By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) ALS jokes. Victim blaming. Rape and sports comparisons. It’s been some week. And it’s only Hump Day.
(See, I used Hump Day instead of Wednesday so that for a split second the record in your head would skip. And you went one of two ways with that. You either a) let the briefly-created image pass and acknowledged that the double entendre wasn’t very funny or b) found the word “hump” funny and don’t know what a double entendre is and giggled and went off to your summer school class.)
This very much applies to you if you think that smart people find this week’s weak garbage funny. In the intersection of sports and humor, much of the traffic has to deal with misogyny and constant attempts at figuratively trying to have the biggest junk by being manlier than someone else.
That’s why there is a disproportionate amount of really bad jokes—the ones that get ignored and the ones that get people fired—about sports stuff because that caveman crap is beyond not humorous. As David Roth writes in his great piece regarding the microculture that creates a brutal Steve Gleason bit, “If this is what 790 The Zone — and, to a less-egregious extent, a great many other sports talk radio venues — thinks of ‘guys,’ then they really don’t think very much of us at all.”
I’m going to try to say this without sounding like a complete pompous ass, though it’s nearly impossible to do so: you are not funny. You. The very person reading this. And the schleppy sports radio hosts. And the person running the radio station Twitter account not known for comedy. It’s an incredibly difficult pill to swallow because we so condition ourselves (or allow our families to do so) to not accept flaws in our personalities, but you have to understand how not humorous you really are.
And that’s okay. But ninety-nine times out of a hundred someone needing to confront the limitations of their funniness—or usually lack thereof—is something that would invalidate them as a member of the species or something. If you haven’t read Patton Oswalt’s brilliant screed from last week on a few sort-of-related topics, then you’re invalidated as a member of the species.
“Most people are not funny. Doesn’t mean they’re bad people, or dumb, or unperceptive or even uncreative. Just like most people can’t play violin, or play professional-level basketball, or perform brain surgery, or a million other vocational, technical, aesthetic or creative pursuits. Everyone is created unequal.
But for some reason, everyone wants to be funny. And feels like they have a right to be funny.
But being funny is like any other talent – some people are born with it, and then, through diligence and hard work and a lot of mistakes, they strengthen that talent.
But some people aren’t born with it. Just like some people (me, for example) aren’t born with the capacity to make music, or the height and reflexes for basketball, or the smarts to map the human mind and repair it. I’m cool knowing all of those limitations about myself.”
As am I. Some people find me funny. Some people do not (cue the automatic response by the anonymous commenters). And not being universally accepted—hell, by a majority even—as funny is something I am comfortable with.
I fail constantly and always will. At parties, on social media, in my classroom. But I understand there is a certain weird segment of Chicago and slightly beyond that wouldn’t have me in its online timelines and who wouldn’t otherwise lift its head off its desk at 9am during some Hemingway if not for my ability to draw a laugh now and then. Should I get to teach at Second City? No, but I get to write this because I won a contest partly because of people finding me funny.
(Note: I know I have made jokes in private in the past on par with ones discussed here, and I’m not proud of them. If you think my worldview was the same at 18 at is it at 31, not very. I also decided over time not to stay ignorant, and what I understood as comedy evolved. I also understand that good jokes have to offend at least somebody—the right people. Bad jokes offend nobody or too many of the wrong people.)
Your rape joke isn’t funny. Say that out loud to yourself a few times. “But…” No. “What about…” Stop. “What makes you the expert…” Being not an oblivious jackass. While making a rape joke wouldn’t go over well in any intelligent situation, there is absolutely nothing about sports that parallels sexual assault (cue some sad people trying to envision various scenarios to prove me wrong). Furthermore, comparing a game, even one of the professional championship variety, to possibly the worst experience a person can live through is not only not funny to anyone who isn’t incredibly vile, it also adds to the tire fire of rape culture that many pretend isn’t there and others are having a difficult time putting out.
Your jokes about others’ physical conditions that range from making their lives far more difficult than yours to actually killing them aren’t funny. Whether it be ALS or calling people who are or aren’t mentally handicapped “retards” (something I’ve struggled to stop doing), you’re uncreative and terrible if that’s what you need to feel better than others.
And that’s what bothers me. I’m not handicapped or a victim of sexual assault, so I take no offense because of the subject matter of the bad jokes. I instead have a problem with the genuine uncreativity of them. That’s the biggest affront to comedy—not being a jerk, but being bad, going cliché, serving the Milwaukee’s Best of jokes to me. Funny people understand that easy isn’t funny, and funny isn’t easy. Tom Hanks’ Jimmy Dugan had it right in more ways than one. Unfortunately, everybody tries to do funny. Funny in sports radio and social media is also organic, not “Hey, how about I call in pretending to be the artificial voice of a dying athlete.”
Comparing sports to sexual assault, to war or the military, to the Holocaust, to a natural disaster in the vicinity of an actual natural disaster—none of that will ever go over well. Stop it.
Even professional comedians walk the thinnest of tightropes when approaching the heavy subjects of rape and terminal disease, and while I’m of the school that nothing is sacred when it comes to the art of comedy, it’s a topic that if broached on stage with a mic has to have an understood eventual blowback. Watch this productive, mature, and at times actually funny discussion between comedian Jim Norton and writer Lindy West regarding such jokes for a better explanation. And remember that you are not a professional comedian.
Hopefully you take from that an important point mutually agreed by both of them—nobody is saying a rape joke cannot be made. You are more than legally allowed to crap all over a dying person that hasn’t done anything wrong. Nobody is marching on your First Amendment right to be fiery-blimp-crashing-into-a-children’s-hospital unfunny. You accept walking into the storm of criticism that follows, though. And that storm’s eye will be even larger if you also get defensive or even poopoo those who take issue before making your eventual crappy apology just to stop the acid rain. Even worse if you double down and hope your critics get raped.
And being flippant about all this or taking the easy road of name-calling with an “I (heart) BJ” shirt because having an intelligent discussion about it is beyond you and ruins your frat boy lifestyle of being a crappy person and projecting your psychological self-loathing on to others or just makes you uncomfortable (which for the uncivilized means the subject is “stupid” and should be avoided) perpetuates the bad.
It fosters an environment where sexual assault is an unpleasant thing but one that women or very wussy men that got themselves raped partly bring on themselves because, well, they absolutely must for you to have the opportunity to think you’re funny and cool and superior to them for a few seconds. Belittling a good person with a condition that is going to take his life has to be okay so that you can get that dopamine rush, as Oswald put it, in front of your drinking buddies or on airwaves or social media. To hell with the victim. You need a laugh, damn it.
And while I’ve written about the whole idiots siding with rapists thing already, you haven’t figured out a solution to rape by putting any blame on a victim (which I’ve learned is the phrasing needed to approach victim-blamers who genuinely don’t consider themselves blaming the victim when they blame the victim), Serena. Nor has anyone else. So stop trying to drop that unknowledge on us just because you think you have the perfect how-not-to-get-raped handbook.
Stop apologizing, too. We know you don’t mean it; rather, start responding to backlash like this: “I stand by what I said, but I understand many people have strong personal feelings against that. Maybe this requires further exploration into the matter on my part.” I can respect the hell out of not lying after screwing up more than a forced mea culpa.
Chris Culliver actually went out and explored why people think he was so pigheaded in his remarks. And after the exploration and hopefully enlightenment, maybe then his and your admitted wrong will cast a wider, stronger net.
No, it’s not your fault somebody was raped in the past. It’s not your fault Steve Gleason has ALS. But extreme as this sounds, you might have a tiny role in somebody being raped in the future or having an already fatal disease be that much worse on a person just because you said to the world that insensitivity is totally fine. And if that doesn’t bother you, you’re an awful person. Worse than a filthy Irishman even.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa before earning his degree from Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @TimBaffoe , but please don’t follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago’s Beverly To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.