Dingus of the Week: People Who Think Comedy Is Dead

“You can’t make jokes anymore!” 

Hi! Welcome to the Weekly Dingus, my Friday newsletter, where I round up my internet reads, share a drink, and yell about a dingus. Is that dingus a politicianA boat in a canalMy dog? Or maybe it’s just pants. You can read about past weekly dinguses in the archives.

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This week, Netflix employees staged a walkout over the airing of Dave Chappelle’s comedy special. In the special, Chappelle makes some very anti-trans comments; I won’t even call them jokes. The walkout was in solidarity with trans people, and employees who participated posed a list of demands from leadership, including funding more projects from trans and non-binary artists and hiring more trans and non-binary employees. They are not asking that the special be removed from the site.

Netflix Senior Software Engineer Terra Field, who is transgender, tweeted a viral thread about the Chappelle special, noting:

“We aren’t complaining about ‘being offended,’ and we don’t have ‘thin skin. What we object to is the harm of that content like this does to the trans community (especially trans people of color) and VERY specifically Black trans women.”

Field was later suspended because she attempted to attend a meeting with Netflix executives. She was reinstated when it was made clear she was actually invited to the meeting.

Poet Saeed Jones wrote a beautiful essay analyzing the special and illuminating exactly why Chappelle’s “jokes” are harmful. He writes,

By the time Chappelle declares that “gender is a fact” and that he’s “Team TERF” in solidarity with J.K. Rowling, I turned my television off because I wasn’t having fun anymore. And part of freedom as I experience it is that I don’t owe Dave Chappelle any of my time.

But in the middle of all of this discussion, a few brave souls are declaring the end of comedy. At the walkout, counter-protesters held up signs declaring, “Jokes Are Funny,” and “Netflix Don’t Cancel Free Speech.” If Dave Chappelle can’t target trans people, what jokes can we tell? they ask.

As if the only kind of joke that exists in the world is one that targets a marginalized group of human beings and makes fun of them. As if there aren’t comedians constantly creating thought-provoking humor in this world. All of them are thoughtful and provocative and so far, none of them have targeted a marginalized group of humans, who are often murdered just for existing.

I think a lot about the way “it’s just a joke” is used as a weapon. That the most horrible, vile, and violent things are often said with a sneer and “can’t you take a joke?” “Why can’t you take a joke?”

Before the world shut down, I regularly went to a local comedy club and performed at open-mic night. Often, the jokes from other comedians were awful. Jokes about wanting to beat their wives. Jokes about shitty, awful girlfriends. Even more jokes that were just them talking about their dicks. But that’s not funny. Dicks exist, we know this.

Once, I went out for a drink with a group of the regulars after open-mic night, and one of the guys told me I needed to laugh more at their jokes.

“Why?”

“Because we all support each other,” he said.

“Well, that’s the difference between you and me,” I said. “You feel entitled to laughter; I work for it.”

No one is owed laughter. That’s the risk of a joke. You can make it, but that doesn’t mean it is good. That doesn’t mean it was funny. No one owes you a smile. In fact, often laughter is used as a cover for the ignorant ideologies and attitudes that can lead to violence. I think of all the rape jokes I’ve heard. In my marriage, my ex often made jokes about me getting back to the kitchen. I told him they weren’t funny, because he meant it. He told me I didn’t have a good sense of humor.

The other night, I was reading at a bar. A man sat down next to me and we chatted briefly about the town and I told him I was a writer. Then, he asked me to read my book out loud to him. The book was The Dialectic of Sex.

“No, I’m not reading a book about dialectical materialism and feminism,” I said. I turned my body away. I didn’t want to talk to him anymore.

“Oh, come on, Tootsie,” he said.

I said nothing.

“It’s a joke,” he said.

“It’s not funny.” 

Then, I asked for the check and left. 

The thing about jokes is they have to be funny. And to be funny, they have to be a little bit true, and a little bit revelatory, and probably a bit silly. But, when a joke reveals more about the anger and the biases and the prejudices of the comedian than about the world, the joke isn’t a joke anymore, it’s just a tirade. 

And sure, jokes can be tough. They can be gritty. But they don’t have to be abusive.

And so what? Maybe you keep making those jokes. That’s your right. But me not listening to it isn’t cancel culture. No one is owed an audience. No one is owed a laugh. I don’t have to pretend that your words don’t hurt. I don’t have to sit around acting like the cool girl. You know, the one who can hang while you and your buddies turn my body and other people’s bodies into a punchline.

And I think of all the people for whom jokes like that are funny. I think it’s because jokes like that give space to their own hatred and normalize it. Make it okay to say out loud in the wide, wide world. Because, what? What? Can’t you take a joke?

And what I think they’re afraid of losing the one thing they can still hide behind. The veneer of “It’s just a joke.”

And anyway, if you think comedy is dead, you should watch the show Desus and Mero. I personally love Kylie Brakeman and Vinny Thomas. Need more? Well, professional comedian and friend of the newsletter Josh Gondelman put together a comprehensive list. (Full disclosure: Josh even helped me many years ago with my stupid little stand-up set. The set included the joke, “Hi, I’m from Iowa and my favorite thing to do here…is to leave.” Pretty edgy stuff.)

What I Am Reading:

This was a very good obituary for Colin Powell written by Spencer Ackerman. Rebecca Traister on Katie Couric.

Also, did you know that 61 percent of American men are just fine with how women are treated? The other 39 percent subscribe to this newsletter.

You want jokes? I got ’em.

I listened to the No Compromise podcast and, please, if you live in the Midwest, please, please listen to this. It explains everything: guns, anti-mask backlash, CRT nonsense. EVERYTHING! LISTEN!

This week, I told men to take paternity leave. And I wrote for The Riveter that I am MAD ABOUT EVERYTHING.

Also, on Oct 28, at 7pm CT, I will be in conversation with Jessie Daniels, author of Nice White Ladies. It’s on zoom and hosted by Prairie Lights. So listen if you can!

What I Am Drinking:

I loved going to Ames last weekend and seeing so many people at Dog Eared books. You all make Iowa great! I had a negroni with some friends, and it soothed my soul. And another great Iowan sent me a drink they call “The No Problem.”

1 oz jalapeño tequila, 1 oz mezcal, 3/4 oz fresh lime juice, 3/4 oz honey syrup, 1 oz pineapple juice. 

I am making this on Friday after I am done with all my work and officially declaring that I, too, have no more problems.


Men Yell at Me is a newsletter about the places where our bodies and politics collide and yes, the occasional yelling man. Learn more about it and me (Lyz) here. You can sign up to receive the free weekly email, which includes interviews, essays, and original reporting. The Friday email is a weekly round-up of dinguses, drinks, and links. On Monday I have a subscribers-only open thread where we discuss politics and our bodies and more.