A couple of things upfront: Jerry Seinfeld is a very funny man. I am a fan, and I do a killer impression of him to back it up. He’s a comedy legend who has made a literal billion dollars being a comedian. So maybe he’s more of an authority on what’s good for comedy than I am. But, also—maybe he’s off base this time.
On ESPN Radio and later on Late Night with Seth Meyers, Jerry rallied against political correctness.
“To me it's anti-comedy. It's more about PC-nonsense.”
Let’s first concede that the meddling kids of today are indeed more politically correct than those of the greater generations before us. With that out of the way, we can get to the heart of the matter. Is silly political correctness bad for comedy? If your view on what makes comedy ‘good’ is that everyone gets to say everything all the time—then yes. It’s bad for comedy. If your view on what makes comedy ‘good’ is challenging jokes to be sharper, stronger, and more clever than ever—throw a parade for political correctness. Just make sure the parade is all inclusive.
Political correctness is restrictive. Mr. Seinfeld states as much by claiming that comics are forced into making careful calculations about how to deliver a potentially offensive joke. Why stop there? Make careful calculations about every joke you make. You know, work hard at your craft. Be better. By no means is Jerry Seinfeld a lazy comedian. But, he sure does sound like one when talking about the creepy PC police. One of my favorite comedians is Paul F. Tompkins. Among the many reasons for my adoration is that he will sometimes become audibly upset at himself for a word choice. Like it pains him that he didn’t use the best word possible. That’s what comedy should be. Not painful, but carefully constructed. I would never claim that jokes on Twitter are high comedy, but I would claim that the character restriction can get you thinking much smarter about word choice. Jerry cited a joke about swiping around on phones making people look like a “gay French King.” The word gay turned off his audience. Whether or not you or Mr. Jerry Seinfeld think that’s fair it did in fact turn off the audience. Just change it to ‘French king,’ Jerry. Better yet, change it to a specific French king like Louis XIV. Just like that you have the same joke except this time the PC police lets you off with a warning instead of giving you a ticket of disapproval.
FREE SPEECH RED FLAG! FREE SPEECH RED FLAG!
This politically correct nonsense is infringing on comedians’ rights to say whatever the f*** they want! Nope. It’s not. It’s really not. Edgy comedians who want to blur the line of decency aren’t being forced to be quiet. They are being forced to either adapt, or find their audience elsewhere (if there is one). That’s just pure and simple capitalism and the free market at work. Those are two of the very things that “FREE SPEECH RED FLAG” folks tend to love the most. So why is anyone jumping on board the people-these-days-are-too-insensitive-train? I went so far as to join a Facebook debate on the subject (I know, I’m the worst).
“This isn't even a free speech issue. This is a free market issue. The market is shifting, and instead of innovating/adapting Mr. Seinfeld chooses to stay out of the market. If the Gap went out of style (which ok, it has) and people stopped enjoying their jeans, enough to say so out loud, you wouldn't bash those customers as denying the Gap the right to sell jeans.”
Poor metaphor aside, I hope you get my point. We shouldn’t be mad at Jerry Seinfeld’s ‘customers’ whose tastes have changed [read: improved]. We should be mad that he’s not willing to work harder and give us cooler jeans. Instead we have to shop at other comedians’ stores to get the latest styles. I hear Cameron Esposito’s summer line is killing it right now. Hannibal Buresses’ new line is coming to Comedy Central in the fall and I cannot wait. His store will be right next to Kumail Nanjiani’s whose jeans fit me in all the right places.
So what’s an overly sensitive crowd really going to do for comedy? It’s going to force comedians’ hands. Get better or get off the stage.
For his part, Jerry Seinfeld has chosen to get off the stage.