by Mobutu Sese Seko
Image by Jim Cooke.
When Adam Carolla sat down for an interview with the New York Post to promote his new book, it was probably supposed to be a no-brainer—at least in the easygoing, non-clusterfucky way. Carolla used to host a Comedy Central show about taps, tits and trampolines, and the Post pretty much targets the same demographic, with bonus exploding-Hajji content thrown in.
Both write comedy with punchlines that need to be supplemented with high fives. Both pass judgment on the world with the familiar, things-should-be-easier-for-me clarity of spiritually vapid, prosperous white people.
Then Carolla dropped the worn-out observation that “women aren’t funny,” a gimme quote so stupid that thrashing it should have been idiotproof. Instead, columnists framed the issue as “unfunny comedian says dumb thing,” as if his comic bona fides had some bearing on the fact that he’s a dickhead.
Reversal of fortune is fun; dismissing people who say “women aren’t funny” with a trouncing of their comic chops is a killer move. Drop the mic. Boom, headshot. Why we do this with comedy is a mystery, though. Nobody responded to the radio host who called Obama a monkey with, “What’s her Arbitron? Ahahaha I bet it’s real bad.”
Maybe people did this with Carolla because people like to assume they have a good sense of humor. “You are really bad,” they can say, “because I have what it takes to tell that.” Perhaps it’s forgivable self-praise. Either way, it’s immaterial to establishing that Carolla made a bozo misogynist statement, and the worst thing it does is reframe the discussion as a referendum on his career.
Salon‘s Mary Elizabeth Williams, or at least a copy editor, left no room for ambiguity with the headline, “Adam Carolla, unfunny comedian, thinks women aren’t funny.” The ensuing article confirms the idea. Both make a dog’s breakfast of the issue. The real story is, “Fuckhead Says Dumb Shit,” but Williams’ analysis couldn’t be better crafted to change the subject.
She praises Melissa McCarthy’s comedy talent for acting out a moment scripted by two other people (both women more deserving of a namedrop). Then she makes an argument on behalf of Roseanne Barr’s humor by citing her television show and its awards. Not only is a show’s humor dependent on other actors, producers and writers (in this case, over 40 of whom were men), but, short of using a laugh track, the Emmy awards are about the dumbest possible metric for comic worth.
Williams uses criteria involving movie scripts, ensemble TV shows (and their producers and writers’ rooms) and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to impeach the argument of a podcaster who used to mock people via puppets and talk to strangers about dick diseases. Not only does this compare apples to oranges, it might as well have been designed to obscure the fact that Carolla made a self-evident universally shit-for-brains remark. That’s the only referendum you need.
Meanwhile, Alyssa Rosenberg, who writes Think Progress‘ “Smell My Finger,” a pop-culture blog ostensibly targeted at agoraphobes and people on AOL, lost the thread at the end of a decent article, arguing:
And yet Adam Carolla, a comic so pathetic he thinks it’s clever to suggest nerds are undatable [sic]… is somehow, by virtue of these clear demonstrations of wit and the fact that he’s a dude with a frattish fanbase, free to behave like this.
Leaving aside the fact that Carolla hasn’t been “free” to behave like this and has been paying a price in internet commentary for days, usually the people who move goalposts are the ones losing the argument. But here, after a smart observation about double-standards applied to women writers—and women’s self-censorship about their peers in a rigged game—Rosenberg shifts to high dudgeon about nerd jokes (really?) and then engages in audience stereotyping based on a dislike for some topics of Carolla’s humor. While there’s plenty of frat humor that’s privileged, racist, sexist, xenophobic, and homo- and trans-phobic, a lot of it is just goofy and stupid. It has broad demographic appeal because it’s broad comedy, and doubtless a lot of Carolla fans are along only for that ride and not D-minus conservative talking points.
Gawker and Deadspin‘s Drew Magary has not only gotten tremendous mileage out of mocking dumb-bro machismo, he also gets paid to collate nightmare stories about pooping submitted by people from all social and economic strata. (The lucky bastard.) The fact that fart jokes can be so diversely crowdsourced undermines it as an industry excuse for boorishness or as a genre exclusively aimed at a prejudiced fanbase. It only proves that this shit works. Going by Mary Elizabeth Williams, it also works when Melissa McCarthy goes thunderbutt at a dress fitting.
There’s one last ugly distraction to the “Carolla isn’t funny” argument, one illustrated by one of the responses to Alexandra Petri’s Washington Post blog: “OK Alexandra. Now, hopefully, you can get back to being funny again, and possibly prove Adam Carolla that he’s wrong. This article didn’t do that.” When you let the discussion migrate from “this man is a social neanderthal” to “this man is not funny,” you open the floodgates to the most accessible low-effort troll: ahahaha, it’s ironic that the reason why you’re wrong is that you’re not funny. (I look forward to seeing it below.) If Carolla’s wrong because he’s not funny, then you can’t be right if you’re not funny, and anyone who points that out better be funny as well, or else we’re all trapped in the same revolving door and nattering at each other like doomed snark shades.
And, look, if a coherent response was doomed to be subsumed by changing criteria, faulty comparison and a subjective talent show, someone could have at least had fun with the thing and gone whole hog on the fallacies. You know, just start ripping Carolla, because he’s willing to do that to a whole gender, if it means he hits the Kindle bestseller list. That’s the wheelhouse of a dude whose career insights are tittybeerfootball (something that will be acknowledged when the Friar’s Club roasts the marketing department at Budweiser). Well, that and MANLINESS schtick, delivered by a caterpillar-browed lantern head made of paste laconically whining out one-liners like the peevish adenoid of a midwestern CPA who just had a narcotizingly heavy sesh down at the Country Buffet. Mocking appearance seems like overkill, but it’s a good thing Corolla’s got wiry hair that kinda looks like a plumber’s snake, because at least having his head up his ass can fix his being full of shit.
Thankfully, instead we got comics like Rob Delaney making sincere and impassioned defenses of women writers and writers’ rooms that offer a balance of voices. We got people on Twitter sticking up for women comics and writers and generally making a fun day of the whole affair.
With luck, maybe that will spill over into an acknowledgement that—despite the considerable way left to go—we’re living in a phenomenal time for women comedy writers. In the 1990s, nobody outside a writers’ room knew who Jennifer Crittenden was, even as she wrote episodes for the golden age of The Simpsons and Seinfeld. Today, Megan Ganz is a “household” name forCommunity fans online, while Tina Fey and Amy Poehler approach beatification. There are even enough women writers that we can start having headache-inducing discussions about whether women writers transgress against other women writers—whether Chelsea Handler and Whitney Cummings’ sexual frankness embodies an equalizing of the gender discourse or a cynical market appeal, whether Fey’s and “Liz Lemon’s” prudishness is a form of slut-shaming.
Hell, with a little more luck, we might stumble into a discussion about how women are funny, and women are also unfunny. Just like the millions and millions of men who are absolutely fucking unbearable—the huge, begged-question part of the male populace who are never mentioned in the presumptive “dudes are hilarious” conversation. When it comes to sense of humor, most men—most people—have “beer goggles” levels of misjudgment about their own. Anyone who’s worked in a large office, restaurant, retail store, etc., knows what it’s like to never escape the 80 percent of their co-workers who think they’re hilarious when only maybe 10 percent actually are. In America, almost no one thinks he’s the Zeppo.
The thing is, those positive trends and human acknowledgements don’t represent some bizarre arcana. To anyone observant, they’re pretty obvious. That’s what’s ultimately so damning about Carolla’s sexist condemnation. His job is observation, and his career is built on trading in the obvious. When you’re a master of the obvious, you don’t have an excuse for failing to grasp it.
Unless you’re just throwing 50 percent of the world under the bus to boost book sales. In which case you are fucking garbage.
“Mobutu Sese Seko” is founder of the blog Et tu, Mr. Destructo?