This essay is republished with permission from the author. Jim Tews wrote “An Open Letter From a Decent, White Male Comic” in response to several recent blog posts, Twitter fights and Facebook comment threads about comedy, gender and the appropriateness of certain jokes. And yes, it’s also in response to this Jezebel essay from Lindy West, “An Open Letter to White Male Comedians.”
My name is Jim Tews. I’m a thirty-one year old white male, and I’ve been a comedian for about ten years now. Currently, people of my race and gender make up the majority of standup comics in this country, and we have for a very long time. Comedy in this country has a pretty solid history of being all straight dudes, and not very welcoming to anything else. It sucks, and there’s nothing we can do about the past besides acknowledge how stupid we all used to be.
Things are slowly changing, thankfully. As the close-minded people in this business, now succumbing to the damage done by years of eating bar food and doing cocaine retire or die, more room is made for the open-minded ones. As a more diverse cast of funny people rises its way to the front of our awareness, more of those at the starting out get heroes that look, sound and think like them. It’s a slow process, but it’s going to be fucking great for all involved.
Let’s not be so quick to focus on the ones that are slow to adapt. I do my best to only hang out with inclusive, open-minded comics, so I know their are plenty of them out there. I’m sorry if you’ve experienced otherwise, it is a shame, but don’t let those people represent the rest of us.
There’s still a TON of white dudes left, and there always will be, (we’re a tough breed!). But, the good news is many of those left have been frequently exposed to, or even raised on, a healthy mix of funny people of all races, genders and orientations. Those are the ones I consider my peers and heroes. I like to see them as an inclusive group, willing to welcome any person with the same desire as them: to figure some shit out, and make people laugh.
I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman, and I don’t know what it’s like to be non-white. I will NEVER know, and I don’t claim to even come close to knowing. I understand my privilege as much as a someone in the midst of it can. I’m not royalty, and I don’t come from any sort of money. I’m white, but like, beer-drinking steel-town white. Like, first person in my extended family to finish college, which I joined the military to pay for (state school) white. But I know my life’s been pretty sweet thus far, and a lot of that has to do with never being put down or left out for being non-white, or female.
Beyond getting booed by four-hundred black people expecting to see Bill Bellamy, and once getting stuffed in a trash can by a group of Puerto Ricans in high school, I’ve never faced any real adversity because of my gender or skin color. I can’t experience the horrible feeling of being less than the way a non-white person or a female might in our society.
The only thing I can do is be aware, open-minded, empathetic, and willing to adapt. The white male comics I consider friends also take this position. Unfortunately, comics like us will be mostly enjoyed in the moment and never blogged about, because the internet is a place for vitriol and cat gifs.
I know the kind of white male comic everyone’s talking about, and I don’t always like what they do either, but I think they’re fewer and farther between than this wave of criticism is portraying. If they’ve made it past open mics and terrible bar shows, it’s probably because they’ve got skills that go beyond the handful of jokes that are setting people off, or they’re super handsome. Every comic has a right to try and communicate whatever they think is funny, but sometimes it’s just fucking crazy, abhorrent bullshit. The guys that keep going like that, with no self-awareness, usually quit or find a tiny audience that you can easily avoid being a part of.
If you’re an audience member, and you saw some comedy you didn’t like, you can be offended, and you can even reach out to that comic after the show and give them a piece of your mind. But I can tell you right now, it’s not going to fix them. You know what the worst thing is to a comic? Being ignored. A comic ignored will eventually devolve into what is essentially a person reading a possibly funny suicide note aloud to an empty room.
If you’re a female comic who’s feeling excluded by a group of dudes, you’re hanging out with the wrong group of dudes. Find another place to do what you want to do. Fuck any venue, any scene, or any circle of people who does not accept you. Let them fade away, because they will.
Stop trying to fix the delapidated barn of male-dominated comedy. Let it collapse while you help build a better one. You can literally do WHATEVER YOU WANT in comedy right now. Wherever you want, however you want, with the people you want to do it with.
Everyone has a right to publicly criticize, but the heightened exposure of the kind of comedy you don’t like will only scare people away from comedy in general, and that hurts everyone. Don’t assume that every male comic, no matter how surly-looking, is going to be some lecherous weirdo. That’s fucking annoying, because I can look like a surly, lecherous weirdo, though I’m not one. There are a lot of us who are trying to find a good audience, answer our own questions, and give people a little relief. So if you want comedy to change, do things the way you want to see them done, then give everyone else the benefit of the doubt and the chance to catch up.
Above: Jim Tews, photographed by Mindy Tucker.