A Very Controversial Year in Comedy
It’s been a big year for comedy and an even bigger year for controversy. Heroes have fallen, debates have ignited and feet have been inserted firmly into mouths. Social media once again played a major role in spreading truth, lies and everything in between. These are the stories that raised our blood pressure, ruined our dinners and kept us hitting refresh.
Dylan Farrow’s Open Letter on Woody Allen
In February, the New York Times published an open letter from Dylan Farrow, Woody Allen’s adopted daughter, that reignited the discussion of Allen’s character and artistic merit in the face of sexual abuse allegations. Farrow’s letter was a powerful and haunting personal account that opened and closed with the question, “What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?” Allen, who was never convicted, responded publicly, saying that he did not molest Dylan Farrow and that her story is the product of an elaborate indoctrination campaign launched by her mother, Allen’s ex-wife, Mia Farrow. The real facts regarding Allen’s behavior with his daughter remain cloudy, albeit very suspicious. Despite being a family matter, the public nature of the case led to many of Allen’s actors being asked to weigh in with their thoughts. Perhaps it was Alec Baldwin who said it most memorably when he tweeted, “”What the fuck is wrong w u that u think we all need to b commenting on this family’s personal struggle?”
Artie Lange’s Racist Twitter “Bit”
Artie Lange is a tortured performer and no stranger to controversy. Although his comedy is known to walk the line between edgy and inappropriate, a series of tweets about ESPN’s Cari Champion left many feeling that he has no respect for the line at all. The attempted sexual fantasy/joke went something like this: Lange is Thomas Jefferson. Champion is his slave. Lange attempts to whip Champion for disrespecting his property, but Champion turns the tables on him, grabbing the whip and beating him until he reaches climax. They later have eight illegitimate children and eventually get married in New Jersey. At first, Lange seemed unapologetic for the comments, saying that those who criticize such jokes might be ushering in “the end of modern comedy.” But after a sizable public backlash and a lost appearance on @Midnight, Lange softened his stance and offered an apology.
Comedian Nathan Anderson Quits Reddit in High Style
In January, New York comedian and moderator of the /r/standupshots subreddit, Nathan Anderson, publicly quit Reddit in a blaze of glory. For the uninitiated, /r/standupshots is a subreddit where comedians can post memes of their own original material. Fellow comics and avid comedy fans alike can upvote funny posts, which helps provide exposure to up and coming comedians. The problem was that Reddit’s moderators decided to block posts from /r/standupshots from appearing on the much larger default subreddit /r/funny, which meant that those original jokes were limited only to the small community of /r/standupshots and barred from exposure on Reddit’s front page, no matter how popular the community deemed it to be. After many unsuccessful attempts to work with moderators to improve public access to quality comedy on Reddit, Anderson said, “Fuck Reddit,” and posted one final standupshot-style farewell letter that made his private battle with mods very public. Turf war over subreddits may seem like a small stakes battle, but what was really at hand was the broader issue of tyrannical moderator control over what should be a user-driven medium.
Dave Chappelle’s LGBTQ Ignorance
While most comedy fans were excited to have Dave Chappelle back in regular rotation, his comedic viewpoints on the LGBTQ community have drawn serious criticism. He went toe-to-toe with an audience member in San Francisco after joking about a recent interaction with a trans person. He was at it again in New York with jokes about “trannies” and punching a lesbian who looked male. Then there was The Meltdown show in LA where he continued his streak of mocking transexuals and “the gays.” What was interesting about most of these reports was that the people bringing Chapelle’s controversial statements to light were recognizing his potential for creatively pushing boundaries in the subjects of race, history and pop culture. Hearing him get it wrong when he has the potential to get it right was what people found the most disappointing. But also on the table was the discussion of whether or not we live in an era of extreme sensitivity and if comedy can flourish in a world of excessive scrutiny fueled by an ever-evolving sense of political correctness.
Chelsea Handler’s Nude Photos
Let’s take a break from the heavy stuff for a moment to reflect on Chelsea Handler’s brazen use of nudity as both a publicity tool and a cultural statement. First, Handler tweeted a picture of herself sitting on a scooter with one breast exposed to promote a Sirius XM appearance. Later, she posted an Instagram picture of herself sitting atop a horse with both breasts exposed, along with a picture of Vladimir Putin in the same pose, in an attempt to address the double standard of male vs. female toplessness. That picture was shortly taken down. Finally, in a response to Kim Kardashian’s now infamous PAPER magazine cover, Handler posted an Instagram selfie of her own bare ass, next to a picture of Kim K, with the caption, “Can you believe more than 2 ass can fit on the same screen? Guess which one’s real. Your move, Instagram.” Instagram’s move was to delete the picture.
Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl Woes
Lena Dunham spent much of 2014 answering for two sensitive accounts contained in her debut book, Not That Kind of Girl. The first account involved a recounting of childhood sexual curiosity involving her sister. Although the account was intended to be innocent and humorous, many found her young actions to be questionable and her retelling of the story, which included a joking reference to sexual predators, to be inappropriate. Dunham issued a sincere apology, along with an explanation of her intent. Not long after, another essay from the book, Dunham’s account of rape at the hands of a conservative male student at Oberlin college, was brought into question, due largely in part to investigative work by Breitbart.com. The issue was not the account of rape itself, but rather, the name of the rapist, who Dunham called “Barry.” Dunham and her publisher, Random House, failed to note that “Barry” was a pseudonym. This created a major problem when it was discovered that there is a real-life Barry, who matches the description laid out by Dunham in the book, but who outright denied sexually assaulting Dunham. Dunham has since issued an apology along with the clarification that, “To be very clear, ‘Barry’ is a pseudonym, not the name of the man who assaulted me, and any resemblance to a person with this name is an unfortunate and surreal coincidence.” Random House has agreed to comply to a request from Barry’s attorney, asking that the passage be altered in future publications.
Michael Che’s Response to the Catcalling Video
The viral PSA, 10 Hours Of Walking In NYC As A Woman, more commonly known as “the catcalling video,” sparked a lot of discussion about sexual harassment and women’s safety. While the video, which has received over 38 million views, proved to be educational for many, the point was lost on comedian and Saturday Night Live Weekend Update Anchor, Michael Che, who compared the unsolicited harassment of women to the newfound attention he has been receiving since joining SNL. The internet fired back at Che, who stood his ground, offering an ego-filled response disguised as an apology wherein, he lamented not being able to take comedic risks now that he is on TV.
SNL‘s Alleged Stealing of a Groundlings Sketch
Season after season, the conversation of Saturday Night Live‘s relevance arises, and season after season, SNL continues to make headlines and fuel water cooler chat. This year, SNL was criticized for stealing a sketch from the Groundlings. The sketch in question was called “River Sisters” and centered around a group of Tina Turner impersonators lamenting their lots in life while performing “Proud Mary” on a riverboat cruise. It bore an undeniable resemblance to the Groundlings’ “Rollin’” sketch, which featured a similar group of Tina Turner impersonators lamenting their lots in life while performing “Proud Mary” in a dumpy casino. Both sketches mention riverboat casinos, bad seafood buffets and feature an emcee who struggles to keep the show on track. As far as the timeline goes, the Groundlings had been doing their version weeks before SNL aired their version of the sketch. Defenders of SNL claimed that it was just a case of parallel thinking on a pop culture icon. But members of the Groundlings weren’t convinced, taking to Twitter and Facebook to call out what they felt was outright idea theft. This wasn’t the first time SNL has been accused of lifting material and if the show continues, it probably won’t be the last.
Anthony Cumia’s Racist Rant
Opie and Anthony Show shock jock Anthony Cumia was fired from his longtime gig at SiriusXM for unleashing a violent, racist rant against a woman he claimed assaulted him in Times Square. While his behavior shocked many, including his employers, those who follow Cumia’s career closely know that he has a penchant for racist tirades. Despite the heavy repercussions, Cumia stuck to his guns, claiming that his comments were entirely justified, considering the circumstances.
Bill Cosby’s Sexual Assault Allegations
Hannibal Buress has been credited with reigniting the discussion of Bill Cosby’s alleged sexual abuse of multiple women. While this topic has come and gone from the public eye several times over the years, it has always been fodder for discussion within the comedy community. As of now, 25 women have presented startlingly similar stories, most of which involve Cosby drugging them before launching varying levels of sexual assault. Cosby denies any wrongdoing, but the allegations alone have led to canceled gigs, the pulling of his Netflix special, the scrapping of an NBC sitcom that was in development and the removal of The Cosby Show reruns from syndication. At 77 years of age, the real truth may just follow Cosby to his grave.