There was a time when Jerry Seinfeld and his “What’s the deal…?” shtick was the height of comedy. It was a time when men could wear sweater vests without being openly mocked. Sponges were still a contraceptive tool people talked about. And we had no idea what darkness lurked in the heart of Michael Richards.
Since then, comedy has changed. Cultural sensitivities have changed. And Seinfeld is judging the lot of us for it. We’ve told you how he refuses to play college campuses, because the youth today is too PC to get his humor. Well, now allow him to share the kind of joke they’re missing out on:
First off, let’s be clear: this is not the joke Jerry should be planting his flag on. It’s just lame, relying on lazy stereotypes. The first is that gay men have flamboyant hand gestures, the second being that the French are a snooty, dismissive people. So maybe that reaction Seinfeld felt wasn’t political correctness gone wild, but people being bored or expecting more from a legendary comedian.
Personally, I don’t think we should police humor and declare “you can never joke about this.” But I do think that audiences have the right to speak up when they are not amused. Not heckling. That sucks and breaks the social contract of a comedy show. But taking to Twitter and the like? Yeah. That’s fair game. Comedians can say whatever they want, but so can those who paid to hear their “jokes.”
Context is what matters ultimately. Like, recently I had the good fortune to see Monty Python reunited for a special screening of Holy Grail. While there, John Cleese shared his thoughts on the cautiousness comedians are encouraged to consider today. He’d said:
“I used to do these jokes. And I’d say, ‘There were these two Mexicans,’ and suddenly the room would freeze. And I would say, ‘Well, why has everybody gone quiet?’ I mean, we did jokes about Swedes and Germans and Canadians and French and what’s the problem about the Mexicans? Are they not big enough to look after themselves?
And I find a lot of that very condescending. You’re not supposed to make jokes about Mexicans. And I have a favorite joke about Mexicans. Alright, here goes: The United States patrol boat is going around the Gulf Of Mexico, they see a tiny little rowing boat. And so they say, ‘Oh we better check this out.’ There are four Mexicans in the boat. They say, ‘What are you doing?’ The Mexicans say, ‘Oh, we’re invading America.’ And the patrol boat says, ‘Just the four of you?’ And they say, ‘Well no, we’re the last ones; the others are already there.’
“That’s a joke very much on the Mexican side… It’s not saying that they are like the French, nasty little smelly cheese-eating surrender monkeys… In comedy there’s two way of attacking something. One is just being rude about it and the other is taking on those attitudes and making them ridiculous, like Stephen Colbert (does).”“
Basically, context. Which way are you punching (up or down) when you’re calling in stereotypes? But also, is it funny? In Seinfeld’s case, I’m going to go with no. Not because I’m offended, but just because, what’s the deal with that joke?