How Comedy Works, Steven Crowder, and Why Youtube Has Become Lame

Humans laugh when we expect one thing to happen but something else happens. You expect the man walking down the street to continue walking but he steps on a banana peal and does a back flip. You expect the news anchor to seriously deliver the news but they accidentally swear or say something inappropriate. You expect everyone to follow the social norms but then someone breaks them.

It is this breaking of social norms sort of humor that modern comedy has thrived on for the past 50 years. For example, here is a clip of Bill Burr talking about women get involved in traditionally male spaces.


I found this funny. Why is it funny? He is not telling jokes. It is funny because we expect everyone on TV to follow the long established and socially accepted principle that women can and should be involved in all of these areas of life. We all sort of take for granted that this is something to be celebrated and embraced. Bill Burr suddenly calling this into question (with a certain level of mock-outrage) is funny for some reason. Unexpected. And... offensive to some. Indeed the whole way that it is funny is by being offensive to some - because he is saying something unexpected that breaks social norms. If it never offended anyone, it would not be breaking any social norms and would not be funny.

Now, the bit may not be funny to you if you are among the offended. Believe me, I have been on the wrong end of comedy plenty of times. In many ways over the past 50 years or so, it has become more acceptable for comedians to mock white Christians than any other group. Therefore, comedians will often take a ton of shots at my race and religion. For example, here is Dave Chappelle mocking the way white people eat:


Now... I actually think this is funny but it is an example of how many minority comedians feel comfortable talking about race in a way that few white comedians do. Colin Quinn of SNL once noted this and said something along the lines of "You can make a movie called, 'White men can't jump,' but you can't make a movie called, 'black people can't seem to shut the hell up in a movie theater.'"

But sometimes, I admit, I am offended by shots aimed at me. Bill Burr also has a long bit making fun of the Christian religion. And, honestly, did not find it funny. Religion is important to me and I do find it offensive and stupid the way that he mocked it. It makes me like Bill Burr less (but I still like him).  But in a free society, people are allowed to tell jokes I find offensive. They are allowed to make fun of my race and religion. I am allowed to be offended (or not).

What becomes super lame is when some 'school teacher' comes in and starts monitoring the humor to make sure it doesn't go too far. Twitter, for example, now requires that parody accounts and websites state explicitly that they are parody accounts. The problem with this is that, of course, comedy becomes much less funny when you have to explain it. And sometimes it is just inexplicable. Why is something funny? No one knows really.

Jerry Seinfeld talks a lot about what makes comedy work and how comedians can navigate college campuses these days and he said that they will just have to figure out new ways to make the audience laugh. The key, for comedians, is the feedback from the audience. They laugh  or they do not. But when Twitter, Facebook, or Youtube start standing over the shoulder of every comedian (and conservative ones in particular) and noting when a joke goes too far, things get lame. Of course the jokes will go "too far." That is how comedy works. If it didn't go too far it would not be funny. But I think that the problem for Youtube is not that it goes too far but that it is aimed at things that the folks at Youtube are offended by. Youtube is not offended by Bill Maher's making fun of Christianity. Twitter doesn't take his jokes about Pizzagate with wooden literalism.

In short, the school teacher finds some jokes acceptable (the ones that do not offend him) and other jokes unacceptable (the ones that do). But like every time a school teacher had power to censor the comedy of the kids, the quality of humor went down. When Billy can blurt out offensive things about the teacher, kids laugh. When the teacher can review Billy's comments before they are blurted out, kids laugh a lot less. Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook are the school teachers to today's comedy.

Which brings me to the recent dust up over Steven Crowder. Steven Crowder is the host of a comedy channel. It is sort of the conservative version of Howard Stern. He is intentionally pushing boundaries. He uses the identity politics of our modern society for jokes. He calls the lawyer he has on staff, "half asian lawyer" and tends to label every staff member, many of his guests, and the people in the news he reviews by their ethnicity. It is sort of funny to me. But I am not offended. It is the sort of humor that does not poke my beehive. But it clearly pokes the beehive of some of the people Crowder is talking about.

Recently, Vox host Carlos Maza accused him of harassment and making derogatory comments about his ethnicity and sexuality. This is obviously offensive to him. He doesn't like these terms coming from someone he disagrees with. It is worth noting that Maza calls himself gay in his own Twitter handle (@gaywonk). But humor is weird. Why is it funny to call someone by their own stated identity? Not sure. But it is sort of funny. I have a friend from the south who makes fun of me for being from the Detroit area. He sends me every article referencing Detroit's high murder rate. Every time there is a riot, bad weather, or scandal in Detroit, I get an email from him. When we are together and he is introducing me to others he introduces me as "Detroit native, Lewis Ungit." I have no idea why it is funny but it is. And I am not offended.

Now... here is weird thing about comedy. Sometimes it is even funnier if the recipient of the crack is offended. If every time my friend mentioned Detroit, I stomped my foot and said, "shut up man!" It might be even more hilarious to those present. There is a famous clip where Jim Rome (sports commentator) intentionally starts calling legendary football player Jim Everett by the name "Chris Everett." You can check out the clip here:


The clip is sort of hilarious. But only because Jim Elliot got so mad. Doing things that people get mad about is sort of funny. Humor is weird.

Whether you think Crowder is being mean or not by calling Maza a "Gay Mexican" (both things he admits to being) it is an attempt at humor. And you can think it is funny or not. If it is not funny, Crowder will lose audience. If it is funny, he will gain audience. To be honest, I didn't think it was funny until I found out that Maza was getting so worked up about it. Now I find it funny. Humor is weird.

So, my request to Twitter, Youtube, Facebook and all other platforms is to chill out and stop being the lame out of touch teacher that tries to censor the humor of the students. It can only make your website more boring and "safe".  And I think it is in your long term interest to cut it out as well.  When Howard Stern was getting censored by terrestrial radio, he eventually went to satellite radio where he could say and do whatever he wanted without fear of the FCC. He brought many of his fans with him and helped boost satellite radio. In the same way, if Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook keep censoring stuff they do not get or are offended by, they are just going to spur some entrepreneur to create an outlet for them.

Every class clown learns how to make his jokes behind the teacher's back. Youtube should stop being the lame teacher and go back to being the cool facilitator of humor.

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