“Kurt Metzger is mad at you,” my friend texted me.
My heart sank. Kurt Metzger is a professional comedian and writer for Inside Amy Schumer, and I’d been a fan of his for years. Immediately, I knew that he found my xoJane blog about how political correctness is not ruining stand-up comedy. A few minutes later, Neal Brennan, comedian and co-creator of Chappelle’s Show, echoed Kurt’s sentiments. Two professional comedians that I had been fans of for years seemingly hated me and hung me out to dry publicly.
Kurt Metzger angrily shared my blog and wrote that some “open miker” had missed the point of political correctness, claiming that the so-called “PC police” wasn’t necessarily ruining comedy; it was ruining audiences. He wanted to know why someone who’s never made him laugh would “school Seinfeld” on comedy. He implied that people like me supported a woman who tried to get him fired because she didn’t like what he said onstage and stated that the PC police were very real.
The thing is, none of these were arguments I made in my blog.
It didn’t take long for hundreds of people to flood Kurt’s Facebook to make angry comments about me. Obviously, since it’s the Internet, most of the criticisms were about my appearance and I’m quite used to being teased for being transgender, so I didn’t take the comments seriously. What made me a little sad was that most of them didn’t even seem to read my blog. Much like Kurt Metzger, a lot of their anger seemed misdirected.
I never condoned nor condemned the “PC police” in my post. I felt like I wrote a fair and nuanced article, stating that no subject matter is off-limits, but it’s not on the onus for the audience to laugh. It’s on the comedian to make it funny.
I Facebook messaged Kurt to tell him that I was open for discussion, and also, that I was a fan of his comedy and loved his appearance on @midnight with Jim Norton and Jesse Joyce from November. He messaged me back and was extremely cordial, apologizing for some of his comments, but still standing by his convictions. Then, he invited me on his Race Wars podcast (NSFW language, I come in at the 52 minute mark) co-hosted by comedian Sherrod Small.
I couldn’t believe what was happening. I had always wanted to talk to these comedians, hoping one day I’d be in New York doing stand-up and would get a chance to tell them how much I loved their comedy. I did not expect to talk to them in the context of defending a blog that they felt was harmful to my favorite art form.
When the day came for my podcast appearance, I had a hard time breathing, and I even called my therapist to help me calm down. I threw up in the restroom which was my homage to B. Rabbit from 8 Mile. My nerves were off-the-charts. The Race Wars podcast would be the largest audience that would ever hear my voice, and I’d be debating professional comedians that I liked.
The show called me around 3 pm. I was intimidated by how many people I heard in-studio, and I decided to keep quiet until they addressed me directly because I didn’t want people talking over me. After everyone greeted me, I asked, “Is that Ann Coulter in-studio?”
Sherrod Small jokingly said, “Yeah, that’s Ann Coulter. Show some respect. Say hi to Ann Coulter.”
“Hi, Ann Coulter,” I said dryly, which I was relieved made everyone laugh. I called her the greatest professional wrestling heel (villain) in history, which I had been planning to say for a week. It felt surreal interacting with somebody that I had only seen on television, because until that moment, I subconsciously felt like she was a fictional character. I couldn’t believe this was real life.
Kurt Metzger asked for clarification about my article and requested one of my “old bits” where I’d antagonize the audience and then yell at them for not laughing. I let Kurt know that my first year of comedy didn’t really consist of telling jokes. I emulated professional comedians I saw, like Bill Burr’s rant in Philadelphia (NSFW language) or Louis CK’s conversational style. However, I missed the nuances, contexts, and processes of joke writing, so I thought that Louis CK and Bill Burr were merely just talking and/or yelling. I didn’t see the actual work they put into their jokes because they had hidden their punchlines so well. It takes decades of practice to make comedy seem that effortless.
Kurt Metzger told me that the reason the audiences didn’t laugh at my comedy had nothing to do with political correctness. They laughed because I wasn’t funny.
“But you’re proving my point,” I said.
As I was explaining my thought processes about comedy, about how a joke has to be funny before “edgy,” I realized that he and I had a lot of common ground. Our miscommunication was due to having such different perspectives since we were on different career levels, so we were actually having completely separate arguments.
When he says “political correctness,” he’s speaking as a professional comedian, and he’s talking about the culture that writes blogs and tries to get people fired. When newer comedians say “political correctness,” they are generally talking about the crowds in front of them that they blame for not laughing. New comedians take their cues from professional comedians, and they oftentimes misunderstand what professional comedians are complaining about.
There is no “PC police” for open mikers. Bloggers are not infiltrating dive bars and AA meetings to angrily write about a comic that nobody’s ever heard of.
I told Kurt that I wish more established comedians focused on the importance of being funny rather than harping on “political correctness,” because it was inadvertently creating a narrative where new comedians can blame audiences instead of taking responsibility for their own jokes. And to my surprise, he told me that I had made a decent point.
Sherrod Small chimed in by saying, “The bottom line is the comedian’s gotta make it funny. I don’t care how PC the audience is. F--- all that. It all falls on the comedian. ALL OF IT.” This is all I wanted to hear from a professional comedian. I’m so glad it was said out loud. I got my personal victory.
I’m happy that Kurt Metzger and I had a chance to talk, and I wish comedians on different career levels had opportunities to communicate with each other more frequently. Instead of having knee-jerk responses and hating somebody before hearing their opinions, we could try to have more thoughtful conversations.
I learned a lot from this experience. It gave me a little taste of what fame feels like on a smaller scale. All of a sudden, I had more eyes and ears on me than ever before and I’m relatively unknown, so if I felt overwhelmed at this level, I can only imagine what famous people and celebrities have to go through every day. I have a better understanding of how grating it is to be under constant scrutiny, and I can see how someone can grow resentful towards the “PC culture” and even his/her own fan base over time.
But I also learned that once I depersonalized the hundreds of mean-spirited comments, there was no harm done to my comedy career. In fact, the readership of my blog quintupled due to people’s complaints, and I did a podcast with more than 10,000 listeners. So even though there are all of these worries about “the PC police,” I don’t remember a time when they actually got someone fired. Oftentimes, public outrage leads to more visibility and an increase in popularity.
I learned to have a better understanding of why so many strangers seemingly hated me. It wasn’t about me. These people love stand-up comedy and are afraid that it’s turning into something they don’t like, so they’ll defend it at all costs. Since they felt like I was doing harm to stand-up, it became their mission to destroy my credibility. I disagree with the methods, but I admire their passion.
The most important thing I learned was that there are so many people in the world that care so much about stand-up comedy. Sure, it can get extremely exhausting and even depressing at times to see such vicious arguments between comedy fans and this “us vs. them” mentality where people take sides. But in the end, I’m just really glad that stand-up comedy still matters so much to people, and I think it’s amazing that it can still spark so many heated discussions.
This is a good thing. It sure beats the hell out of apathy.