Comedians Don’t Have To Hate Their Audience
1:03 PM EST on December 15, 2022
Drew Magary’s Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo runs every Thursday at Defector during the NFL season. Got something you wanna contribute? Email the Roo. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, through here.
I watched Sebastian Maniscalco’s new Netflix special the other night. If you’re unfamiliar with Maniscalco’s work, you should know his specials are routinely among Netflix’s most widely viewed originals. This is one of the biggest comics in America right now, if not the world. You should also know that pretty much every joke of Maniscalco’s ends like this:
Is Maniscalco weirded out by the people at Whole Foods, because he thinks they’re hippies? In 2022? You know it. Is he dumbfounded by the fact that things are different today than they were when he was growing up? SO dumbfounded. Does he got a problem with your gluten allergy? He got a big problem widdit. And does he have an extended segment about all the jokes that he, as a comedian, can no longer make? That’s just a law now. Maniscalco’s new special has got a whole bit about kids who identify as lions at school, and then he plays the part of an audience member who’s absolutely shocked that he could be so insensitive to that poor child. How could he say that? What a mean man! I, the imaginary audience member, am such a wretched little snowflake who hates comedy!
It’s one thing for a comedian to give me jokes that date back to 199-fucking-1, but then I have to endure a clumsy bit of kabuki theater where that same comedian does a straw man impression of a Liberal Who Doesn’t Know They’re About To Get Owned, and goofs on that straw man, and then they smugly soaks in some applause that they essentially coerced out of the audience.
Maniscalco is hardly alone in pulling this shit. This week, you already saw an even bigger Netflix comedian hold his audience—or, at least, the portion of the audience that he didn’t care for—in open contempt. Here’s Dave Chappelle getting mad because his crowd the other night, at a show that took place in San Francisco, had the gall to boo Elon Musk when Chappelle brought him onstage.
Hard to believe San Franciscans would jeer an unfunny conservative asshole who just fired thousands of people, but that’s on those people for lacking a sense of humor.
I’m like a lot of people in that I watch a latter-day Chappelle special in the naive hope that I’ll get an unfettered hour of his old genius without him half-assedly turning his set into a free speech rally for assholes. Outside of 8:46, which is some of the best standup I’ve heard from Chappelle or any other comedian, my hopes are always dashed. The clip you see above is representative of what we almost always get instead. Chappelle comes out, tells the audience, “Hey man, remember my old Comedy Central show?” and then everyone claps, and then he goes, “Remember when all the gays were mad at me? Well I blame Y’ALL for that.” And then I roll my eyes so forcefully that my optic nerves detach. I watched Chappelle’s last Netflix special and it wasn’t even a standup special. It was him receiving a goddamn award from his fucking high school, and it opens with this epigram, courtesy of Duke Ellington:
"Art is dangerous. It is one of the attractions: When it ceases to be dangerous you don't want it."
Now that’s a great quote, and a true one. But it loses its shine when Dave Chappelle uses it as his surreptitious defense for gleefully screaming “F****T” at the top of his lungs in one of his earlier Netflix specials. That’s the art that this fossil finds so dangerous, and Chappelle steadfastly refuses to excise this counterfeit reverse outrage from his bit in favor of legitimately good material. He’s fucking hopeless now. Washed up. A hack. Watching Chappelle live in 2022 is like waiting for your uncle to bring up AOC at Christmas dinner. You know it’s coming, you’re just hoping he does it when you’re taking a piss.
And so now I have to deal with comics who take the stage with sour defensiveness baked directly into their act. Chappelle does it. Maniscalco does it. Adam Carolla’s entire career IS that right now. Even Tom Segura—easily the best of this bunch—dabbles in that genre of bit. It’s not exactly a new development for comics and their audiences to have a partially antagonistic relationship. Comics deal in uncomfortable truths, they can only workshop their material in front of a live audience to see if it kills, and they have to account for hecklers in that audience ruining their set. It’s not an easy job, and the best comics are able to dance along that edge, deftly recovering in real time whenever they tumble off of it. I empathize. To an extent.
The worst comics are the ones who fall off that edge and then go, “Actually if you didn’t like that, you’re what’s wrong with America right now.” That’s some shit Ted Cruz says after getting ratioed, and people who are SUPPOSED to be funny are now doing it en masse. I’m sick to death of it. In fact, the only people NOT sick of that shit are the wealthy comics who rely on it to fill out their set. If this kind of bit can be called art, it’s certainly not DANGEROUS art. It’s the opposite: a performer demanding that they shielded FROM danger, in the form of crickets whenever they test drive a bit of transphobia in front of a paying audience. It’s a non-disparagement clause disguised, poorly, as a gag, and it's so fucking old. If you're mining old jokes, the least you can do is make them about farts.
There is a discussion to be had about the pervasiveness of opinion in American culture and how that tide can cause artists, whether consciously or unconsciously, to hide from themselves. Three years ago, George Packer of The Atlantic came close—so painfully close—to writing about this eloquently before lapsing into an otherwise boilerplate whinefest about cancel culture, and how he wishes he could still drink with Christopher Hitchens. Here’s a paragraph from that essay that gets close to the mark before Packer careens into FartsnifferLand:
Belonging is numerically codified by social media, with its likes, retweets, friends, and followers. Writers learn to avoid expressing thoughts or associating with undesirables that might be controversial with the group and hurt their numbers. In the most successful cases, the cultivation of followers becomes an end in itself and takes the place of actual writing.
Packer is right in that your art becomes deluded if you’re constantly thinking about how that art will be received. There are some very basic boundaries that you can and should set for yourself: don’t openly say racist shit, for instance. But you can draw those boundaries so tight that you leave yourself—or a fictional character you’ve created—with very little to express. And if that’s not bad for art in general, then it’s certainly bad for your own artistic identity. If you make a fictional character a pig, are YOU a pig? Are you approving of their piggishiness by leaving it unremarked upon on the text? If you leave that side of them out, are you abandoning a chance a portray human beings as they often really are? I've wrestled with those questions in my own head, and I still don't quite know how to answer them fully.
So there’s a mature give-and-take that could come from this tension, and it’s one that a lot of great comics can perform right on stage. I’ve seen them do it. Where it falls apart is when that same comic blithely assumes that going U TRIGGERED BRO?! is a killer punchline and then repeats it over, and over, and over. Makes a whole career out of it. It’s like splitting a red pill in half and forcing the audience to share it with you. I paid you to tell me some fucking jokes, not ask me to sign a Do Not Cancel contract. You’re the performer. You’re taking the risk up there. That’s the job. If you can’t handle that risk, then get the fuck off the stage. You wanna antagonize me? Then do it right, shithead. Point me out in the crowd. Turn the audience against me. Call my mom a whore. It’d be a whole lot more entertaining than this:
All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms.
Dolphins at Bills: Mike Leach died this week. You already know this because every sportswriter on earth went out of their way to cry out “Mike Leach taught me how to be weird.”
He’d talk to journalists for so long that they had to hang up on him. After Mississippi State’s high-flying win over Texas A&M in October, SEC Network reporter Alyssa Lang asked Leach for wedding tips. While Nick Saban or Bill Belichick would’ve stared daggers through Lang for asking a non-football question during football hours, Leach happily went into great detail about why Lang and her fiancé should elope.
That’s Rodger Sherman of The Ringer, making sure you know that we lost a true gentleman this week. But he was hardly alone.
I remember that scene in A Bronx Tale. Fun movie. Leach was accused of abusing his players at two of his stops: Texas Tech and Wazzu. Both of those cases ended up being credibly debunked, but there’s still a decent amount of anecdotal evidence that not everyone who played for Leach found their lives enriched. This is from a week ago:
And here’s another fond remembrance of Leach for people who still jerk off to Bobby Knight’s Indiana days:
Leach had a remarkable football mind, but he had an even more remarkable skill for charming the press and getting them to overlook all of his shitty tweets, his penchant for posting deepfakes of Barack Obama (he deleted his original re-post), and a few of his lesser eccentricities. That’s because Mike Leach’s true legacy is that he gave sportswriters great copy, and maybe even some chuckle-worthy marriage advice. He was a “character,” which is rare in a time when most coaches know that there’s no upside to telling the press anything more than what they have to. So, on a certain level, I get why my feed this week was a parade of college football writers all going, “Mike Leach happened to ME.” I loved Rex Ryan once upon a time, too. As a journalist, I always appreciate when a subject makes my job easier, if not downright enjoyable.
But this isn’t Nelson fucking Mandela we’re talking about. Mike Leach was a football coach, and in some ways (Leach never won a conference title and had a losing record in bowl games), not a terribly revolutionary one. I’ve seen enough coaches who are Really Funny If You Get to Know Them—Charlie Weis included!—that I’m entitled to arch an eyebrow at all of this shit. Coach worship is a disease no matter how different you think YOUR favorite coach may be.
Giants at Commanders: In case you missed it last week, here was Giants punter Jamie Gillan attempting a dropkick punt:
The funny thing here is that this punt would have been legal had Gillan picked it up off the ground. Instead, he cut out the middleman and tried to pull a Flutie, drawing a flag for “illegal kick” in the process. I’m sorry that Gillan (and his team) got his shit ruined by the Eagles, but I do appreciate seeing a two-dollar bill play out in the wild.
Lions at Jets: It’s Christmas cookie season, and while I feverishly labor in the kitchen to whip up a new Williams-Sonoma Hater’s Guide for you Defector readers, I suggest you bide your time making this ginger molasses cookie recipe from the Crisco label. I could eat 90 of these in a single sitting. And have.
Niners at Seahawks
Bengals at Bucs
Titans at Chargers
Cowboys at Jaguars
Patriots at Raiders: I owe Pats fans an apology. Not a full apology, but just one regarding this man:
I’ve hated Pat Patriot since I was a teenager. This is almost certainly because I was living in New England at the time and had to watch terrible Pats teams play terrible Jets teams on an endless loop every Sunday. I also had to listen to Pats fans at my school—one in particular—go on and on and on about how neat Pat Patriot was. Those fans would go on to become even more insufferable, of course. As such, I always linked Pat Patriot back to the day my hatred of this fanbase was born. But these are great uniforms. And distinctive. Saying otherwise is flat out incorrect. They’re so much better than the current Flying Elvis uniforms that I’m now legitimately irritated that the Pats don’t just go back to Pat Patriot full time. I like Pat Patriot. He’s goofy looking, but I could use a break from every team mascot being redesigned to look like a Decepticon. And I like Mac Jones more now that he openly despises his coaching staff. So there you go. I found two nice things to say about the Pats. Everything else about them can burn.
Colts at Vikings
Rams at Packers
Eagles at Bears
Steelers at Panthers
Falcons at Saints
Ravens at Browns: Instead of throwing a flag anytime a defender lands on a QB with his full body weight, I think we should actually flag the quarterback for being such a defenseless chump. Ten more yards back. Fuck him and his ribcage.
Cardinals at Broncos
Chiefs at Texans
Pregame Song That Makes Me Wanna Run Through A Goddamn Brick Wall
Here’s soundboard audio from a festival show that Ozzy Osbourne played in California back in 1983. You will not find a better sampling of 1980s white person couture than this video. Ozzy himself is rocking arguably the most definitive '80s British hairstyle. It’s like a training mullet, and I’ve seen Brits of all ages, sexes, and races attempt it. Please do not attempt this hair if you are NOT British. It won’t make sense to you.
And be on the lookout for people wearing flap caps out in the crowd. Bucket hats may have made a comeback this century, but flap caps? Zero chance.
Great Moments In Poop History
Reader Robert sends in this story I call MELTER SKELTER:
Thursday I consume two cups of coffee, seven double IPAs, a multivitamin, an iron pill, a ham and cheese croissant, a beef curry popover, a 20 oz. Diet Coke, Halloween candy, and a Burger King Big King and chicken sandwich, both of which I had drenched in that El Yucateco habanero hot sauce.
Friday morning, I get up early (5:00ish) to walk the dog and hike. About a third of the way through the hike, it hits. Two tons of proverbial bricks. But I’m not going to stop the hike. I’ll power through.
Bad idea. Sweat, cramps, ass clenching, panic, all the signs I’ve come to know from years of reading these Jambaroos. But I’m hiking in a nice neighborhood (Los Feliz Blvd), and if I just shit on the sidewalk and get caught, I’m running the involvement of law enforcement. Plus I have my dog.
I’m 20 minutes from home when I pass a gated community where a very nice British woman, who I guess had been Air BandBing there, stops me because she’s late for an early flight and can’t figure out, as a pedestrian, how to open the gate to get out. I spend 10 minutes trying to open it before we mutually decide that the smartest thing would be to help her (and her luggage) hop the fence. I somehow manage this without spraying Burger King and Grimm Tesseract residue all over her.
My dog, of course, is confused as to why he is being held up on what is his walk, and he continues squirming like a fetus. For another 15 minutes I sweat and clench and waddle (I attempted to run but I could feel the ooze oozing out any time I did) as the surroundings take on a menacing tone with each additional step, each one an acknowledgement that I’ll soon be shitting in someone’s front yard as the sun rises.
As testament to the strength of the human spirit(?), I make it inside my apartment in just enough time to aim the posterior at the toilet as I ass barf for a good five minutes. Blessedly, most of it made it in. I take the dog out again a little later and he’s having his own digestion issues. Father-son etc.
I’d like to go back to Robert’s diet at the beginning of this story. A beef curry popover has real boom-or-bust potential to it, especially on a day where you’ve eaten everything else on that list.
CANNIBAL CORPSE SONG FOR CHRISTMAS!
“Brain Removal Device,” by Cannibal Corpse! Maybe when you think of Christmas music, you think of Mariah, or Nat King Cole, or Burl Ives, or Andy Williams. But when I wanna get in the spirit, I turn, as I do every year, to Buffalo’s foremost purveyors of death metal. Let’s snuggle up by the fireplace, sip some mulled wine, and let lead singer George Fisher brings us a little bit of Christmas magic:
Heads affixed to a machine
Peel the skin from random skulls exposing bone
Cracked open with vice like force
Spray my face with human slop, carnal spatter
Slave to my repulsive goal
To regain control beyond what's in my mind
As the kids say … “Life goals.” This guy gets it.
Which Idiot GM Is This?
You know your team is in good hands when the man in charge of the roster is a professionally sweaty guy who MEANS BUSINESS. Which team does the man below hold in his meaty paws?
“HEY-EYYYYYYYYYYYY!” That’s Bucs GM Jason Licht, y’all! Having the time of his life winning the AFC South with a 6-92 record! Let’s have a yacht party!
Gametime Cheap Beer Of The Week
Maryland’s Best, which is surely anything but. From Damon:
Back in college in the late 90’s we could get this stuff for $8 a case. Eight. Dollars. The description on the can states, “Maryland's Best is brewed using the choicest malted barley, expensive Styrian hops from Czechoslovakia and a special brewers' yeast. A slow, cold-aging process results in a clean, well-balanced, smooth-tasting lager. This refreshing lager compliments (sic) the flavor of a wide variety of foods; from fried chicken, catfish and pizza to gumbo, Chinese food and especially Maryland crabs!”
Special brewers’ yeast! Maryland crabs! Coincidentally, the aroma and taste weren’t entirely dissimilar to a three-day old pile of crab shells rotting in the hot sun. I suspect Miller Brewing Company markets this to every state (Virginia’s Best, New York’s Best, etc.). What it’s the best of, I have no idea.
I’ve lived in Maryland for nearly 20 years and have never seen this beer, which is for the best (no pun intended). The only “X’s Best” lager I’ve ever encountered is, predictably, Milwaukee’s Best. Now you and I both know that Beast is awful. We have a shared history with it. And yet, Beast looks like Dom compared to this can of oriole piss.
Gameday Movie Of The Week For Texans Fans
Emily The Criminal, which serves as the answer to the question, “What if Nomadland had a plot?” Emily The Criminal arrives on Netflix a week after a GQ photo shoot of Aubrey Plaza went viral and had everyone online doing that thing where they try to say Plaza is shit hot without actually saying she’s shit hot. “Aubrey Plaza please force-feed me a hand grenade,” etc. Anyway, this movie is both good AND it’s only 90 minutes long. A miracle. Normally when I watch a good movie of that length in 2022, it’s the kind of flick where a CGI elephant finds out his brother is missing. But this is an ACTUAL movie. For grownups! This is a bigger upset than science inventing that new melanoma vaccine.
Gratuitous Simpsons Quote
“Sir, you haven't slept since the casino opened five days ago.”
“Yeah, well, I've discovered the perfect business: people swarm in, empty their pockets, and scuttle off! Nothing can stop me now!... except microscopic germs. But we won't let that happen. Will we, Smithers?”
“Uh, no sir.”
Enjoy the games, everyone.