Comedians avoid the “offense circuit”

June 12, 2015 • 1:00 pm

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, we learn that at least two famous comedians have decided not to perform on college campuses, and for the same reason: colleges are too “politically correct,” that is, they embody the humorless offense culture:

Jerry Seinfeld himself has taken a stand — against political correctness on campus. The 61-year-old comedian told an ESPN interlocutor that he avoids performing at universities because of trigger warnings, speech codes and other First Amendment umbrage.

“I don’t play colleges,” Seinfeld said on “The Herd with Colin Cowherd.” “… I hear a lot of people tell me, ‘Don’t go near colleges. They’re so PC.'”

. . . Cowherd: “Does it hurt comedy?

Seinfeld: “Yes it does.”

As Seinfeld reported, he is not the only comedian to comment on colleges’ perceived uptight-ness.

“I stopped playing colleges, and the reason is because they’re way too conservative,” Seinfeld compatriot Chris Rock told Vulture last year.

Conservative how?

“Not in their political views — not like they’re voting Republican — but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody,” Rock said. “Kids raised on a culture of ‘We’re not going to keep score in the game because we don’t want anybody to lose.’ Or just ignoring race to a fault.”

So much worse for the colleges.  I especially like Chris Rock. Here’s one of his bits that, though not nearly as salacious as many of his performances, would still not go down well on campuses:

Apropos, here’s today’s Pearls Before Swine strip by Stephan Pastis, a comic I don’t really know:


h/t: Terry, jsp, John S

69 thoughts on “Comedians avoid the “offense circuit”

  1. Does this mean I’ll be accused of sexual assault if I try to get in touch with my feminine side?

        1. I once knew a guy who was fond of saying “find your inner child…and molest him.” Too far?…yeah, probably, but it was around the time when the “inner child” was all the rave. It did have shock value which comedians use. Anyway, I was reminded of that when I read the first post.

          1. Some folks have no sense of humor, as no one can tattle on your first sexual experience if you were alone at the time. 😉

  2. Richard Pryor in Concert is one of the funniest stand up films ever. I’m not sure how that would play today in front of a live audience. It’s a shame some comedians aren’t playing campuses. Students may protest, but isn’t that OK? Any publicity is good publicity, right?

    1. I just love this bit he did on how to get away with cheating on your girlfriend or wife – his recommended tactic is to simply deny everything, always, even to the point where if you’re caught in bed with another woman you should deny that what’s happening is actually happening and tell her she’s just mistaken – “who you gonna believe woman…me or your lyin’ eyes?”.

      That bit probably wouldn’t go down too well on campuses either.

  3. (Some) SF Bay Area comedy clubs have the opposite problem: shock value for the sake of shock value with being genuinely clever or creative or having a point. They could use tips from Chris Rock or Richard Pryor.

    However, this does not diminish my appreciation of the problem on college campuses.

    I have once in my life had a joke that I thought unequivocally made fun OF(!!) racism be accused of being racist- unfortunately by my job supervisor at the time. I thought I was in Alice’s Mad Tea Party when reprimanded.

    1. I had a similiar experience with a joke making fun of chauvinism; after I explained myself to the annoyed woman, she reprimanded me for making a mark as someone overly proud of not being chauvinistic.

  4. I initially read the title as “Canadians” avoid the offence circuit and thought to myself that this was hardly news.

  5. Love Chris Rock, especially as the zebra in Madagascar;-) He asks the lion (Ben Stiller?)Am I white with black stripes or black with white stripes…

      1. Really? If you’re right that’s another reason to be sceptical of the tabloid-science they use on the BBC’s QI. They definitely said the opposite about Zebras.

  6. There are a lot of racist jokes about the Dutch in the English language. That’s because the Dutch and English often fought with each other. In 1688 we even invaded England. The English were so embarrassed by the event that they call it the Glorious Revolution to this very day, as if they ‘invited’ the Dutch.

    But just consider these insults:
    Dutch widow = prostitute
    Dutch wife = prostitute
    Dutch courage = booze-induced courage
    Dutch uncle = harsh teacher (like a strident atheist)
    Dutch Nightingale = frog
    Dutch concert = noise from a drunken crowd
    Dutch party = all guests bring their own food
    To go Dutch = everyone pays for his own food and drinks.

    A more contemporary joke is “Double Dutch” which means using both a condom and the pill. Some of these jokes are quite insulting, but does that mean they should be banned from campus or even from english literature classes? Ofcourse not, that would be ridiculous.

    Some students should definitely grow a thicker skin.

    1. “Don’t play the laughing boy. There’s only two things I hate in this world. People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures and the Dutch. ” Nigel Powers.

      1. That too, but it also means prostitute. I’m fairly certain of that. (from investigation, not experience)

    2. When I was young, “Double Dutch” meant “nonsense” and was also the name of a skipping game (I think it meant that the rope was twirled faster than usual). And some of the other terms are ones I have never heard of.
      But there are similar insults about the French – “French letter” and “French leave” come to mind.
      And I have no doubt that the Dutch and French languages have similar terms about the English, or each other for that matter.
      The terms aren’t racist, though they may reflect xenophobia.

      1. Most proverbs and sayings are actually about wool and clothing, because the low countries (Netherlands+Belgium+Luxemburg) had a very productive wool and lothing industry in the 17th and 18th century. We do have the saying “Als Ieren en Britten op één land” which means “Like Irish and British in one country.” It means: two arch-enemies in one room.

      2. i was very amused, when studying French, to learn that the French phrase equivalent to “to take French leave” is filer à l’anglaise, i.e., “to make off English-style”.

    3. Many years ago, the National Lampoon produced an anti-Dutch hate comic, but I can’t seem to find it on the internet.

      1. I don’t recall hearing anti-Dutch jokes growing up; for me it was anti-Polish jokes. To this day, I don’t know why Poles were singled out…I grew up on the West Coast…maybe it came from the East and Polish immigrants? I always found the jokes to be stupid, I would usually turn them around and put in someone’s name I (we) knew- always a lot funnier.

        1. The Canadian version of the Polish jokes I kind of grew up with in the States is Newfie jokes. Pretty much exact same jokes.

          1. Most** ‘national’ jokes are interchangeable, just substitute the target nationality you want.

            Irish joke: How do you sink an Irish submarine? Knock on the hatch!

            You could substitute Dutch, Polish, or any other allegedly-dumb nationality of choice and it would work exactly the same.

            **Not all jokes are interchangeable, a few depend on distinctive ethnic peculiarities.

    4. In my day Double Dutch was just a cool way of jump rope with two ropes at once. Of the others, I had only ever heard of “going Dutch”.

    5. Of those, only “Dutch courage” and “to go Dutch”, along with “double Dutch” for nonsense*, are at all common – and most people who use them are quite oblivious to any implicit anti-Dutch sentiment.

      * I’ve never heard this phrase used in reference to a belt-and-braces approach to birth control!

      “Dutch courage” could be a reference to the strength of Dutch beers! 😉

      /@ (¼ Dutch & ¼ Flemish!)

      1. If you ever have to choose between Flemish beer and Dutch beer, go for the Flemish beer. Abbey beer is the best. I’m Dutch and I drink only Belgian or German beer.

    6. Dutch oven: pass gas under the blanket in bed, then keep the blanket over your bed partners head so they can’t escape and get fresh air.

  7. I’m glad there is this comedian backlash. Both Seinfeld and Rock are right on point, and I hope their views get a wide (and collegiate) audience.

      1. Did you see Key as Obama’s Anger Translator at the White House Press Dinner?? Also on You Tube with Peele a surprisingly good Obama.

        I find their show a tad uneven, but when they are good they are hilarious!!

  8. And Jerry Seinfeld’s comedy is pretty tame.

    The Comedians Driving in Cars and Getting Coffee episode with him and Chris Rock is hilarious.

  9. Chris Rock is great. And so with Seinfeld. Too bad for the college kids. Didn’t George Carlin play colleges, years ago? Times have changed.

  10. Rock on race? Why is it so difficult to understand that “race” is a bogus, made-up concept of an OCD bent on classifying and collecting. All taxonomists should be dug up, shot, and reburied. Including Linnaeus.

  11. Back in 1958 or ’59, I went to the “Police Show” in Palm Springs CA with Lloyd (SigAlert) Sigmon and his wife, Patricia Lee. Danny Thomas gave a big spiel about how humor could cure conflict. He told a joke about a Jew, a “Polak,” and an Italian to illustrate his point. I don’t believe it went over all that well, but it was not really “in bad taste.”

    So “political correctness” is nothing new, but it may be worse.

    My grandmother used to say “Consider the source.”

    “What you do says so much about what you are that any comment from me would be rendered impotent.” –or something like that . . .

    Should speech, however it might disgust one, be made illegal? If ostracism happens, deal with it. Unless I’ve really #u(<ed up, I take it as a badge of honor.

      1. Classic Ed Sullivan Show description: “Comedy:
        –Danny Thomas (comedian, remote from Chicago) – stand-up comedy routine includes jokes about maids, bellboys,
        Lebanese jokes (being of Lebanese decent), and Dean Martin. Thomas sings “The Glory of Love.”

  12. …by Stephan Pastis, a comic I don’t really know

    Your loss, man. Mine too, because my paper doesn’t run it, but Pearls Before Swine is arch humor at its best.

  13. I’m so glad to see this pushback.

    And from Seinfeld! He’s just about the most conservative “no offense” comic there is. (Well known for refusing to even swear in his stand up). When you’ve got someone as careful as Seinfeld saying he feels restricted, that says something.

    1. I haven’t heard his stand-up in a while, but he does swear a bit during his 1998 special “I’m Telling You for the Last Time.”

      In any case, whether a comedian chooses to be clean or not, that should be up to them. And the real problem with dealing with the perpetually aggrieved is that the more careful you are not to offend, the more carefully they will scrutinize your words to find something that can be blown out of proportion. Because their goal is to find offense no matter what.

    2. I don’t know whether Seinfeld is politically conservative but as you say his routines are pretty conservative. I think America’s similar to Britain, in that the vast majority of comedians seem to be left-wing.

      There was a bit of a stramash a while back when a mildly popular stand up came out in support of Nigel Farage’s criticism of ‘ethnics and women’ appearing on television comedy panel shows – the controversy was also simply because a stand-up self-identified as right-wing.

      Much more shocking to me(and it’s shocking that it should have been so shocking if you see what I mean) was the revelation that John Sessions, a florid, intellectual, dandyish comedian(and slight Hitchens lookalike), and regular on QI as well as many other comedy shows and films over the last twenty years, was a UKIP voter. It says something about the general left-leaning nature of comedy that such a straightforward admission made people’s jaws drop.

      To me it’s a really interesting feature of modern comedy that it’s so markedly left-wing. Even someone like Frankie Boyle, who makes the most joltingly offensive jokes, about women, disabled people, gays, etc., nevertheless subscribes to all the usual off-the-shelf, no thought required, leftist dogmas about the moral purity of Muslims, the total degenerate hypocrisy of western countries, Israel’s callousness and Palestine’s nobility, and the political wothlessness of modern western democracies(most ridiculous was to see him go on Russia Today to complain, without a hint of irony, about television channels censoring political opinion.).

      Perhaps it’s a ‘shy tory’ thing, and right-wing comedians just daren’t admit to their politics, I don’t know.

  14. It’s good to see more people speaking out about how unhinged political correctness has become in this country. I just read a pretty good article by Jonathan Chait on the issue,
    I especially agree with this quote:

    “Politics in a democracy is still based on getting people to agree with you, not making them afraid to disagree. The historical record of political movements that sought to expand freedom for the oppressed by eliminating it for their enemies is dismal. The historical record of American liberalism, which has extended social freedoms to blacks, Jews, gays, and women, is glorious. And that glory rests in its confidence in the ultimate power of reason, not coercion, to triumph.”

    It’s worth a read if you’ve got the time:

  15. With Jerry Seinfeld, I’m don’t think political correctness is the reason college audiences don’t find him funny. Maybe it’s that the students don’t relate to a super rich guy who is 40 years their senior and was popular when their parents were in college.

    He complains that people didn’t laugh at a joke about how using a smart phone makes you look like gay French king. He said he can tell it’s political correctness. More likely the audience just don’t respond to a lazy joke based on tired stereotypes.

    Whining on tv about crickets after a joke falls flat. Really?

      1. A bad actor was playing Hamlet and got booed. He finally said to the audience, “Don’t blame me! I didn’t write this shit.”

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