A new article for the Atlantic magazine delves into the antiseptic world of college stand-up comedy, where the humor of a joke is measured by how well it avoids giving offense.
The article, “That’s Not Funny!,” chronicles Caitlin Flanagan’s journey to a convention held by the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA), where administrators and student government representatives venture to choose potential stand-up comics to book for on-campus performances. And what performers do these students choose? Only the ones who avoid saying anything remotely offensive.
“They wanted comedy that was 100 percent risk-free, comedy that could not trigger or upset or mildly trouble a single student,” Flanagan writes, adding:
They wanted comedy so thoroughly scrubbed of barb and aggression that if the most hypersensitive weirdo on campus mistakenly wandered into a performance, the words he would hear would fall on him like a soft rain, producing a gentle chuckle and encouraging him to toddle back to his dorm, tuck himself in, and commence a dreamless sleep — not text Mom and Dad that some monster had upset him with a joke.
The situation, Flanagan surmises, reflects the broader “infantilization” of college students, who must be kept happy and entertained lest they wander off, taking their tuition money with them. She names comedian after comedian forced to sanitize acts or risk being shut out of a lucrative market.
One comic Flanagan discusses brings the house down, only to be rejected by most schools when his routine crosses too many racial boundaries.
“We’re a very forward-thinking school,” an Iowa student says. “That thing about the ‘sassy black friend’? That wouldn’t work for us.”
“We don’t want to sponsor an event that would offend anyone,” says a student activities planner from Western Michigan University.
Even the comics allowed to perform at the convention, Flanagan notes, were screened in advance, with members who could enhance the “diversity” of the event favored even if they were unprepared while anybody with overly risqué was screened out.
“As I listened to the kids hash out whom to invite, it became clear that to get work, a comic had to be … deeply respectful of a particular set of beliefs,” Flanagan says. “These beliefs included, but were in no way limited to, the following: women, as a group, should never be made to feel uncomfortable; people whose sexual orientation falls beyond the spectrum of heterosexuality must be reassured of their special value; racial injustice is best addressed in tones of bitter anguish or inspirational calls to action; Muslims are friendly helpers whom we should cherish.”
Flanagan’s work reinforces the concerns of Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld, both of whom grabbed headlines in the past year by saying they avoid college campuses due to their political correctness.
This report, by Blake Neff, was cross-posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.