Is comedy dead? If Robin DeAngelo has her way, it might be. In a recent interview, the author of “White Fragility” explained that, “Comedy is an excuse to get to be racist… I think TV shows like Family Guy and South Park and maybe a little bit The Simpsons allowed white people to be racist, self-consciously… I don’t think it’s benign to do it in a joking way.”
She continued: “And there is a concept in comedy called punching up, not down. So, if you want to punch up, there’s very different power dynamics and it doesn’t hurt in the same way. It doesn’t invoke a deep, deep centuries-long history of oppression when you poke fun at, say, white people. But it’s very, very different to poke fun at people of color.”
This is precisely the mode of thinking that leads to comedians getting canceled left and right nowadays. Just a few months ago, there were calls to cancel Bill Burr after he presented a series of Latin American music awards at the Grammys. Bill had difficulty pronouncing the winner’s name and joked, “How many feminists are going nuts, ‘Why is this cis white male doing all this Latino stuff?’” Burr was correct – a swift online cancel campaign quickly followed his performance.
When it comes to “punching up, not down” as DeAngelo put it, who exactly determined that victim hierarchy? People have attempted to cancel Kevin Hart, a black comedian, multiple times. Most notably back in 2018, when he had to step down from hosting the Oscars due to “homophobic jokes” he told years ago. After initially doubling down and defending the jokes, Hart did eventually apologize, but that didn’t get him his Oscars gig back. Hart has since changed his tune and now vociferously denounces cancel culture.
Even people who aren’t comedians can have their jobs taken away for old jokes. That’s exactly what happened to Axios reporter Alexi McCammond when she accepted a job as editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue. Lower-level staffers at the magazine dug up old tweets of hers from nearly a decade ago in which she made derogatory comments about Asians. McCammond deleted the tweets and apologized profusely, but it didn’t matter. Teen Vogue gave her the boot anyway.
Jonathan Swan, a political reporter and McCammond’s peer over at Axios, said of the incident: “I’ve worked with her for four years. She doesn’t have a racist bone in her body. If we can’t as an industry accept someone’s sincere and repeated apologies for something they tweeted when they were 17 years old, what are we doing?”