I don’t mind telling you that I am an avid listener to The Joe Rogan Podcast. During the pandemic, having it on in the background while I sat stuck on the couch at home was a nearly daily occurrence. As my wife was also home with nowhere to go herself, this was often to her chagrin. I heard his ad for Athletic Greens so many times that, at one point, I thought it was worth looking into! Only to discover the subscription model only works if you’re making Joe Rogan Spotify money.

(As an aside- I often wondered why Rogan episodes after the Spotify deal would be interrupted by him reading ad copy for Athletic Greens or any sponsor for that matter. Surely his finances had grown beyond the days when Fleshlight was a proud sponsor? Considering when the ads started – and when they stopped – I suspect he started doing ads out of fear that Spotify was going to drop him due to his constant covid comments and, now that the risk is over, he doesn’t bother. But I digress.)

The draw for me to the podcast was his conversations with other comics – talking about the early days, the current business of comedy and getting so deep into minutiae about the craft of standup I can’t imagine anyone who doesn’t perform themselves being anything but bored silly. I love that shit, though, and if I’m not talking someone’s ear off myself I’m happy to hear others talk about it.

Lately, though, my interest has waned. Bill Maher has a new podcast as well and I’ve found myself dumping out of his episodes as frequently as I do Rogan’s, for the same reason: I’m tired of hearing comics whinge about woke. (I told you ‘whinge’ is my new favorite word!)

I’m not tired in a “I’m so sick of white men complain they can’t say whatever they want” woke kind of way. For me, they might as well be whinging that the sky is blue. Yes, woke culture is exhausting. Yes, it’s easy to offend people without trying, or even by trying not to offend. Yes, comedy was easier before. But this is how things are now and while it’s possible the pendulum may swing back at some point, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll ever get back to that time when we didn’t care at all about which group was the brunt of what joke. The genie’s out of the bottle.

To be clear – I don’t believe in taboos. There is no subject that can’t be joked about, no protected class that can’t be ridiculed. As controversial as Chappelle’s latest special was, I wouldn’t censor a word of it. That said, the chief accusation was that it was transphobic and, despite Rogan’s repeated claim this was due to Chappelle telling the story of a trans comic who opened for him (when I saw the special, this struck me as, “I can’t be transphobic! I had a trans friend once!”) it has more to do with his joke about punching a trans woman in a bar. It got a laugh from the crowd and from the man himself and the point of making that joke was loud and clear: “I don’t give a fuck what you think, I’m going to say whatever I want!”

He has every right to! But to paraphrase Jeff Goldblum, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Since the majority of people I talk to and hear from are comics, I’ve heard Chappelle defended far more often than attacked. But not once have I heard anyone say, “That was his funniest special ever,” nor, “That was his best special ever.” (Note that “funniest” and “best” aren’t always the same in standup.)

Chappelle is considered one the best comics of his generation – rightly, in my opinion – and yet he settled for a quick, cheap laugh, one he thought was good enough to be filmed for prosperity. To be fair, since the crowd laughed, they were willing to settle for it as well. But I think all comics, especially those at the top of their game, should hold themselves to a higher standard.

Carlin said that the job of every comic is to find the line that should never be crossed and step over it with impunity. I have always been inspired by that. I love when someone in the crowd looks at a comic with awe, that they’d dared to say something, maybe even something the person in the crowd had thought themself, on a stage to a room full of strangers. Carlin certainly wasn’t afraid to hold up a mirror to us, to show us some ugly things about ourselves and society we would’ve preferred to ignore.

The key with him, though, was that he was funny about it. As was Bill Hicks and Richard Pryor. My Holy Trinity of comics (I’ll write about them someday). It’s the reason their material holds up to this day, especially Carlin as he was the most prolific and lived the longest of the three of them.

While I’m happy to see Carlin’s words still inspiring others, I’m less enthused by that inspiration rarely going beyond a shallow level. More often than not, the hero comic who won’t be censored and will shatter all taboos is talking about anally raping retards (their words, not mine). If I say it’s offensive to me I just mean an offense of my taste. Mostly I just find it boring.

In case you think I’m a huge snob about standup – well, I am, but I’m not always a snob – I was a big fan of Dane Cook as well. I’ll never forget seeing him live in Boston, comparing his girlfriend’s vagina to a box of cow tongues. It’s not the joke that made such an impression, it was seeing two young women in the row ahead of me laughing so hard they were crying, and looking at each other as if to say, “I can’t believe we’re laughing at this!”

THAT’S the level comics should be aiming for. No, not the cow tongues part. To be able to make people laugh no matter the subject matter. Yes, the crowd laughed when Chappelle said he punched a trans woman. His critics didn’t. We should want our toughest, most sensitive opponents to say, “Well, I found that joke offensive but I still laughed because goddamn it was funny.” If that’s not a standard I can hold rookies to, I can absolutely hold comics as experienced as Chappelle to it.

I’m reminded of when right-wing pundits reacted with venom to the Dixie Chicks criticizing Bush Jr, telling them to “shut up and sing.” Woke is here. Maybe it will die down, maybe it will even go away! It’s here in the meantime, though, so learn to work with it, around it. Use your fucking heads and stop whinging about it.

I’ve noticed some clubs promoting shows that are guaranteed to not be woke. Not in Sweden yet, but it’s just a matter of time. I would love that to mean that these are shows where audiences will be forced to confront uncomfortable truths, where their values will be challenged. Somehow I doubt the comics have such lofty ambitions.