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Tracy Morgan & the Homophobic Rant (Updated)
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Mark in Minnesota



Joined: 02 Jan 2004
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Location: Saint Louis Park, MN
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The question here isn't whether jokes like that should be off-limits. Of course they shouldn't--nothing in humor should be completely and totally off-limits. Nothing.

But comedians aren't just humorists any more, and haven't been for a very long time. They're also practitioners in social commentary. Some comedians say they hate that aspect of it, the pause for righteous applause--but it's a real thing and it's part of the reason we've come to see comedy as such an inviolate thing in the first place. When it's working for the sake of humor, it's about the comedian taking the audience to some deeper truth and then getting them to laugh at it.

We're under no obligation to laugh at that which isn't funny to us, but likewise we're under no obligation to give a "just jokes" free pass when a comedian engages in "serious" social commentary on a comic stage and arrives at a conclusion that gravely and genuinely offends us.

Was Tracy Morgan just engaged in irreverence or was he driving toward what he thought of as some deeper truth? We don't know, because we haven't seen or read what he actually said.

But what was the deeper truth might he have been driving toward? My guess is that the point he hoped he was making was a condemnation of our society's emerging ideas about the fragility of children's self-esteem. The sort of sentiment that our forum went a couple of rounds on in this thread earlier this year. The sort of sentiment that countless comedians have expressed on countless stages over the years: that children ought to be more resilient than we're expecting them to be when we don't allow them to play games with winners and losers, or (in Tracy Morgan's bit) don't allow them to bully and be bullied.

We haven't really talked much about that aspect of the story in this thread, but some of the comedians who are criticizing him have tried to zero in on that finer point, as seen in this link: http://thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/wanda-sykes-on-tracy-morgan-tracy-just-yelled-fire-in-a-crowded-theater/news/2011/06/10/21855

I don't want to talk much on that point, but I will say that I'm more interested in hearing what Tracy Morgan would do (jokingly, or not) to a son he found out was bullying gay children than I was in hearing what Tracy Morgan would do (jokingly, or not) to a gay son who couldn't handle being bullied.
Post Mon Jun 20, 2011 12:15 pm
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box johnson



Joined: 25 Nov 2008
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You should read some Benign Violation theory. I'd argue this wasn't funny because the violation wasn't benign for some people. They perceived, like in Michael Richards' rant, that this was no longer comedy and simply anger.

Tracy does this all the time in his act, though. He's an absurdist. His deeper truth would profoundly scare some people.
Post Mon Jun 20, 2011 12:45 pm
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Elorza



Joined: 18 Sep 2002
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Mark in Minnesota wrote:
what he said


you're about one Lenny Bruce phenomenon too late. Your words are awesome and appreciated; truly. But you know as well as anyone does that you can't "speak" for the speaker. And as far as the peanut gallery goes... I only have ellipses for them.
Post Mon Jun 20, 2011 1:07 pm
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Elorza



Joined: 18 Sep 2002
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And we still haven't seen the bit. So get off the dick until. (that was not directed toward you Mark, but urbody)
Post Mon Jun 20, 2011 1:08 pm
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icarus502
kung-pwn master


Joined: 01 Jul 2002
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Mark in Minnesota wrote:

I don't want to talk much on that point, but I will say that I'm more interested in hearing what Tracy Morgan would do (jokingly, or not) to a son he found out was bullying gay children than I was in hearing what Tracy Morgan would do (jokingly, or not) to a gay son who couldn't handle being bullied.


The ridiculous premise of all this outrage is that the bullying of gay children is a national epidemic. That post likened the situation to yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre, which is a wholly absurd cliché.

Bullying isn't a national epidemic. The thing that's grown in epidemic proportions, over the past few years, is that people are finally giving a shit about bullying in schools. This is a good thing. What a comedian engaging this situation would be commenting on is this: the fact that we're at a unique point in history in which childhood bullying is considered an important national issue. That we're at a point in which teenage suicides are elevated to national hero status while their putative teenage bullies, who have reportedly caused those suicides, are national pariahs and are being tried as adults, with felonies in retaliation. This is no "crowded theatre," it's more like a formerly crowded theatre that is emptying in an orderly fashion because someone already yelled "FIRE!"

Bullies been done (partially, at least) inciting kids to suicide. I went to school with a kid who killed himself just after report cards came out, after getting his ass kicked by a friend of mine and being shamed in school over it. Nobody gave a shit, they saw it as a personal problem rather than an institutional problem. But things are different now. A few years ago, at my sons elementary school, "bully" was the greatest pejorative you could ascribe to a kid. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that kids called eachother "bully" in a somewhat bullying manner, given that they were so primed to shun bullies that they applied it to mere aggressiveness.

SO… as a parent, and especially one who's ensconced within larger communities of parents, I really doubt that my kids will ever be bullies. But if they did, I'd be distraught, mortified, and profoundly disappointed. There's nothing funny, in this climate, about bullies. BUT, I think there's humor in the other side, precisely because of the national moment. If my kid were to be bullied by other kids, I'd be primarily concerned for their well-being, actively trying to affect some change in the school, and angry about their situation. But, and here's the part that's ripe for humor, I'd be secretly a little pissed at my own kid (or rather, at myself) for not preparing a kid who's strong enough to deal with some kid's mistreatment.

I'm not sure that I'm interested in Tracy Morgan riffing on this because I don't know that TM is a comedian that can capture the depth of that sentiment, though it's partially what he's reportedly tried to express: It's important to not raise bullies, but it's also important to not raise punks. You know? I cry at "It Gets Better" videos and am glad that bullying is a part of the national conversation. I personally think that the problem of slut-shaming girls is probably as big a 'bullying' problem as homophobia and I'm angry that it's not addressed more. And, I guess, I'm fairly confident that my kids and their friends are not going to be bullies. Thankfully! But, man, my friends come over with their kids sometimes and I think "man these kids are a bunch of punks" and I feel like they aren't being prepared to deal with bullies at all. There's humor there. Maybe Tracy Morgan got it right. Probably not. But I'd be curious to see someone like Louis CK go there, though he has daughters so it probably wouldn't be the same from the tone of gender.
Post Mon Jun 20, 2011 1:46 pm
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futuristxen



Joined: 01 Jul 2002
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box johnson wrote:
I'd argue this wasn't funny because the violation wasn't benign for some people. They perceived, like in Michael Richards' rant, that this was no longer comedy and simply anger.



Yeah but again, how would you really be able to say what it was or wasn't without having seen it?
Post Mon Jun 20, 2011 2:21 pm
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box johnson



Joined: 25 Nov 2008
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futuristxen wrote:
box johnson wrote:
I'd argue this wasn't funny because the violation wasn't benign for some people. They perceived, like in Michael Richards' rant, that this was no longer comedy and simply anger.



Yeah but again, how would you really be able to say what it was or wasn't without having seen it?


I don't believe I did. Just applied a theory to the reactions for those who did see it.
Post Mon Jun 20, 2011 2:53 pm
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Ardamus315



Joined: 21 Apr 2009
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icarus502 wrote:
Captiv8 wrote:
icarus502 wrote:
Captiv8 wrote:
Michael Richards-esque.


Doesn't sound like it. But yah, we should see some video or something.


Obviously not in the racist sense, but in the comedian who people liked more for being on a sitcom loosing their shit one night sense.


In the Richards situation, there was video that provided the context — he was off-script, yelling at a specific audience member. In this case, we're talking about an actual stand-up comic (Richards isn't one) doing a bit that's being paraphrased by another guy. While the Richards situation was pretty cut-and-dried, this one isn't really yet.


Kind of how I'm looking at this but then again, in the entertainment industry, you say certain things about gays now....you willl get called out by these organizations. If they feel offended enough to say something....
Post Mon Jun 20, 2011 4:12 pm
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Mark in Minnesota



Joined: 02 Jan 2004
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Location: Saint Louis Park, MN
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box johnson wrote:
I don't believe I did. Just applied a theory to the reactions for those who did see it.


You're begging the question.
Post Mon Jun 20, 2011 4:19 pm
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Z-0



Joined: 28 Sep 2004
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icarus502 wrote:
Mark in Minnesota wrote:

I don't want to talk much on that point, but I will say that I'm more interested in hearing what Tracy Morgan would do (jokingly, or not) to a son he found out was bullying gay children than I was in hearing what Tracy Morgan would do (jokingly, or not) to a gay son who couldn't handle being bullied.


The ridiculous premise of all this outrage is that the bullying of gay children is a national epidemic. That post likened the situation to yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre, which is a wholly absurd cliché.

Bullying isn't a national epidemic. The thing that's grown in epidemic proportions, over the past few years, is that people are finally giving a shit about bullying in schools. This is a good thing. What a comedian engaging this situation would be commenting on is this: the fact that we're at a unique point in history in which childhood bullying is considered an important national issue. That we're at a point in which teenage suicides are elevated to national hero status while their putative teenage bullies, who have reportedly caused those suicides, are national pariahs and are being tried as adults, with felonies in retaliation. This is no "crowded theatre," it's more like a formerly crowded theatre that is emptying in an orderly fashion because someone already yelled "FIRE!"

Bullies been done (partially, at least) inciting kids to suicide. I went to school with a kid who killed himself just after report cards came out, after getting his ass kicked by a friend of mine and being shamed in school over it. Nobody gave a shit, they saw it as a personal problem rather than an institutional problem. But things are different now. A few years ago, at my sons elementary school, "bully" was the greatest pejorative you could ascribe to a kid. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that kids called eachother "bully" in a somewhat bullying manner, given that they were so primed to shun bullies that they applied it to mere aggressiveness.

SO… as a parent, and especially one who's ensconced within larger communities of parents, I really doubt that my kids will ever be bullies. But if they did, I'd be distraught, mortified, and profoundly disappointed. There's nothing funny, in this climate, about bullies. BUT, I think there's humor in the other side, precisely because of the national moment. If my kid were to be bullied by other kids, I'd be primarily concerned for their well-being, actively trying to affect some change in the school, and angry about their situation. But, and here's the part that's ripe for humor, I'd be secretly a little pissed at my own kid (or rather, at myself) for not preparing a kid who's strong enough to deal with some kid's mistreatment.

I'm not sure that I'm interested in Tracy Morgan riffing on this because I don't know that TM is a comedian that can capture the depth of that sentiment, though it's partially what he's reportedly tried to express: It's important to not raise bullies, but it's also important to not raise punks. You know? I cry at "It Gets Better" videos and am glad that bullying is a part of the national conversation. I personally think that the problem of slut-shaming girls is probably as big a 'bullying' problem as homophobia and I'm angry that it's not addressed more. And, I guess, I'm fairly confident that my kids and their friends are not going to be bullies. Thankfully! But, man, my friends come over with their kids sometimes and I think "man these kids are a bunch of punks" and I feel like they aren't being prepared to deal with bullies at all. There's humor there. Maybe Tracy Morgan got it right. Probably not. But I'd be curious to see someone like Louis CK go there, though he has daughters so it probably wouldn't be the same from the tone of gender.


well said. i hadnt really thought much on the separation of bullying as a focus of society and the reality of its actual prevalance.


Last edited by Z-0 on Mon Jun 20, 2011 4:36 pm; edited 1 time in total
Post Mon Jun 20, 2011 4:32 pm
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T-Wrex
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If a dead horse was a faggot.. would it a hate crime to beat it?
Post Mon Jun 20, 2011 4:32 pm
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jrspudsquad



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ok ok, we haven't seen the actual clip, i get it. But some of you need to stop calling for an end to this conversation because I'm still thoroughly enjoying this thread. If the video is not out yet, i doubt that it's ever coming out, so let's work with what we have.

We do know that he's done this same bit more than once and we know his over the top offensive comedy style. I think we should continue with the assumption that it was a comedy bit that's perceived as bad taste and not a spur of the moment hate rant. As Louie CK said, I think we can safely infer that he would not literally stab his son. Anybody disagree?
------
I think mark brings up the very interesting dichotomy in our societies view of comedy. For example The Daily Show, where Stewart frequently brings up in interviews with other news networks that his responsibility belongs to comedy and not news or commentary. At the same time, he takes pride in stressing that they take nothing out of context. The line is incredibly thin when he's grilling Jim Cramer or something of the sorts. Many comedians seem like they want the best of both worlds and shun responsibility for their words while claiming that they are indeed trying to make a point.

Could Bill Hicks sincerely console an offended Christian by saying that he was just telling jokes?
Post Tue Jun 21, 2011 11:21 am
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jakethesnake
guy who cried about wrestling being real


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For what it's worth, I think Bill Hicks truly believed most of what he was saying. That's probably what I find most funny about him. His funny was his honesty and poignant world view.
Post Tue Jun 21, 2011 11:36 am
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Jesse



Joined: 02 Jul 2002
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firefly wrote:
I believe the standup stage is a sacred space; It's one of the few places left where people are allowed to experiment, confront, and dance with ideas that society generally tiptoes around or avoids completely. That won't always go well. But if you try to take away the shitty part of that, you're likely to sacrifice the wonderful part of it too.
This fiction is so tiresome.

It is a place where the shit everyone says all the time gets reinforced and strengthened. The stand-up stage isn't the last bastion of the endangered homophobic perspective. There doesn't need to be a sacred space where the dominant culture gets to EXTRA do and say whatever they feel like without fear of censure.

Every space is already safe for jokes about stabbing gay kids. Motherfuckers now also want to be safe from hearing that someone doesn't like it, too? Suck it.
Post Tue Jun 21, 2011 12:29 pm
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icarus502
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Joined: 01 Jul 2002
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Jesse wrote:
firefly wrote:
I believe the standup stage is a sacred space; It's one of the few places left where people are allowed to experiment, confront, and dance with ideas that society generally tiptoes around or avoids completely. That won't always go well. But if you try to take away the shitty part of that, you're likely to sacrifice the wonderful part of it too.
This fiction is so tiresome.

It is a place where the shit everyone says all the time gets reinforced and strengthened. The stand-up stage isn't the last bastion of the endangered homophobic perspective. There doesn't need to be a sacred space where the dominant culture gets to EXTRA do and say whatever they feel like without fear of censure.

Every space is already safe for jokes about stabbing gay kids. Motherfuckers now also want to be safe from hearing that someone doesn't like it, too? Suck it.


This is ridiculous, Jesse. You really think "every space is already safe for jokes about stabbing gay kids"? Really?! The only places that are truly "safe" for such jokes are probably the homes of people you'll never meet.

Also, you're missing the point about the "safe space" of the comic stage. It isn't that people think they should be safe from hearing that people are offended by things, it's (as I understand) a layered argument (though it's not my argument):
1) Out of respect for the art of standup, the stage at small shows is sort of a workshop space in which the performer is free to work out material, to determine the correct pitch, pacing, and moral valence of the joke while gauging its reception in order to determine its placement within a larger, more permanent work like a special or an album. If the morality of a part of the performance is questionable, it could be because the performer is still working out the correct manner to put across the idea and they should be allowed some creative space to do so without being condemned.
2) Insofar as there are some notions that are a part of our collective unconscious but are too inappropriate to voice aloud in most places — and you and I can disagree as to which thoughts those are — there should be some place in which such thoughts can be expressed with impunity depending on the artistic wherewithal of the performer.
Post Tue Jun 21, 2011 1:09 pm
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