Dear Jerry Seinfeld,
Recently, I've heard about your reluctance to perform on college campuses because of how "politically correct" college students are. You also further made remarks that college students are quick to use the words "racist," "sexist," and "prejudice" with little reverence for what those words really mean (which you felt was proven by a remark made by your 14-year old daughter.)
As a college student that loves and appreciates offensive, provocative comedy, I'm disheartened by these comments.
While I do agree with you that college students today are more sensitive to issues of race and gender politics, it's simply because that's our job as learners. As college students who are engaged in a myriad of social, economic, and political issues, it's our duty to be actively engaged and educated about issues of sexism, racism and prejudice. While, respectfully, your daughter might not quite know what's considered "sexist" yet, I can say with confidence that most college students can distinguish the boundaries of what's considered appropriately sexist or not.
But, I'd like to refocus the conversation to the state of comedy that you feel like we would call "racist" or "sexist."
We need to talk about the role that provocative comedy holds today in a progressive world.
It isn't so much that college students are too politically correct (whatever your definition of that concept is), it's that comedy in our progressive society today can no longer afford to be crass, or provocative for the sake of being offensive. Sexist humor and racist humor can no longer exist in comedy because these concepts are based on archaic ideals that have perpetrated injustice against minorities in the past.
Provocative humor, such as ones dealing with topics of race and gender politics, can be crass and vulgar, but underlying it must be a context that spurs social dialogue about these respective issues. There needs to be a message, a central truth behind comedy for it to work as humor.
Take Amy Schumer for example.
A rising comic in her own right, Schumer has become a muse in being able to tackle difficult social commentaries of sexism and racism through her comedy. During the premier of the newest season of Schumer's comedy sketch show Inside Amy Schumer, Schumer and her writers managed to make a topic that most could never conceive of even making humorous: rape.
The sketch, Football Town Lights, a parody of the football series, Friday Night Lights, told the story of a football coach who boldly decides to reform the local town's losing football team by instilling a strict anti-rape rule for his football players. Throughout the sketch, the players and the town folk are simply flabbergasted at the very concept of not being able to rape. One of the players asks the coach, "What if she thinks it's rape, but I don't?" Another player asks, "What if my mom is the district attorney and won't prosecute me? Can I rape?"
Underlying the joke of it all, of course, is the horrifying truth of rape culture existent in high school football, and an even more horrifying reality of the parents attempting to justify it. Earlier this year, we heard of a horrifying case of a gang rape committed by five Florida high school football players and realized the underlying culture of violence and male domination that inhabits high school football.
While it's not the sole role of comics to be social commentators on every issue through their comedy, I believe there is a responsibility, especially when a well-known comic is talking about sensitive topics like race and gender politics, to have an underlying message to be said.
This doesn't mean that the funny aspect of the bit has to be compromised for the sake of social commentary. As countless comedians have proven before, it's very possible to have a message and be hilarious at the same time.
This translates to stand-up comedy as well. Take it from your fellow male comics.
Stand-up comedian, Louis C.K's bit about how much he loves being white can be, at first glance, construed as being "racist" in a traditional sense. He says in his set, "I'm not saying that white people are better, I'm saying that being white is clearly better, who can argue!"
Doesn't that sound a little "racist" to you? But, view it within the context of what he says, Louis C.K. constructs another valuable dialogue about white male privilege, and the historic injustices that this system has created.
A bit that could have been potentially disastrous was made even more hilarious because of the underlying social context of what Louis was saying.
George Carlin, who was revered by many as being one of the comedy "greats," frequently used crass, vulgar and potentially offensive humor in his acts. While by today's standards, some of Carlin's material can be considered sexist and offensive, many of his bits are still appreciated today because of his strong opinions and the underlying context of what he said. Sure, he was offensive when he tried to justify using racial slurs, but as he said a bit, "it's the context that counts. It's the user. It's the intention behind the words that make them good or bad."
Stand-up comedian Todd Glass argued passionately on comedy podcast Sklarbro County, that young comedians who shy away from offensive humor lack the courage to use the medium as a way to create social commentary and dialogue, as Carlin did. Glass called for comedians to be more offensive, but within the right context.
You can be crass, you can be vulgar, and it's not about worrying about offending people. Fuck offending people. Offend the right fucking people. Don't let this fake argument that makes you not want to grow [as a comedian] and say, 'Oh, you're always going offend somebody.' No one said you shouldn't! It's your fake argument! Offend the living fuck out of people! But make sure you're doing it to the right group. Because, I'm sure George Carlin, most of the time, was offending the right people.
So, yes, Mr. Seinfeld, we college students are politically correct. We will call out sexism and racism if we hear it. But if you're going to come to my college and perform in front of me, be prepared to write up a set that doesn't just offend me, but has something to say.
There's no reason you can't do what other comics are doing. You have an amazing legacy, both in stand-up and on television, because you do your job well.
But, there's a generation in college right now that hasn't seen your comedy, and there's a demographic that yearns for laughter. College students today are looking to be provoked, to be offended by comedy, and to think about these issues within the context of comedy.
So please, take the first step and come to a college campus with a set that will make us laugh.
Offend the fuck out of college students. Provoke the fuck out of me. We'll thank you for it later.