Way back in 2001, I did a semester of night classes at Emerson College, in what would turn out to be an aborted attempt at earning a bachelor’s degree. In one class, we were given the task of writing on something that was impacting society. As I was working for Nintendo at the time, I knew what I wanted to write about.

The teacher went around the room, asking what our topics would be. The woman before me said, “NAFTA and its impact.” Then it was my turn. “Violence in video games and its impact, if any, real and perceived.”

“Haha,” the woman before me said (actually said, it wasn’t a real laugh). “I’m trying to save the world, you’re writing about video games.” If I’d had enough self-esteem to speak my mind at the time, I would’ve said, “Wow. With one short sentence, you shit on my topic and elevated your own to an undeserved level. I’d say that my paper has an equal chance of changing the world as yours. That is to say, none.” Sometimes, there is some justice in the world; she didn’t turn her assignment in on time and received a failing grade as a result. Meanwhile, my paper was not only well received, I brought a N64 to class and let everyone play Conker’s Bad Fur Day. A month later, I had to choose between continuing classes or taking a promotion at Nintendo. Guess my choice.

Anyway, I was reminded of all this recently as I listened to a few feminist comics discuss the current state of standup in Sweden.

Now, let me make a few things abundantly clear before we begin. As feminism is the belief that men and women deserve equal treatment, I’m fully on board. I believe that privilege for white men is like an all-you-can eat buffet and it’s good to see that buffet dwindling each year, although I do miss the king crab’s legs. The only reason I don’t call myself a feminist is out of respect for those who actively try to change the world for the better. I care about the environment and I sort my recycling, but I don’t think that qualifies me to call myself an environmentalist.

I’m also all for diversity and inclusion overall and absolutely in standup. I believe that club owners should actively diversify their lineups. I have different reasoning than some activists, but I’ll get into that later.

I could summarize their conversation thusly: standup in Sweden (if not everywhere) is 99% comprised of white men with material that 100% involves rape, racism, sexism, and/or homophobia, whilst those few women on stage (other protected classes sometimes get a mention, but it’s mostly about women) are saying very important things and striking blows against the patriarchy. Let’s break that down a bit.

For the first part, I agree that lineups are too male-heavy overall. I disagree that everything out of a man’s mouth involves rape, racism, sexism and/or homophobia. I don’t even think it’s most of what we have to say. But let’s be generous and say half of everything we say is rapey, racist, sexist and/or homophobic. Why are we saying it? To get laughs. If the crowd wouldn’t laugh, we wouldn’t say it.

I hate when expat comics use Swedish words as punchlines, but they make the crowd laugh. Am I saying that rape jokes are the same as fika jokes? Of course not. There are comics out there who will say shocking things just to get an easy laugh and those comics suck. I don’t tell rape jokes because I know, sexual assault rates being as high as they are, every woman in the audience either knows someone who was a victim or is a victim herself. Me telling a wacky rape joke will remind them of it and that’s not what I would call the definition of a good time.

That said, however, I might someday come up with a rape joke that I think is funny enough to overcome that. I’ve seen it done. A rape joke that can make a SJW laugh is a better joke than one about airline food. Laughter is an involuntary reaction and a joke that gets laughs is funny, no matter the subject. You can say that you never think rape jokes are funny, but you can’t say that rape jokes are never funny.

According to the second part of their statement, all the men are awful and the women wonderful. In much the same way that I don’t understand Christians who support the death penalty, I don’t see how tearing down one side to raise the other is a feminist promotion of equality. I can absolutely be wrong, however, and would be happy if someone could femsplain it to me. I get the feeling that many see the world through a Titanic lens, where Jack has to die so that Rose can live. Wouldn’t it be better if Rose slid her thicc ass over and they both lived?

The women are only saying important things and striking blows against the patriarchy. Sounds noble! Except I’ve seen them on stage, and all they ever say is nonsense. Funny nonsense. This isn’t me saying that feminists only say nonsense or that these comics in particular only speak nonsense. I’m saying that everything every comic ever says is nonsense. Standup is a conversation with the audience and here is how it goes:

Comic: “Here’s some nonsense that, at least at some point, I thought was funny. Tell me I’m right.”
Crowd: “You’re right and funny and brilliant and sexy and unique and the bestest ever and we love you!”
Comic: “I don’t believe you and you’ll never convince me. Well, see you next time.”

We’re not changing the world through dick jokes. Nor are we doing it through diversity on stage. I hear many say, “We need more [enter Protected Class here] on stage!” I never hear, “We need more [enter Protected Class here] in the crowd!” Why? Because we don’t give a flying fuck about the crowd. They came to have a good time, it’s our one and only job to make that happen, and yet I’ve never heard a single comic say their reason to perform is for the crowd to have a good time.

I’m reminded of a Jeff Altman joke. (Trigger Warning: he said it in the early 80s and it’s not especially feminist.) He was talking about the pressure men feel, even when we’re about to lose our virginity, to be good at sex. “Ladies, you don’t have to be good. You just have to be there.” That’s how comics view the audience, as a faceless mob ready, willing and able to accept our brilliance.

I was approached one night after I’d hosted a sausage party by a woman from the crowd who said, “I thought the guys were funny, I just would’ve liked someone I could relate to.” That’s why I think diversity and inclusion on stage are important, not for the sake of the comics, but for the sake of the audience. The stage should reflect the room. Niche clubs with niche crowds can have niche comics, but general clubs with diverse crowds should have diverse comics.

I understand if anyone reads this as, “Ooooh, thank goodness, a middle-aged white man’s take on feminism in standup.” Instead, I hope people can see me not for what I have between my legs- I’m up here, thank you very much- but as an avid fan of standup and supporter of diversity. To give credit where it’s due, I do think that comics of any minority are striking a blow against norms simply by being on stage. They may inspire others of their kind in the audience to give standup a try themselves. Meanwhile, the last thing I want to do is inspire white guys to try. We don’t need encouragement.