Friday, March 02, 2007

Comedy 101: Sexism and Stereotypes - When to Sell Out

One area I tend to avoid in my comedy writing is the differences between men and women. It's so hack it even has its own hack name: The Battle of the Sexes. This is based on my general avoidance of stereotypes based on any group of people. That's where you get into your standard comedy routines about gays loving musicals, etc...That sort of humor certainly doesn't help - in fact, it hurts. You can talk all you want about the dangers of being politically correct, but I don't admire these worn-out putdowns that make generalizations about an entire group that are only true for a subset. It's a setback for progress and I don't want any part of it.

So let me explain why I went with a sexism-style joke last night and it sold. First of all, I respect my contact in LA so much that I avoid crude material altogether. I once asked her if a certain joke about Monica Lewinsky that was televised, had been mine. Monica had been seen with metal on her teeth and there was speculation she had gotten braces. I wrote that it turned out to be chrome off a trailer hitch, which is a very crude joke about oral sex. My contact said the joke had been mine, then she said, "Be proud, be very proud."

In other words, I might have won over the host and the crowd and maybe even the TV audience with that, but I had not won her over. That led to a slight change in my approach. I would still send in an occasional crude joke but not as many as before, and I would usually apologize for her having to read it. This was not really necessary but I just like her that much.

So it was with a certain hesitancy that I sent in my overtly sexist joke the other day, which aired last night. Apparently Iran is setting up an island just for women. My joke was that it brings up a deep philosophical question: If something goes wrong on the island, whose fault would it be?

The joke represents an era of comedy that ended in something like 1957 - that "Take my wife, please" stuff where comedians like Henny Youngman explored marriage. That's what it is really: A marriage joke. Apparently a certain percentage of married men feel they get an undue share of the blame when something goes wrong around the house. In that sense it is targeted at a subset of the crowd. The host even discussed the pitfalls of alienating half the audience.

Maybe I could weasel out of it by saying it's 2007 and men really are to blame for much of what goes on in the world. But that ignores the increasing blame I place on Nancy Pelosi for not ending Iraq.
So I admit it. The joke was sort of hack and I apologize. It's why I avoid this topic but when you have an island full of women, it is hard to avoid. I like the way my own Mom put it: She would say things like, "I expect more out of women than I do out of men", but she also said, "You men - you have a lot to put up with."

At any rate, the joke went on and the crowd laughed. I don't feel awesome about it, but sometimes these moral guidelines must be overlooked in the name of commerce. The Portland Freelancer has spoken.


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