Stand-Up In The #MeToo Era

Last night a group of us went to Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.  It was the first time I’d been to a comedy club in the post-Harvey Weinstein, #MeToo era, and as we waited for the performance I found myself wondering if the MeToo movement would have any obvious effect on the material the comics would address.

Having now sat through a very funny night of performances by three different comedians, including Brad Garrett himself, I can report that, last night at least, the MeToo movement didn’t seem to have a material impact on the subject matter of the humor.  The comedians were as raunchy and focused on sexual humor and race- and ethnicity-related jokes as they’ve ever been.  So far as I can tell, the only change is that the sex-oriented humor dealt more with the sexual attributes and capabilities of men, rather than women.  I’m not sure that is a real change, because a rich vein of modern American humor has always been of the self-deprecating or male-on-male roasting variety.  Think of Henny Youngman or one of the Dean Martin celebrity roasts, for example.

Stand-up comedy is almost by definition not politically correct, because a significant element of humor is shock and surprise and lampooning social norms.  When, as happened last night, there is ongoing interplay between the performers and the audience, there are bound to be off-color comments as the comedians lob a few insults at the brave people in the front row.  And in the set monologues, there was lots of racially and sexually tinged humor that was at, or over, the edge.  But nobody seemed to be terrified about crossing any new, poorly defined boundaries, nobody seemed to be aggressively self-editing, and nobody seemed mortally offended, either, when last night’s performance came to a close.

One performance obviously doesn’t permit me to draw deep conclusions, but I’m guessing that live stand-up comedy is going to survive the MeToo movement.  But boy, if they ever outlaw jokes about sex and male body parts, stand-up comedy might not survive.

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