"Are colleges too politically correct for comedy?" was the overhyped bird flu/shark attack/Ebola of the news recently. Having had a less-than-stellar experience performing comedy at a college, I wrote a piece about the idea. I discussed my university show gone awry, and it got a decent little amount of attention. Right place, right time.
Most topics are polarizing, but the idea colleges were too PC found a home where both conservatives and liberals could reside. From the Huffington Post to the Rush Limbaugh show, many agreed that Millennials needed to toughen up and take a joke. They turned a concept involving an institution -- universities -- into a generation war and finger pointing: "Generation Y is useless!"
I'm not sure that accomplishes anything, and in my piece, I went out of my way to avoid laying blame on the students.
I discussed what happened, and reported the information I was given. I did note the kids were too involved with socializing and their phones to be a good audience, but I didn't insult them for not getting my jokes. I also didn't say the students found me offensive; I noted the young woman in charge said I was. I discussed exactly what I thought the problem was: a hypersensitive institution unwilling to take a chance while pandering to sensitivity. That's on the institution, not the students.
No child ever becomes who they are on their own. Someone raised Millennials and instilled quirks and sensitivities in them. It's easy to make fun of them for getting participation ribbons and attaboys for doing nothing, but who hands those ribbons out? What parent first decided their precious child couldn't take having hurt feelings, and why did the rest of society go along with that? Is it because latchkey kids became parents and didn't want their kids to feel as unloved as they did? I don't know, but I'm curious. Understanding the root cause of a problem should be more important than yelling at the end result.
I'd also say it is unfair to blame Millennials for the actions of a university, and here's why: A few weeks after my disastrous college gig, I spent a weekend at The Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase. It's a comedy club in, you guessed it, Ann Arbor, MI.
Ann Arbor is a college town, where the school and city intertwine. University means students, and students means Millennials. When young faces entered the comedy club before my first show, I grew slightly nervous. Not paranoid, but a smidge unsure of my abilities. After all, the last time I had been in front of members of their generation things hadn't gone well.
Once on stage, I started slinging jokes and wave after wave of laughter washed over me. As they say in the business, "I destroyed." After all four shows I left the stage overjoyed with the audience response to my nonsense. Members of Gen Y, Gen X, and Baby Boomer walked out of the showroom smiling and reaching for my hand; they all had a blast, and wanted to congratulate me on a job well done.
In those moments, I realized something simple: these people were at a comedy club. They came specifically to see comedy. They paid to see comedy. The students at my college show had shown up looking for something to do. Comedy was an afterthought, not their evening.
In my piece, I asked, "Are colleges destroying comedy?" The answer is no. Colleges may be hurting comedy on their own campuses, and by not allowing students to hear a variety of jokes and opinions they may be hurting that young person's overall development, but they aren't destroying comedy.
Comedy is doing just fine, and Millennials will laugh at funny when they make the conscious decision to step into a comedy venue and see it.
Maybe the best course of action isn't to point fingers and blame an entire generation for how they were raised, but to confront the leaders of the PC movement. We know who they are, but I'm not going to name them here. Attention is their sustenance, and I will not offer them food of any sort. When they start their hashtag campaigns or social media assaults on comedy, however, I will mock them. I will mock, challenge, and call them out on their nonsense.
And I hope you'll join me, whatever your age.
Nathan's silliness can be found at www.nathantimmel.com