A Note from Our Satire Editor: Racists Can't Satirize Racism
By Nate Koch
Why do Tulane students keep spewing out hatred under the guise of comedy?
As a lil dumbass 20-year-old, I know few things about life. I'm an English major. I'm good at copy-editing. I've maybe watched more documentaries than the average civilian.
But there's one thing in this world I do happen to know a lot about, and that's comedy. I knew about the Upright Citizens Brigade before I knew how to long-divide. I learned the principle of "yes-and" before I learned how to French kiss. (Did I yes-and my first make out session too hard and accidentally lick my girlfriend's face in a pitch-black storage closet? I don't know, I didn't say that. Why would you suggest something like that?)
I joined an improv troupe before I got my driver's permit. I've been doing stand-up at open mics (read: bombing in front of three-to-five drunk people at 1 a.m.) since the age of 18. I write and perform sketch comedy in Tulane Cat Mafia, I spend every Saturday night taking two busses to the Marigny to intern at a comedy theater. I have my own satire blog, AND, as of this January, I'm the satire section-editor for the very publication you're reading right now.
Suffice it to say, I spend probably 90 to 95% of my mental energy on analyzing, critiquing and producing comedy on a daily basis. I think this gives me a certain amount of authority to speak up when certain students at our wonderful university decide that maybe they too can take a dip in the comedy-pool.
If you're up to date on campus drama, you've seen Tulane Republican treasurer Harry Rothstein's nuclear-level-cringe YouTube video, where he wanders into a Taco Bell in what I'm assuming was a cathartic state of xeno-lirium. I'm not going to list off all of the horrible jokes he makes (and I do see them as jokes), in the interest of not broadcasting his dog-shit creativity beyond what it deserves. But you can read the Hullabaloo's article on it, and watch the video for yourself before someone's daddy inevitably gets it removed from the internet for good.
But this video isn't an isolated incident, and that's why I feel like it's worth saying something. There was that time a few years ago when a girl (a white girl, it's worth noting) made a video where she went around with chopsticks and accosted random Asian students with Chinese food. I'm sure many of you remember KA's holy sandbag shrine to Donald Trump, which made national news last year.
What do all of these have in common? Every time, they're comedic performances. We can grind our teeth and say racism is never funny, but plenty of comedy isn't particularly funny. Having watched hundreds of white guys bomb at open-mics, I can say that actually the majority of comedy isn't funny. Unfortunately, us liberals don’t get ownership over an entire medium.
In a series of events that could not have been timed more perfectly, right as KA was defending their "make America great again" wall as being a joke, John Mulaney, perhaps millennials' most beloved stand-up comedian, came to do a show on campus and took time out of his set to discuss KA's comedic experiment.
"I think you should be able to joke about whatever you want, I truly do," Mulaney said to the crowd, many of us clutching our liberal hearts with excitement. "However, I think it is problematic for a fraternity in the south -- you know what we mean when we say south, right? -- it is problematic for their 'joke' to be a wall that keeps people out, when a fraternity is a thing that is meant to keep people out."
Everyone, myself included, went nuts. As Mulaney made this point my heart soared, everything suddenly clicking into place.
I'd been struggling with how to react to comedy being used as a medium for harassment and borderline hate-speech. Yes, obviously when these incidents happen, it's an egregious attack on Tulane's aspirations to be a welcoming, multicultural campus. But it also always becomes an attack on comedy, the thing I love so dearly and dedicated much of my life to.
Here's the thing about comedy -- and this is the thing that I think Mulaney was speaking to as it relates to Tulane -- it has to be founded in absurdity. Show me any joke, successful or not, and I can comediansplain to you how it is an unlikely union of the absurd and the rational, working together to create a thing we call humor.
I'm not here to marshal offensiveness or talk about what does and doesn't deserve to be free speech. I'm just telling you that straight up, on a theoretical level, there's nothing absurd about the treasurer of the Tulane Republicans having racist things to say about Mexicans. There's nothing absurd about a southern fraternity being interested in Trump, as John Mulaney pointed out.
The absurdity of "conservative comedy" is almost never in the performance's content. It's in the performance's spectacle -- its' unabashed hatefulness and cruelty. We've seen this over and over again in the past year. It was practically our Commander-in-Chief's only campaign strategy.
So, yes, when a racist student makes a joke, technically it's still a joke. But the only absurd thing about what Rothstein or KA did is the fact that they weren't embarrassed to do it in the first place. That's easily the cheapest, least entertaining, least inventive way to create comedy I can think of.
You might as well make videos where you just hit yourself in the nuts in various public locations. At least you wouldn’t be threatening other students’ ability to feel safe and included on our campus. And you might even get some laughs from me.