Recently, there has been a lot of debate around the purpose of comedy and whether it’s being watered down because of “politically correct culture” or “woke culture.”
Todd Phillips, the director of the upcoming flick Joker, made this very clear when he made comments published in a Vanity Fair article. In the article, which actually centered around Joker star Joaquin Phoenix, Phillips made a comment about how “woke” Hollywood led him to make Joker.
“Go try to be funny nowadays with this woke culture,” he said. “There were articles written about why comedies don’t work anymore — I’ll tell you why, because all the fu**ing funny guys are like, ‘Fu** this sh**, because I don’t want to offend you.’ It’s hard to argue with 30 million people on Twitter. You just can’t do it, right? So you just go, ‘I’m out.’ I’m out, and you know what? With all my comedies — I think that what comedies in general all have in common —is they’re irreverent. So I go, ‘How do I do something irreverent, but fu** comedy? Oh I know, let’s take the comic book movie universe and turn it on its head with this.’ And so that’s really where that came from.”
Oh Todd, how I wish you would’ve kept your mouth shut.
As a DC Comics fan, I initially was excited to see Joker because I’m always interested in different interpretations of the popular Batman villain. Despite early critiques that it might insight violence or create sympathy for White murderers, I was willing to give it a chance, especially since I’m also a fan of Phoenix’s diverse and talented roles.
However, Phillips has now increased any reservations I might’ve had about the movie by reminding me that it’s directed by the same White man who directed movies like The Hangover and Old School, AND he’s criticizing “woke culture” at the same time.
Despite some of the humorous value of Phillips’ earlier comedy movies, they never really appealed to me because they were centered on White bro-y, frat culture that I didn’t even try to relate to as a gay Black man. Even when these movies came out in the first decade of the 2000s, some publications like Detail Magazine grouped Phillips with other “Frat Packager” directors who also focused on mostly straight White men (e.g. director Judd Apatow with 40 Year Old Virgin and Adam McKay with Anchorman).
Now that Phillips is blaming “woke culture” as the reasons “comedies don’t work anymore,” it not only tells me that he’s ignorant to the plethora of great comedy out there, but he is also longing for a past time when comedies centered around straight White men. Today, it’s possible to celebrate diverse comedies like Girls Trip and A Black Lady Sketch Show, but Phillips thinks there’s no room for his straight white man comedy because he doesn’t want to “offend you.”
When people make these sort of arguments, I always urge them to consider a few points.
First of all, if your jokes are going to be centered around groups that are already oppressed and you’re not a member of that said group, expect to look like a bully….not a comic. This is how I feel about Dave Chappelle and many other comics who seem to be whining that comedy is becoming too politically correct because they can’t say whatever they want to say about a marginalized group. A clip of the late standup comedian George Carlin has recently been circulating online proving that comedy can take on a bully mentality. In a 1990 interview with Larry King, he criticized fellow comic Andrew Dice Clay‘s quips about certain marginalized groups.
“Comedy has traditionally picked on people in power, people who abuse their power,” Carlin said. “Women and gays and immigrants, to my way of thinking, are underdogs.”
“I think [Clay’s] core audience is young white males who are threatened by these groups,” he continues. “I think a lot of these guys aren’t sure of their manhood, I think that’s often a problem when you’re going through adolescence… and the women who assert themselves and that are competent are a threat to these men, and so are immigrants in terms of jobs.”
On another note, there is also this idea that comics are being censored because if they say something offensive, they will receive backlash. This is true, considering comics like Roseanne Barr have lost their entire show because of offensive remarks. Even a recent Saturday Night Live hopeful, Shane Gillis, lost his gig because of old racist and homophobic slurs.
However, these instances should be taken on a case-by-case basis and in a situation where a comic is not willing to apologize for their remarks, it should be expected that every company or person isn’t going to support you. That’s life. Yes, we have free speech, but there can still be consequences for our words. If you’re going to be a comic who’s racist, homophobic, sexist, etc., then you’re just going to have to find a way to navigate the industry and find people who support you.
Believe me, there are still people who will support bigotry. The fact that a racist, homophobic, sexist man occupies the White House should prove this point. Even Dave Chappelle has whole bits using homophobic and transphobic rhetoric and this man still has up to five specials on Netflix.
So Mr. Phillips…”woke culture” didn’t ruin comedy. It has just made people more conscious and it’s created more room for voices that have long been silenced. Instead of saying that “woke culture” pushed you to make Joker, how about you just make a good movie for the sake of movie fans, not out of spite. There will always be an audience for whatever kind of humor you want to espouse. Just make sure you’re ready to take the heat if folks clap back.