I read an article in the Washington Post last week about How Twitter upended the relationships between comedians and audiences. The story highlights Sick in the Head: Conversations about Life and Comedy by Judd Apatow which is a collection of interviews with comedians between 1983 and 2015. In part, the article states,
The earlier interviews are largely concerned with process: how a joke comes about, how a routine evolves. A frequent preoccupation in later interviews is social media, Twitter in particular. Given Apatow’s prominence on the medium (he has more than 1.2 million followers), that’s not terribly surprising. Nor is it shocking that many of his fellow comedians have embraced the opportunities provided by social media: These networks have given comedians new reach and exposed them to a wider range of opinions than ever before.
However, these new avenues have fundamentally changed the relationship between comics and their audiences. While the advantages for stand-ups who largely rely on self-promotion are obvious, the risks are equally great: Audiences’ newfound familiarity with the men on the stage and the intolerance the easily offended have for boundary-pushing work risk forever altering the workshopping process that Apatow and his subjects spend so much time discussing.
Social media has largely stifled a comedian’s ability to push the boundaries of social commentary. I shudder to think how the likes of
- Mark Twain (“A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way”),
- Will Rogers (“Diplomacy is the act of saying ‘Nice doggie’ until you can find a rock”),
- Lenny Bruce (“A lot of people say to me, Why did you kill Christ? I dunno… it was one of those parties, got out of hand, you know. We killed him because he didn’t want to become a doctor, that’s why we killed him.”) and
- Richard Pryor (“I’m for human lib, the liberation of all people, not just black people or female people or gay people.”)
would be received today.
Before the advent of social media, if you were offended by a particular comedian, you could complain to your friends about what a jerk he or she was and choose to turn off the TV when they appeared. Not so today. It’s not enough to be offended. It’s not enough to tell all your friends and followers how offended you are. No, today we live in the world of the “perpetually outraged”, and the perpetually outraged must placate their anger by publicly calling for the end of the offending party’s career.
Social media has become a minefield, and not just for comedians. Much like getting behind the wheel of a car, there’s something about the presumed anonymity the internet provides that brings out the absolute worst in people. Unlike being behind the wheel of a car, people can actually hear you when you called them stupid *&^%$+#@!% and they are inclined to call you something worse in response.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. The interwebs can be an educational, enlightening and enjoyable experience if you remember my secret of success to social media:
People don’t care what you think nearly as much as you think you do.
No really, they don’t.
You’re just going to have to trust me on this one. Unless you are a close friend of mine, I’m guessing you don’t definitively know where I stand on any number of controversial issues. That’s completely intentional on my part. Why? Because if I follow you on Twitter or have friended you on Facebook it’s because I like you and I don’t want to fight with you. I can pretty much guarantee that you and I don’t see eye to eye on everything. Furthermore, no one has ever sought me out on social media and asked me point blank where I stood on the controversial topic de’ jour.
Why? Because they don’t care. They really don’t.
“But katdish,” you say, “this is an issue that I am strongly for/against and I think it’s important that people take a stand for/against this issue!”
I get that. I respect that. As long as you don’t take a firm stand on some hot button issue and then get–as my friend Jake Lee would say–all butthurt when someone disagrees with you.
Because people WILL DISAGREE WITH YOU.
You don’t have to sell out.
You don’t have to compromise your principles.
Just be nice and don’t feed the trolls.
I’ll be right there by your virtual side
Quietly judging you…