Comedy's Problems Are Everyone's Problems

But what else is new.

Comedy's Problems Are Everyone's Problems

UK comedian Andrew Lawrence was dropped by his agency this week after he tweeted racist comments about the Euro 2020 final. His upcoming shows at various UK comedy clubs were cancelled as well, to which his fans naturally responded in a completely normal fashion. Per the BBC:

The Concorde in Eastleigh, Hampshire, called off Andrew Lawrence's show after he tweeted the offensive remarks in the wake of the Euro 2020 final on Sunday.

However, it has now received an email warning staff they had "picked the wrong side" and risked being stabbed and attacked with hammers.

Police said they were investigating.

As well as threats of violence against staff, the message warned of arson attacks, food being contaminated and vehicles in the car park being vandalised.

"You will be financially ruined," said the email, which was signed off by a person identifying themselves only as "Gordon".

The email continued: "The Concorde Club will make a magnificent charred ruin."
It claimed the threats were justified because the hotel and gig venue had been "cowardly" and "joined a witch hunt to ruin a man's career".

Lawrence has been a familiar face at comedy clubs and theaters across the UK for years. He gained early recognition through the Edinburgh Fringe and various comedy competitions, leveraging a successful stage career into radio and TV appearances. In 2014 he made headlines with a Facebook post complaining about immigration and criticizing "ethnic comedians" and "women-posing-as-comedians." Per Chortle:

Lawrence – who makes much of his bitter disillusionment with the comedy industry in his act – also berated ‘moronic, liberal back-slapping on panel shows like Mock The Week where aging, balding, fat men, ethnic comedians and women-posing-as-comedians, sit congratulating themselves on how enlightened they are about the fact that UKIP are ridiculous and pathetic.’

He went on to say ‘there are far, far too many people living here’ and that: ‘The reason UKIP have resonated with voters is because all the other parties are too spineless to tackle the issue of immigration.

‘Our elected representatives seeded [sic] control of the borders of this country to the EU and it's been catastrophic for us all, an unmitigated disaster.

‘For every wonderful, welcome skilled worker our open borders bring into this country, there are also benefit tourists and criminals. For every person that comes here and contributes richly to our culture, there are those that refuse to assimilate, which breeds distrust and has led to a fractured, broken society, where people have lost all sense of community.

‘Can’t say that I'm a UKIP supporter, but I can see why other people are, and I don't disrespect them for it.’

Lawrence claims the post cost him TV gigs. It evidently didn't make much of a dent in his career as a touring comic. In comedy it's okay to be a racist, sexist piece of shit so long as your racism and sexism don't become national news, and even then it's usually okay once the backsplash dries up. (See: Tony Hinchcliffe at the Creek and Louis CK everywhere.) This is because comedy venues are designed at an atomic level to produce racist, sexist pieces of shit. By fashioning themselves as neutral platforms for free speech, they provide a safe space for bigots and their fans to roam freely. By refusing to moderate content, they set an implicit and often explicit rule that if you don't like what you see, you can leave: any exposure to the untoward is your own fault. The playing field is necessarily stacked in favor of pieces of shit, who get free rein to say whatever they want for an audience tailored to cheer them on. By the time any of these places are forced to reckon with their creation, it's too late. Sever the limb if you want; the infection's already spread.

Back here in the US, comedian Chrissie Mayr just appeared on former Fox News host Megyn Kelly's podcast. There she said, among other things, that the January 6th riots were "extremely peaceful." (She didn't storm the Capitol, but she did participate in protests beforehand. In one of her livestreams I watched that night, Mayr listened with great interest as a friend described her recent experiences with astral projection.) Mayr is a QAnon believer who hosts her own show on Compound Media and occasionally cohosts Anthony Cumia's. She's a regular at various New York-area comedy clubs and part of Compound Media's touring show Live from the Compound, which is performing this weekend at Uncle Vinnie's Comedy Club in East Brunswick, New Jersey. On July 4th, she tweeted a picture of herself with the caption "CELEBRATE YOUR WHITENESS." Her boss and sometimes-cohost has no shortage of recent tweets calling Black people "animals" and "savages." None of this should cost either individual their freedom, but it should be more than enough to get them laughed out of any comedy club they set foot in.

Mayr and Cumia are extreme figures on the fringes of comedy, where they're relatively easy to ignore. This does not make them benign; the fringes are dangerous precisely because no one pays them much attention. More common are comics like Andrew Lawrence, who dress up their beliefs in the humdrum language of acceptable racism, that is, conservative politics and edgelord humor. Both ends of the spectrum work toward a common purpose—the reinforcement of racial hierarchies—and really they're not so far apart. As the industry reorients around consumer-financed work on digital platforms full of audiences hungry for shameless bigotry, we're seeing the mask drop with increasing frequency. We're also seeing what little difference it makes. No comedy club distanced itself from Tim Dillon when he said Ma'Khia Bryant was too fat to be a child. Seven months after Andrew Schulz said Chinese people sling viruses, he's headlining theaters around the country. Tony Hinchcliffe records his podcast every Monday at Vulcan Gas Company in Austin. The truth is their racism and sexism is what makes them invincible. It's why they can accumulate the sort of rabid audiences no venue owner can resist; it's why they can earn millions on web platforms with even worse moderation than comedy clubs. Most ominously, it's why criticizing them can come at the cost of one's own physical safety.

This all poses a massive challenge for lawmakers, regulators, and platform owners. Before it was a massive challenge for any of them, it was a fairly small challenge for comedy clubs. Alas, they biffed it. Now comedy is a powerful weapon in the right's arsenal as it wages an apocalyptic war on democracy. It's not the worst thing in the world, but you still have to wonder how different everything might be if this industry didn't make it so easy to be a huge piece of shit.

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Header image via Comedy Unleashed/YouTube.