Once again: send me a receipt for any new donation to any cause of your choosing, and I will extend your subscription by a month.
CW: racism, institutionalization, sexual abuse/grooming/pedophilia.
If you have time only to read one thing today, do not read my newsletter. Read this essay by Nico Carter about when his bosses at Cards Against Humanity had him committed:
While I was in the mental ward, I realized that the conditions we were being diagnosed with seemed socioeconomically and racially dispersed. It was women who were suicidal, and black men who had addictions. A poor man whose father had died when he was 13 and laid dead in his living room for three days before they knew, was an addict. The trans woman of color was suicidal. The tall, square-jawed white man, however, thought he was God. He informed me that I was a flower one day. I didn’t argue with him.
Could the conditions that the institutions of white supremacy tell us we have: anxiety, depression, etc. be side-effects of inequality and oppression? Could the forces of racism drive some people mad, maybe literally in the sense of anger, and could the doctors, whose theories from mere years ago described how gay people were genetically different, black people were genetically inferior, and still can’t explain women’s orgasms perhaps be wrong about what is happening to us?
The state of being an employee has extended beyond the workplace. We are all employees, in and out of our jobs, regardless of the occupation. In the comedy world, every performer is a potential boss or employee. Comedians just want to be able to do what they love and make money doing it. It’s a simple mantra, and seems innocent, but what it means is that they don’t give a shit who’s paying them as long as they’re getting paid. I know that because I was one of those people.
When the host of my open-mic at the Juicebox told me he was going to accept a job as a staff-writer at CAH, I didn’t blink. He said he needed the job to get out of his oppressive 40 hour workweek. He also replaced me on my improv Harold team at iO as the sole black man.
We pretend we’re being forced to compete for these jobs, that we’re artistic minorities struggling to survive like roses in concrete. The reality is that we don’t need these jobs, we don’t need the status. We want it, and those are entirely different types of things in that one of them is a dependent state and one of them is not.
Who is an artist who can’t criticize their bosses? What’s a writer who can’t say what they really think?
If you have time to read more than one thing, carry on.
I have never seen a more succinct encapsulation of rape culture in comedy than this exchange on the Comedy Cellar’s nightly YouTube show:
The group has been talking about the Chris D’Elia allegations. Here, about 26 minutes in, Mike Yard riffs about how important it is for men to investigate their sex partners in advance, so you can avoid people who might later accuse you of untoward conduct. Sherrod Small agrees, joking that he videotapes all of his sexual encounters for legal purposes. Estee Adoram, the Cellar’s longtime booker, says that “it’s not easy being a man right now,” because anyone can accuse you of anything and “they’re going to be believed first.”
Then Mia Jackson points out that while she was initially skeptical of the D’Elia accusations, her doubt was mitigated by the sheer number of women who came forward. Small interrupts to tell her they should have gone to law enforcement: “If you really got a story and he really did it, go to the police.” Jackson and Mark Cohen remind Small that many of D’Elia’s victims did not recognize he was grooming them at the time. Small says they should still go to the police now. Then he asks what laws D’Elia actually broke, and (inaccurately) rattles off various’ states ages of consent.
If you want to know what the next few years of comedy podcasting will look like, here it is: the world’s most confident and least informed people sitting around trying to solve not only the pandemic but also their peers’ sex crimes, shamelessly talking over everyone who actually knows what they’re talking about, and just generally telling on themselves. Here Andrew Schulz and Akaash Singh observe that while D’Elia’s messages to teenage girls might look bad, that’s actually just how all men text women:
And here they are defending D’Elia again two days later: “He likes banging younger chicks that are legal—barely legal.”
And here’s Shane Gillis and Matt McCusker deriding D’Elia’s victims as clout-seeking groupies:
And here’s a conversation between Luis Gomez, Zac Amico, and Geno Bisconte, in which Gomez calls for “a drop” in age-of-consent laws nationwide, before Bisconte and Amico describe D’Elia’s behavior as normal:
AMICO: We found out it's “hebephile,” right?
GOMEZ: Yeah, he's a little bit of a hebephile.
BISCONTE: What's a hebephile?
AMICO: Liking teenage women.
GOMEZ: Teenage women.
BISCONTE: That's actually a word?
AMICO: Or just being a straight dude.
GOMEZ: He's a guy.
BISCONTE: Yeah, he's a—do you understand, that's what's wrong with—everyone coming up with names for just normal things. If you like fucking teenage girls, you're a dude. You're a fucking dude.
AMICO: If we’re not supposed to want to fuck teenage girls, why do sex shops have Catholic schoolgirl outfits?
Did you see D’Elia’s “rebuttal” in Page Six the other day? It was pathetic. He confirmed as his the email address that appeared in so many screenshotted conversations, and he admitted flirting with teenage girls and soliciting their pictures. He did not so much as acknowledge four of the stories in this LA Times exposé last week, nor the numerous others about him on Twitter and in Mashable. It is difficult to see what credibility he gains from these disclosures, though maybe it’s not his credibility that matters. If D’Elia has a future in comedy, it will be because comics stand by him, bookers book him, and fans come to his shows. All three parties are steeped in a rape culture so foundational that it affords an honest living to men who publicly declare “pedophilia is normal!” D’Elia doesn’t need to convince these people he’s telling the truth; he just needs to give them a single reason to believe all those women are lying. Then they’ll rally their fans around him, his podcast audience will balloon, and the bookings will follow at venues whose ethical standards are conspicuously aligned with their ticket sales.
I have speculated that we are at the tail end of a cultural shift in standup. Those excluded by or otherwise unable to abide the toxicity of traditional spaces have left them, leaving behind those responsible for the toxicity and those who don’t mind it. This may have been an incomplete analysis. It seems we are not just witnessing the reification of standup’s toxic norms, we are watching the culture double down. By centering public reaction instead of harms inflicted, comics shaping conversations around people like Louis CK and Chris D’Elia turn their unique offenses into familiar culture war bugaboos. Twitter falsely called him a rapist. Twitter falsely called him a pedophile. He’s not some monstrous racist, he was just telling jokes. You can say anything these days and the SJW mob will flay you alive. What about due process? This lets them exonerate their peers of harms they weren’t actually accused of, while codifying the harms they did commit into the realm of the tolerable. The going line on CK in clubs like the Cellar, where I spent a few nights talking to comics and management earlier this year, is that his sin was misreading the situation, but nothing illegal! The line forming around D’Elia is that of course he likes to fuck his fans, but nothing illegal! What’s legal might be icky or offensive but so long as it’s legal it’s no reason to rob a man of his livelihood, blah blah blah. Absent is any power analysis or baseline empathy for people other than the rich celebrities, who get to return as both victim and hero. Buying tickets to their shows becomes a political act for people whose politics consist of “not kowtowing to cancel culture.” This… turns out to be a lot of people.
I know some who think club comedy can be redeemed, that its institutions can be transformed. It would be very cool if they are right; I suppose there is little point worrying about it until after the pandemic, which might leave the business in need of rebuilding anyway. If it survives, though, Chris D’Elia’s future will tell us if it’s redeemable—or if it’s a safe space for brazen, unapologetic child predators.
For the last week-ish I have been in Moscow, Idaho, about five hours north of Boise. It’s very pleasant, pretty much desktop background images as far the eye can see. Also an evangelical church led by coronavirus deniers is trying to take over the town, the restaurants are packed, and nobody’s wearing masks. I’ll leave you with some scenery: