So I was at a bar the other night for open mic comedy night, and another comic and I were talking about what kind of jokes we have, and in passing I mentioned that I have a joke about AIDS. Well, the bartender heard me say this, and she looks right at me with no humor in her eyes and says “what’s so funny about AIDS?” I knew this was going to be a very uncomfortable conversation, so I sat there for a second thinking about what to say. Then, still looking at me, she said in an even more stern and serious manner, “seriously, there’s nothing funny about AIDS.”
I started by admitting to her that there’s nothing inherently funny about AIDS, but it’s possible to make a joke about AIDS that is funny. She wasn’t having it. She looked at me like I just told her I gave her AIDS. I felt I was only going to be digging myself a deeper hole here, but I was adamant in my defense. My next point was basically that life is full of terrible and unfortunate things like AIDS, and I would rather find a way to laugh about those things than be sad about them. She still wasn’t quite buying it, but I was getting somewhere. She said to me “Well I can’t find any humor in AIDS. There’s no humor in AIDS and there’s no humor in child molestation. Did you know 7 out of 10 children are victims of molestation?”
She went on to say that it wouldn’t be funny to joke about child molestation if it happened to me. I continued to express my point that everyone is different, and that some people use humor as a coping mechanism for the shitty things that have happened to them. In fact, that’s why most people are comedians in the first place. It’s also impossible to know exactly what the audience is going to find funny on any given night, since the audience is always different. It’s a constant judgement of finding where the line is to make the audience laugh, and sometimes you have to go over the line to find out where it is.
Anyways, she finally came to understand my point better and I came to understand her point better. It was kind of a cool example of how something very sensitive and difficult can be discussed without people being at each other’s throats. These kind of conversations are much more difficult online. It’s more difficult to have a contentious conversation like this in person, but I think if we genuinely listen to the other person and try to come to some understanding, it’s very rewarding.
It also got me thinking more about the subject itself. Not AIDS, but jokes and comedy in general. Ultimately, all a comedian wants to do is make the audience laugh. That’s the intent. Intent is something I try to think about before I get upset at somebody. Was this person trying to hurt me? What were they trying to do, exactly? These questions can save a lot of trouble. Most people aren’t sadists. Most people are trying to do their best.
I think this gets lost a lot of the time in the political conversation, which is why human decency seems to fly out the window when discussing the subject. Maybe people want to believe everyone else is terrible to feel better about themselves and their own misgivings. I don’t know. It’s a shitty way to look at the world, honestly. If you spend too much time online it’s easy to think the world and everyone in it is terrible. If you actually go out and live in it though, and really pay attention to all of the people you come across, from a Starbucks barista to a professional athlete, you’ll notice the very strong majority of these people are just trying to do their best for themselves and their families. They’re not terrible and they don’t want to watch the world burn.