photographs with Soulja Boy-adjacent sunglasses on and made funny faces. My godbrother (different family) really should’ve gone into comedy, too.

No matter how much I hated the time at my first college, my roommate (a blonde-haired, white girl from a suburb of Illinois) was instant therapy on any given day. I knew I liked her the minute she yelled out, “Boom! I got your boyfriend. I got your man. I got ‘em!” Who in their right minds just randomly knows the lyrics to MC Lucious songs? Even when she had the bright idea to buy two guinea pigs and two kittens for our 12 x 12 dorm room, all I could think was “Never a dull moment with this one.”

My grandfather was almost incapable of taking a serious photograph and would crack jokes so much that they’re still quotable to this day. My father has those moments. My mother definitely has those moments. And my older brother is always a good time at parties.

Even on New Year’s Day, my brother (who lives in another state) sent a text message to me and my parents saying he misses us — with a crying-with-laughter emoji — because we were cracking jokes on text messaging. I fucking love to laugh and surround myself with those who do, too.

Photo credit: (left) Brodie Vissers/Burst, (right) Angelo Moleele/Unsplash

Comedians who “get” the joke

There’s this misconception that since some people have matured with their humor that we don’t like to laugh at all. Not true. I have a top 10 list of comedians who will always make me laugh no matter the occasion. In no particular order: Russell Brand, Chris Rock, Wanda Sykes, Pauly Shore, Sinbad, Kevin Hart, (the late) Bernie Mac, Wayne Brady, Charlie Murphy and Robin Thede. And quiet as it’s kept, Gabrielle Union’s book “We’re Going to Need More Wine” made me laugh harder than Robin Thede’s entertaining “A Black Lady Sketch Show.” I didn’t even realize what I was getting into when I opened Gabrielle Union’s book, especially the Mariah Carey car chapter.

Photo credit: Xenia Bogarova/Unsplash

There are some comedic movies that will always crack me up. Macy Gray and Faizon Love at the dinner table in “November Rule” is one of my favorite comedic scenes. Regina Hall being even funnier than Kevin Hart makes “About Last Night” one of my favorite films. I’ve even interviewed a handful of comedians who were delightful people to talk to. But those 10 people mentioned above are my go-tos.

So when I hear some of today’s comedians complain that audiences are too sensitive, too politically correct and we don’t know how to laugh anymore, I’m left wondering why they’re admitting defeat. No, we may not laugh at the same risque jokes you could’ve gotten away with being racist, sexist, ageist or homophobic about in the ’80s and ’90s. And yeah, I probably don’t want to hear the same setup about how “white people do _____________, black people do ______________” or why women are bitches/fat/old/ugly/lonely/single. I like smart funny and I like weird funny, but I’m not into vulgar funny — usually. (Deon Cole may be the only exception to this rule, mainly because he’s so nice on my eyes. But I still think his cleaner jokes and the ridiculousness of his character Charlie on “Black-Ish” and as a professor on “Grown-Ish” are so much better.)

So I know which comedians I will and won’t spend money on. But I’m watching a growing trend of comedians who I kinda sorta like but wouldn’t pay to see live. I just don’t want to watch another comedian unravel onstage like that lady on my college campus. The ongoing complaint is about why it’s so hard to get a PC audience to laugh, why we’re “too lame” to get the jokes and why we’re “ending/canceling” comedians’ careers.

But why does it never seem to occur to these disgruntled comedians to try something new? Sorry, sir, your rape and molestation jokes just won’t fly in the #MeToo era. Pointing out the big girls in the audience won’t gain you the same level of laughter in the #BodyPositive environment. And good lord, please stop telling me your millionth joke about having the world’s greatest penis or vagina. We’re not trying to have sex with you, but we do want to laugh with you.

Somewhere along the line too many comedians have decided that if we paid for a ticket to their shows that we must laugh at every single awful joke that they think is funny. And no one is telling these same comedians that they sound more sensitive than their audience. Every music fan won’t like all the music a rapper or singer releases. Every reader won’t like all the books an author writes. Every interview won’t be an enlightening front-page story in a journalist’s life. Every customer will not like the chef’s favorite restaurant special. The sooner comedians learn that their job is no different than anyone else’s, and they simply cannot please all the people all the time, the sooner they’ll help us be more stress free instead of stressed out with them onstage. Laugh it off, and carry on.

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Shamontiel L. Vaughn

Written by

15-year vegetarian journalist/editor; part-time dog walker and dog sitter; Toastmasters member and 5x officer; WERQ dance and yoga enthusiast; Shamontiel.com

We Need to Talk

These heart-to-heart conversations challenge some unpopular views on family, relationships and activism.

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