Grace Rubenstein’s letter to the editor last week lambasted Matt Malley for his comedy routine in Goodrich making fun of an ugly woman. Among her complaints were that the comedian was offensive, that he clearly only valued physically attractive females, and that from making jokes about ugly women, it is only a short step to accepting further degradation, sexual assault and rape.
Allow me to begin at the beginning. The comedian she means to refer to in connection with the ugly jokes is Joey Carroll; Matt Malley spent more time making fun of the handicapped. (Her confusion is understandable, as they ended up performing in a different order than they were listed in on the program.) As for the joke itself, Carroll went on to insult the woman’s lack of personality by quoting the ugly woman as saying she spent most of her time with her church group, and the rest with her family. It is thus unfair for Grace to accuse Mr. Carroll of judging the worth of a woman solely based on looks, since he went through the trouble of making fun of personal characteristics as well.
However, the fact remains that Carroll told a joke that objectified women. And this is fine, because his job description as a comedian is to tell jokes. Jokes are bound to offend people, because they assign characteristics to the people in the jokes. We connect with details, and the specifics of an anecdote allow us to connect with it more. The jokes told about taking money from parents of college students were funnier to the parents of college students, and in general giving the people in your stories more characteristics makes them more real, and thus better draws in your audience. If we eliminate personal characteristics from humor, all jokes will become: “A person and another person went into a place,” since anything descriptive could be offensively construed. Imagine reading a novel in which the main character was never described.
One might argue that in an ideal society, someone’s physical attractiveness would not be a primary factor in whether they were regarded as a worthwhile person. And while I would like to think that this is true, we do not live in an ideal society, and looks matter. Comedy is the lighter side of truth, so the fact that Carroll related an anecdote that displays society’s attitudes towards ugliness merely draws our attention to the fact that such attitudes exist. Rubenstein’s assertion that such language is dangerous, violent, and unacceptable is going a bit far. Such language is nothing more than a reflection of life, and I would imagine that many people have been in a social situation such as Carroll describes. (I have, and I happened to be “the friend.”) Jokes are told to make us laugh, but also to illustrate the ridiculousness of life. When people attempt to restrict our ability to comment on the world, this is what is dangerous and unacceptable.
Seth Brown ’01