By Eddie Scarry
September 6, 2019
Dave Chappelle’s Netflix comedy special wouldn’t be nearly such a hit if the social justice movement hasn’t wrecked and suffocated every singular part of public life. The movement and its followers have screwed up academia, politics, the news media, and all of the entertainment industry, especially comedy.
That’s why it took comic-sized balls for Chappelle to roast nearly every sensitive topical event of the last year, including Me Too and the increasingly militant transgender political lobby. As described in my forthcoming book “Privileged Victims: How America’s Culture Fascists Hijacked the Country and Elevated Its Worst People,” mainstream comedy doesn’t really exist anymore. Social justice has replaced all of it with intersectionality and the privilege-versus-victim dogma.
All working comedians in America know it can cost them their careers if they don’t play along, even if they don’t quite understand when or why this happened.
It was a stunning display in November last year when comedian Nimesh Patel was kicked off the stage at Columbia University for telling what is formerly known as “a joke,” because the spawn of the social justice movement on campus didn’t approve. The set-up for Patel’s bit was everything you’d think the grievance fetishists of social justice would appreciate: a commentary on the marginalization of both blacks and gays. The punchline was even a tribute to the privileged victim’s most sacred tenant: intersectionality.
Patel described his New York neighborhood, where he said gay, black men tell him when they don’t like his clothes. The joke ended with Patel’s observation that being gay can’t possibly be a choice because, after all, who would choose to be gay (aggrieved), on top of already being black (oppressed). “No one looks in the mirror and thinks, ‘This black thing is too easy, let me just add another thing to it,’” went Patel’s joke.
That’s it. That was the punchline. It was funny enough, but Patel had breached social justice protocol in making light of those who claim to have been victimized by nature of their race, gender, or sexuality. Student leaders of Columbia’s Asian American Alliance, which had invited Patel for their annual cultural event, stormed the stage to ask that he wrap up his routine and make his exit early.
“Is it because I’m talking about uncomfortable stuff?” he asked, not realizing he was set to endure a struggle session, the kind of public humiliation the social justice movement uses to punish violators.
“I think there’s a distinction between being uncomfortable and being disrespectful,” one of the student leaders said, to whoops and applause from the idiot audience.
“I think I’m being respectful,” Patel replied.
“I just don’t think you’re entitled to certain jokes you’re making, and I don’t think it’s appropriate.”
“Why?” asked Patel, still not fully aware this was not a debate but a public flogging.
“I think the comments you were making about being gay and black is very disrespectful.”
Patel tried in vain to explain that the joke was actually provided to him by a real, living, gay, black man. “This is strange,” he said. Then, in the most depressing and embarrassing moment of the entire incident, he attempted to save himself by trying to pull rank in victimhood.
“Look, it’s a strange time to be an Asian person in this country,” he said. “I’ll give you that much, because it feels like there’s a lot of racial tension. And at any moment, black and white people are going to go to war, and Indians are going to have to choose, and Asians are going to have to choose.”
You almost want to hug Patel and tell him it’s too late. He has already been offered as a sacrifice to social justice and the church of intersectionality.
Patel went on to say he was sure none of his material had been disrespectful and that he thought any offense taken was a matter of “generational” difference. He finally left, and the audience applauded his exit. A week later, he wrote a tepid op-ed for The New York Times criticizing the student leaders who took him off the stage, while missing the point that his experience was not some fluke.
“I do not think we should let the actions of a small group — actions that get blown out of proportion because they feed a narrative many people want to hear — paint college campuses as bad places to perform and paint this next generation as doomed,” he wrote, before naïvely theorizing that the episode was a symptom of “a 24-hour news cycle” that makes it “hard to sift through and find the signal and find what is really being said.”
No, Patel. No, no. This wasn’t the action of “a small group,” and college students aren’t victims of the “news cycle.” This is the new reality, and it works just as social justice dictates.
What happened to Patel has happened to others in his field. Popular stand-up comic Colin Quinn is just as confounded by the new reality. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal in February 2019, he said, “I feel like a lot of people now are saying, ‘You know what? Comedy is supposed to be uplifting.’ It’s like, what are you, the new moral majority all of a sudden?”
Steve Harvey, in March 2015, told a joke on his morning radio talk show that he had told several times before, involving a made-up, old, black church lady character named “Sister Odell” and her annoyance at the special-needs daughter of a fellow churchgoer. Social justice took action on the internet, immediately calling for Harvey to be pulled from the air.
He apologized in a note on Facebook, explaining to the willfully ignorant mob that Sister Odell isn’t real and no one else in the scenario of the joke is real, either. Although Harvey had bowed to social justice and the grievance gang, it seemed to go unnoticed that three months later on the Netflix show “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” he admitted his apology was contrived to appease the humorless movement.
“You know, I said she was 34 years old, sitting over there blowing bubbles,” Harvey recalled of the fake special-needs person. “Well, that was it. That was it. And boy, they went on Twitter, Instagram. … I apologized, I had to do it.” He further explained that the apology was required to stave off advertisers from fleeing his TV program.
“Because I got a talk show,” he said. “Because now here comes a sponsor — and now all the rest of them have to piggyback and act righteous, too. ‘Oh, they’re pulling their sponsorship, well, we gotta act like we care too.’ They don’t really care. They don’t really care. It’s the deal. We got to act offended.”
Each and every working comedian knows the drill. They know they can’t do real comedy anymore, not if they want to break it on a national level.
So instead, we get the chubby Amy Schumer grabbing her crotch and lifting up her dress on stage. It’s called “comedy,” but it’s intended to be a message of women “empowerment” and a middle finger to “the patriarchy.” Her 2019 Netflix stand-up special, “Growing,” boils down to one hour of Schumer lifting up her dress to show her underwear and stomach flab, along with references to her reproductive organs.
When the punchline is always “vagina!” it ceases to be comedy. It is then simply a mantra, a message, a signal.
The movement has overwhelmed each and every part of our culture. Politics is no longer about practical policy. Higher education is no longer about prepping young adults for the workforce. The entertainment industry is no longer concerned with entertaining.
And comedy is no longer about making people laugh. It’s about pushing a cause, reinforcing a dogma, and instilling a worldview. It’s about social justice.
Eddie Scarry is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner, focusing on politics and culture. He is also the author of the upcoming "Privileged Victims: How America's Culture Fascists Hijacked the Country and Elevated Its Worst People," now available now for pre-order.