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November 14, 2016

Comedy Gone Wrong
by Katie Conway - 0

Last Saturday night was The Comics Come Home fundraiser. The event, now in its 22nd year, is a night of comedy performed by Boston locals and comedians who got their start around here, and benefits The Cam Neely Foundation for Cancer Care. Worcester native and Emerson College alum Denis Leary has always been the host of the show, which has since grown to become the longest running comedy fundraiser in the country. But what should have been an evening of comedic relief at the TD Garden on Saturday turned vile when actor/writer/comedian Wanda Sykes was booed off the stage after an anti-Trump political rant. 

Many went into a state of shock when it was announced Tuesday night That Donald J. Trump - a man who stereotypes and threatens the lives of minorities, feels women are objects he can grab whenever he wants, and chose a VP candidate that is no friend to the LGBTQ+ community - would become the 45th President of the United States. Obviously, a lot of people are going to be upset. Some people will channel this anger and unrest into peaceful protest, some will write meaningful Op-Eds on how to stay strong, and others, like Wanda Sykes, will turn to comedy.

It took Sykes no more than 5 minutes into her act to bring up her thoughts on the election results. “After the election, I was going around consoling people. I said guys, look on the bright side. Look at this, I was telling everybody - it’s gonna be okay, it’s gonna be ok,” Sykes told the audience, “I am certain this is not the first time we’ve elected a racist, sexist, homophobic president. He ain’t the first one. He’s just the first confirmed one.” This was followed by a chorus of boos and uproar, to which Sykes responded with a series of obscenities directed at the audience. The comic tried to defend herself, continuing the rant by exclaiming “How can you say he’s not racist? ‘Grab them by the pussy’? How can you say he’s not sexist? How can you say he’s not homophobic?” Wanda eventually dropped the rant and finished her act with other non-political jokes, but ended with a flip-off to the audience before she exited the stage. You can watch the full video below:

Now here’s the thing: comedy should be a place where people can feel comfortable in voicing their opinions, and not feel limited in what they can and can’t say based on how they think audience members will react. Maybe it wasn’t the time or place for Wanda to bring her political beliefs to a charity benefit, but what she was saying was mostly based in factual evidence. And she has a right to feel nervous after the election results, being herself a black women and a lesbian. However, comics must be weary that they may have fans on all sides of the political spectrum. While it may be understandable why Sykes was met with such negative reactions, since some people still feel uncomfortable acknowledging or choose not to believe Trump is racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., Leary wasted no time in defending the comedian and asked the audience to show Sykes respect after her departure. 

It isn’t just the fact that Wanda Sykes was booed for voicing her beliefs that has may brain wrapped around this event though, it’s the fact that other comics went on political and negative rants that night, and were not met with the same venom and hate - specifically, comedian/writer/radio-host Nick DiPaolo from Danvers, MA. According to the Boston Globe, Nick joked about liberals and raping women, went on a pro-Trump rant, and used anti-semitic language. He also called a woman who rushed to the stage a “Peabody Jew,” which I personally found offensive, seeing that Peabody is my hometown on the North Shore of Massachusetts  - one that proudly has a diverse population of people, including a large Jewish population. Nick was met with big laughs and rounds of applause for these and other insensitive jokes.

A closer look at DiPaolo’s twitter account shows how much more he has in common with the soon-to-be Commander in Chief. He had no hesitation in retweeting from fans after Saturday night’s event - tweets congratulating him for standing up to the “racist” Wanda Sykes who went on a “hateful rant,” and praising him for standing up for Trump and Republicans. Tweets that say “F-ck these libtards,” called Wanda an “oversensitive douche,” and instructed those who couldn’t handle DiPaolo’s jokes to “find a safe space if you can’t handle a comedy show.” DiPaolo himself tweeted “Just can’t take the p.c. faggotry that has ruined this country anymore” way back in February 2011. Do you see the double standard here? 

Let that sink in. A female comedian was booed off for criticizing the president-elect on being hateful, and in turn was criticized herself for being “hateful,” meanwhile a male comic who used humor in hurting minorities and an entire gender was given a free pass and pat on the back. How does that add up? Why are media outlets framing Wanda as the villain, when she's the victim whose expressing her grief and concerns through comedy? Why is the bully never held to the same standard? Since when is claiming someone is “sexist” worse than joking about raping women? Am I talking about Comics Come Home or the 2016 Presidential Race? 

In conclusion, this is something we all need to be aware of, especially in the comedy community. There is a fine line between someone’s opinion and using hate speech to make fun of people who are different then you. Comedy and politics have always meshed, for better and for worse. But lets be clear - to boo someone off the stage based on her legitimate fear and factual evidence, and then to applaud someone else for hatefully joking about another person’s religion and sexual assault towards women is a BIG DEAL. Should Wanda have gone off on Trump so soon after the election? She has every right to. Should she have have yelled “f— all y’all” to the audience? Probably not. But it baffles my mind how her stand-up piece gained so much traction, while The Boston Globe appears to be the only news source to include the other side of the story. Freedom of speech is one of the reasons our country is great, but please think twice about what you’re willing to say to get laughs, and who you’re willing to attack because they speak the truth. 


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