I wasn’t watching the show, so I’m not sure why David Remnick of The New Yorker was sharing the couch with Jerry Seinfeld, but together on last night’s Late Night with Seth Meyers they talk about how a perceived rise in “political correctness” is endangering comedy. Seinfeld, of course, has become quite the anti-PC crusader of late, telling ESPN’s Colin Cowherd, of all people, that he won’t play colleges anymore because students are too easily outraged today.
During this clip Remnick discusses the controversial New Yorker cover from 2008 that riffed on Fox News’ idiotic “terrorist fist bump” remark involving the Obamas, and how having to defend that cover on TV basically destroyed the joke. Remnick mentions how the New Yorker regularly rejects “misfires,” covers or cartoons that Remnick feels crosses the line, which isn’t censorship or even necessarily self-censorship, but responsible editing.
They both give examples of something that’s gotten them in trouble. Seinfeld’s joke uses a lazy gay stereotype to make an unrelated joke about people using their smartphones, while the New Yorker cover was an attempt at political satire in the vein of The Colbert Report. One uses a hoary, moldy punchline to grump it up about technology like a foggy old grandpa, the other displays what is actually pretty cutting satire against a company that many believe has utterly poisoned the political dialogue in America. Both jokes are pretty much the same thing, right?
Seinfeld then points his finger at Meyers and mentions how the host announced his show wouldn’t make jokes about Caitlyn Jenner. Meyers has to explain that they were talking solely about Jenner’s announcement of her transition, and that they will totally make jokes about her in the future if she does stuff in the public eye worth making jokes about. Basically that the show won’t make jokes at the expense of who Jenner is or the simple fact that she exists, but at her actions, whatever embarrassing stuff she does as a person living an incredibly public life on television. Seinfeld seems satisfied with that answer, so perhaps he does appreciate the nuances of this argument more than he appears to.
Seinfeld’s argument comes from a valid place—comedians should be able to do comedy without worrying about offending people—but he fails to understand where the other side’s coming from. It’s not about when he makes a joke about a gay person. It’s about when that gayness is the punchline itself, and when it’s portrayed using decades-old stereotypes, with no greater depth or understanding. Anybody who says nobody should ever make fun of certain things, under any circumstances and no matter the context, is wrong, and should be ignored by comedians like Seinfeld. He should maybe listen to people who point out when jokes are just lazy and insensitive, though, because that would force him to write and tell better jokes.
Really, though, it’s 2015. What college would pay Seinfeld the massive amounts of money he makes for a show today? What college student would pay those huge ticket prices to see a comedian who ended the show that made him famous before they even hit kindergarten? Seinfeld shouldn’t play colleges not because of “political correctness,” but because he’s kind of old.