Matt Rife, Tom Segura and Friends Discuss If Comedy Audiences Are Too Sensitive
It’s officially Awards Season, meaning outlets like Variety are assembling roundtables to discuss the year in entertainment (and getting famous people some face time during the nomination process). Because the Golden Globes has announced a new category for best stand-up comedy special, the trade mag assembled “the top comics of the year” — Matt Rife, Marlon Wayans, Tom Segura and Sam Jay got the nod — to discuss all things funny.
Wasting no time before jumping into hyperbole, Clayton Davis, senior awards editor and the panel’s moderator, suggests that “Comedy is dying. People are too sensitive. Do you agree with that?”
Not surprisingly, professional comics did not agree that their profession was on its deathbed. “Absolutely not,” says Wayans. “Any comedian that is actually on the road or in these clubs or in these theaters — when it comes to the live audience, they're still laughing at everything they used to laugh at and then some. Even if it's a joke that is divisive, you still go, ‘If I could just add a little bit more to this, I could bring everybody in.’”
Jay concurs that finding the right nuance to a joke can make everyone feel included. “You know when it's at that point where it's not ready. You know when it's being divisive. You know when you're leaning too hard one way or the other, when it's imbalanced,” she says. “And so when people do react that way, you're not like, ‘What?’ Because you're like, I'm not telling the joke right yet.”
When audiences give that shocked reaction, says Wayans, it’s an opportunity to figure out a way to bring people in — or just go ahead and offend them “because that's what I feel about it and that's what I want you to feel.”
Those are artistic choices, says Jay. “And I don’t think people realize that. It’s not just going willy-nilly haywire up there.”
“Sometimes you just want to be reckless,” agrees Segura. “You do that in real life. Like you say some shit to your friends or your family and they’re like ‘That's fucked up’ and that's reality. You do that on stage too.”
As for the perception that audiences are too sensitive? Segura says the outrage one hears online just isn’t real. “You go to the clubs and you see somebody go for the joke and you can't describe these pops. The audiences go nuts. They are looking for people to do these jokes,” he says. In the comedy multiverse, “some people believe that the reality online is the real world. It’s not the real world, man.”
For Rife, it all comes down to the comic’s objective. “What’s your intention in saying some reckless shit right now?” he asks. “Are you trying to upset somebody or are you trying to make light of certain subjects? That way, it doesn't take up such negative space in someone's mind and they can laugh about something that may have brought them so much grief and discomfort.” If audiences can tell you’re coming from a good place, he says, sensitivity isn’t an issue.
“Audiences can sense intent,” says Segura. The reason comics can get away with saying ‘crazy shit’ is because “the audience knows who you are.”
“You can’t be afraid to offend, that is number one in comedy,” argues Wayans. “We can’t give a fuck. Y’all can, but we can’t.”