This Friday, Wonder Woman, the latest DC comics attempt at a film, opens up nationwide. The film has recently generated (or manufactured) some headlines in anticipation of its release with Alamo Drafthouse receiving angry criticism from men at their “Women Only” screenings of Wonder Woman. Now, I do not know if that means 11 emails, or 11,000, but I am guessing it is a lot closer to the former. This was savvy strategy. After all making an all ladies Ghostbusters worked the same angle. The movie was terrible and unfunny, but by making the marketing a quasi political quest to show how funny women are, critics largely gave it praise and liberals and feminists heaped praise on a movie before they even saw it. Thankfully for good taste, lady Ghostbusters did not make enough money to warrant a sequel, but the same tactics will probably prove much more successful for Wonder Woman. The main reason is that Wonder Woman is a comic book movie, which as DC has proven repeatedly, is critic-proof. They have yet to make a good one not involving Christopher Nolan, but they have all been massive hits. Add on top of that a sort of Trump-America guilt (after all what is more American than not voting in the eminently qualified Hillary Clinton for the comic book villain Donald Trump, but then flexing our collective progressive muscle by supporting a comic book hero in bigger numbers than a real woman who could provide real things) and savvy social media posts about “men losing their minds” over all female screenings and you have a recipe for a major hit. But there are several issues with this. Quite simply, they are, in order, DC films, Gal Gadot (the star of Wonder Woman) and Wonder Woman in general.
DC – A Tradition of Crap
Ever since Christopher Nolan set the bar with The Dark Knight trilogy, DC has done their best to erase the memory. It’s as if Christopher Nolan was The Cosby Show and every film DC has made since has been a rape allegation. Man of Steel – mediocre, Batman vs Superman – a mess, Suicide Squad – atrocious (with a good soundtrack to distract you from the pain). And yet, despite all evidence pointing to a rushed and incompetent franchise, now everyone is going out of their way to claim that Wonder Woman will be different. Fool me once – shame on you; fool me twice – shame on me; fool me 4 times and I am a comic book loving moron. Nope. DC – you are terrible and unless you pay Chris Nolan or David Fincher to rescue your garbage factory I will keep my money.
While I like the idea of a girl named Gal playing a Woman, praise on her has been absurd. She has benefited from the Tony Campbell rule (a mediocre pro basketball player with a 6 points-per-game average, Campbell averaged over 22 ppg the year he was picked by the expansion Minnesota Timberwolves because someone had to score points). People have said Godot was the best part of Batman vs Superman. That’s like saying the bathroom air freshener is the best part of violent diarrhea – sure it is true, but how much of that is mere downward social comparison? Lets look at Godot’s last 4 films:
- Triple 9 – 53% on Rotten Tomatoes (rotten)
- Keeping Up With The Jonses – 19% on Rotten Tomatoes (rotten)
- Criminal – 30% on Rotten Tomatoes (rotten)
- Batman v Superman – 20% on Rotten Tomatoes (rotten)
Basically the only way to have a worse movie track record than Godot is if your name is Tyler Sandler. But she is very attractive and married to a real estate mogul so if Ivanka Trump can have a moment in 2017 then why can’t a lady named Gal? But I am not ready to sign on to the emergence of a star just yet. Though, if Ryan Reynolds got 17 chances at being a leading man before he finally had his hit with Deadpool, it stands to reason that we should extend Godot 13 chances to do the same (that’s 77 cents on the dollar of chances a white leading man gets).
Why Does Wonder Woman Have To Be a Hot Woman?
Then we get to the casting, once we have gotten through the phony marketing politics and the failed track record of a dame named Gal. I am just surprised women have not yet railed against the choice of a tall, thin, attractive white former model. So instead of getting caught up in this bullsh*t toxic masculinity, male privilege, patriarchal micro-aggressive casting choice I would like to offer some other choices that might actually move us forward, instead of backwards (if the movie doesn’t suck):
Ariel Winter – If there is anyone fighting the real struggles of modern women with style and grace it is the middle child from Modern Family. Will Wonder Woman ever face the level of scrutiny that Winter has faced for dressing like a porn star to attend an elementary school picnic? Has Wonder Woman ever had to “clap back” at Internet trolls for pointing out that her ass cheeks need not be exposed to order a sandwich from Subway? In other words, once Winter’s ample chest and Miley Cyrus booty have dealt with the issues of today, channeling the strength to play Wonder Woman would be no problem – and also a little more relatable to today’s millennial ladies.
Michael Jordan – He never lost in the Finals, basically making him and LaVar Ball the only two people qualified to be superheroes (SORRY LEBRON). And why can’t Wonder Woman be a man? This path only seems to go one way. Maybe it is finally time for a man (a BLACK MAN to boot) to play Wonder Woman… OR DO WHITE GENDER NORMATIVE THINGS ONLY APPLY TO WHITE WOMEN TAKING OVER TRADITIONALLY WHITE MALE ROLES????? (thinking face emoji)
Caitlyn Jenner – If we are going to restrict casting to only physically stunning women then why not Caitlyn Jenner? Olympic Athlete, around since WWI, media savvy, banging body – I mean maybe we should just re-name Wonder Woman “Caitlyn Jenner.”
Ivanka Trump – as mentioned above, if we must cast a “hot woman,” married to a real estate mogul who is having a moment in 2016-17 then why not the First Daughter-Wife-Thot? Gal Godot is basically the Israeli Ivanka, which is probably what Jared Kushner would have preferred (sadly Gal was not attached to several billion dollars).
So, to summarize I won’t be seeing Wonder Woman and if you are someone who likes good movies, women from Dove commercials or embraces true liberal politics and not just surface level hashtags, then I know you won’t be seeing it either.
Get J-L’s new stand up albums KEEP MY ENEMIES CLOSER & ISRAELI TORTOISE on iTunes, Amazon & Google.
I am happy to announce that after years of blogging about stand up comedy from an insider’s perspective I have my first major, confirmed scoop – Comedy Central will announce their roster of 16 new choices for their stand up series, The Half Hour, in the next month, but I have obtained the list of the chosen comedians this weekend! Before giving you the specific choices (congrats to all those who have been selected) here is the demographic breakdown: average age 29 years old, average gender: cis male with hipster sensitivities and average beard length: George Clooney when not filming a movie. So without further adieu, please read up and offer congrats to 2016’s choices (who will now realize that they have at least 400 people who consider them close friends):
3 Women – With 2016 being the 5th consecutive year of “the year of women in comedy” it is refreshing that Comedy Central has bumped up their usual number of half hour specials from 2 to 3. One woman will be a woman of color, one will be an attractive white woman who shares tales of her sexual adventures and one will be a “regular” white girl who hates Tinder and generally hates societal judgment.
4 Bearded White Men – Despite recognizing the importance of reaching the key youthful demographic of sperm, the industry still has a soft spot for the residual effect of Zach Galifianakis blowing up in The Hangover 7 years ago. Beards became all the rage back then and their presence is still with us in the comedy industry’s tastes, as evidenced by 4 bearded white men chosen for this year’s slate (3 awkward, alt personalities and one guy who is a mainstream comedian who just happens to have a beard).
3 Veteran Comedians – These are the spots for skilled comedians with over a decade of experience in stand up (one of who will most likely be recording his or her 2nd Comedy Central Half Hour). These are nice token gestures by the producers to show that occasionally old people over 28 need to be represented in stand up, even if that forces Comedy Central to commit the sin of including comedians born during or before Reagan’s presidency (who?).
1 D-list celebrity – I won’t name names here, but there is a comedic actor with almost 18 months of stand up experience and over 30,000 Twitter followers who is likely to drop hot fire in a Half Hour this summer (despite his agent trying to strong arm for an hour, known in the industry as “The Donald Glover Deal”). There is a rumor, however, that this spot may actually be given to a Vine/Instagram celebrity (TBD).
2 Non Threatening Male Comedians of Color – 1 black guy who is a nerd and/or hipster and for the other male POC spot an Asian, a Latino and a Black guy will choose straws on Feb 26th (so specific name TBD).
7 Comedians with 1 Conan Appearance Each – As the only real showcase for stand up on a consistent basis in the late night sphere this may seem like easy picking, but with only 7 chosen, that still leaves 411 1-time Conan appearance comics without a Half Hour.
There is some overlap if you add up the list, but if you think that is a mistake you are wrong and you have the problem – ARE YOU SUGGESTING A WOMAN OF COLOR COULD NOT ALSO BE A GUEST ON CONAN OR THAT A VETERAN COMEDIAN COULDN’T ALSO HAVE A BEARD????? There is overlap here, but this list is confirmed so offer congrats to the comedians and managers who made some dreams come true in 2016.
In law school (what a pretentious way to begin a blog post about comedy) we studied, among hundreds, the case Bakke v. Regents of California. It was a 1970s case where the Supreme Court took on affirmative action for the first time. It ruled that although racial quotas were unconstitutional in college admissions, using race as a “plus factor” was allowed, with the vision, correct in my estimation, that different races can provide different perspectives and value to a college experience that can benefit all students. The sharing of different experiences and the exposure to people who many do not meet regularly in a largely segregated society (America as a whole, so please don’t tell me about how your neighborhood is different Astoria comedians!) is of value, as is addressing some inequities ingrained in our society. Perhaps you do not believe in race based classifications of any kind and if that is the case thank you for reading my blog angry white person or Clarence Thomas. But I think, on the whole, racial diversity is important for various reasons, exposure, familiarity and diversity of life experiences all making up its relevant components.
Last week I had a show in Brooklyn in front of a fairly mixed crowd, racially speaking. Normally when I am doing material with either racially infused commentary or racial insensitivity I preface some of that material with autobiographical details. I discuss my mixed race heritage (Haitian father, Irish mother) which seems to set people more at ease to laugh and/or think about my material. But on Thursday I opted to go right for one of my better bits of the last couple of years on black bouncers. Here it is on YouTube from the DC Improv last October:
For the DC Improv crowd I had already prefaced it with my personal details, but last week I went right into the bit with no details (and because Winter has just ended and I cannot afford a tanning bed session, let alone a sunny vacation, I am at my lightest skin coloring possible). And the response was the most mediocre it has ever been for the joke. The crowd laughed/unclenched their progressive butt holes when I concluded the bit with “Maybe I should have prefaced that with telling you that my father is black. My mother just happens to be Irish which is the hateful bleach of racial mixing so I came out like this. But now maybe you can start laughing because a half black guy is talking about racism instead of the hateful guinea you think I am.”
(Now mind you laughs persisted even though I had dropped a blatant Italian slur, despite having no Italian heritage, unless you consider seeing The Godfather 40 times Italian). Not to mention that the bit is really about the lingering and hidden racism of white people (or the perception of it – you decide), which you think might play better in a hip Brooklyn space.
In a career of frustrating false starts and setbacks this was a weird one. Granted it was one show, but in 12 years of performing I have noticed that my material and opinions, which usually stand on solid comedic and logical premises require some sort of checked box before I can share them with most crowds, especially crowds today. I have a handful of sets I can recall where I have done material (mind you, I never drop N bombs or anything like that) without offering my racial identity ahead of time and they have all been less well received than when I do mention my racial bona fides. Sometimes I refrain from explaining context if I think a joke should stand on its own, regardless of who is telling it, just to spite an audience, rather than pander to their preconceptions of what should be said and who should say it. Sadly, these experiences have made me realize more than ever, pursuant to some discussions I have had on my podcast with comedian Josh Homer, that comedy audiences (and the industry for sure) now crave useless, or at least harmless diversity more than ever. Let me explain.
In the Supreme Court example previously mentioned, diversity was not intended as its own end. Instead, diversity’s importance stemmed from the exchange of ideas, of perspectives, of experiences and opinions that would make diversity useful and desired. And yes, there was, and still is, the idea of addressing certain socially ingrained problems and offering redress through diversity. But now throughout society and inside comedy in particular it seems we want the presence of diversity, without any real substance to it. The visual of diversity has become paramount and feels more important than the meaning within it. President Obama, who avoided race, much to the chagrin of some of his black and liberal supporters, immediately become a race baiter/hustler/divisive when he addressed the Trayvon Martin case in personal tones, years into his administration. Eric Holder, who has been the racial issues pit bull for the Obama administration is reviled by the GOP. We are so post racial that we get very angry when anyone actually gets racial.
In comedy it has been an interesting swing. The new preview for Last Comic Standing seems to have accelerated the push for diversity from last year. Last year featured a lot more color than previous years. There have been articles about a new wave of black male comedians steeped less in racial narratives and more in nerd and alt sensibilities. It seems to be a high water mark for diversity, especially black, in comedy, except it seems there are no new Chris Rocks (he dropped Bring The Pain at the age of 31). It seems the best path to rise from obscurity today in comedy seems to be a black guy who rarely discusses anything about being black unless it is innocuous or if it is used to mock black people (hi Key and Peele). One need only open a newspaper or watch a news program to realize that racial issues are still at the forefront of American culture whether we wish them to be or not. And comics, who are so quick to cite their role as mirrors on society when defending their mocking the death of a celebrity in tweets, seem to be less likely to engage in some of these issues now.
Before I continue, I don’t want what I am saying and about to say to be confused for its simpler and uglier cousin “Hey, why can’t we just pick the funniest people and leave it at that.” That is an easy cop out to defend the status quo in terms of opportunity and voice. Just like the Rooney rule in the NFL, which requires teams to interview at least one coach of color before picking a coach, sometimes it is necessary to introduce new people and groups into the spotlight because the process has largely ignored them. Keeping things fair and color blind will lead to no opportunities because one group has such a definitive, and in many ways unfair head start.
Now I must say that no one comedian can or should be required to deliver any kind of message or comedy. A comedian must be free to explore their own voice and that voice does not need to be, nor should it be required to be, some bullhorn for social issues. But when the industry, in the aggregate, begins supporting a comedy whose mere pigment is supposed to represent a message, while muting or not presenting more defiant voices, that is an easy way out for audiences and industry alike. Obviously W. Kamau Bell (admittedly never watched, but certainly observed the way it was marketed) and Larry Wilmore represented some of what I am thinking about, but Bell is off the air and Wilmore’s show has quickly diverted to a whole range of topics, perhaps because it doesn’t want to alienate people too much, or perhaps it is still too small a sample size to draw any conclusions. But these are not the wave of new black comics people are raving about anyway.
Of course I do not know every single black comedian, but I do know the type the industry seems to be grabbing for with both hands. We want to see diversity, but in comedy what we see is less important than what we hear and it seems that we hear a lot less than we see. When one considers the tradition from Pryor to Rock to Chappelle it is striking to see that the fastest way to success now seems to be as a black comedian who avoids challenging people on race, especially in light of all that is occurring in our society today. There have always been black comedians who did not make their act race based, but there were also comics who did because in America that is still something worth exploring and challenging. I won’t make a field slave/house slave comparison (that would be as hyperbolic as the hundreds of people and things that get compared to Hitler on a weekly basis), but when the emerging landscape seems to be black comics who avoid these topics there is either a wholesale abandoning of a perspective by the industry, or a pandering by artists to be what the industry seeks. And neither is very positive in the aggregate.
This brings me back to my bit (what would my blog be without some self-aggrandizing). A lot of my material over the last few years has been about my perspective as a (to a majority of people) white looking guy who has a black father to dissect some of the things I have seen. But it seems like a lose-lose-lose situation. If I tell the crowd I am half black it gives me the perceived racial standing to criticize from within, but then it can be uncomfortable for people, usually white, who don’t want to be lectured on the persistence of racism from a guy whose face appears to have “white privilege,” even if he claims a different heritage. If I don’t announce my racial background the reaction can be even more stand offish, often from both sides of the pigment aisle, even though my opinions tend to be left of center on all things racial. The only perspective left is to pretend to be a hostile, conservative white comic who is “truth telling” to the masses with “I’m not afraid/I went there” posturing, except then I would not be true to myself or my actual feelings since the few comic voices that lean that way tend to be somewhere between conservative and racist.
I just think between my experiences in life and as a comedian and observing the trends taking hold in comedy (bearded non sequitur spewers have now given way to black/ethnic, “but there’s nothing different about us” comics in the passing of the “what industry is desperate for” torch) diversity doesn’t and shouldn’t mean abandonning or disregarding social commentary. Perhaps the rise of politically correct watchdogs in comedy coupled with the rise of alternative comedy have created less demand for confrontational comedy (or less comfort with it). But whether it’s softer audiences, more selective industry, both or neither it would be nice to have more challenging voices join the rising powers. And if an Italian looking dude with a black dad can’t get away with it then someone with two black parents needs to before we all find out we are all similar and happy and no one is thinking or laughing.
And I am aware that diversity encompasses more than black and white issues, which is why I am predicting a gay winner of Last Comic Standing this Summer, without knowing anything regarding who has advanced, etc. But in entertainment, as well as in America, black and white issues will dominate the narrative for some time the same way they did this blog.