Most of us, by now, have seen this clip from an interview Jerry Seinfeld did with Buzzfeed Brews. If you haven't, a quick synopsis: the interviewer mentioned that on Jerry's show Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, most of the guests were white men. Before he could finish this question, Jerry got a little agitated - clearly, a nerve was hit - and eventually said the following:
"People think it's the census or something … who cares? Funny is the world that I live in. You're funny — I'm interested. You're not funny — I'm not interested. I have no interest in gender or race or anything like that, but everyone else is kind of with their little calculating – 'Is this the exact right mix?' – to me, it's anti-comedy, it's more about PC nonsense than 'Are you making us laugh or not?'"
This turned into a thing. Gawker, Splitsider, and a few other places picked up on it. And, eventually, lots of my friends involved in comedy got wind of it and started posting about it. It sparked a bit of a debate, with a bunch of mixed perspectives, but one side of the debate seemed to be prevalent: that this interviewer was out of line for even bringing up race, that Jerry's comments were 100% valid, and that expecting Comedians Getting Cars to have a 'diverse' set of guests is ridiculous. I might have caught a Martin Luther King quote here, an affirmative action mention there. But the overall verdict, from almost every comedian friend I know: Jerry is right. Totally right.
This was tough for me. This entire issue is tough for me. Full disclosure: I am a white male. When it comes to issues of race and racism, I feel like a straight-up privileged unqualified chump jerk. It's such a huge, complicated issue that I feel powerless, talking about it. Like I'm just stating the obvious. At the same time, this is an important subject to me. All I talk about is how I feel.
So here's how I feel. It was hard not to notice that most of my friends defending Jerry's comments were white dudes. Not everybody, but most. Here's something I know about white dudes, being a white dude myself: the entire subject of race is touchy and uncomfortable. We don't wanna bring it up, don't wanna talk about it. Unlike way too many people, we have the luxury of not having to face racism every day of our lives. We can just choose not to see it, because we don't experience it ourselves. To us, it's just a heck of a lot easier to pretend we live in a world where racism no longer exists.
Gosh, it's so easy. Too easy. We're taught that slavery is over, that people were racist in the 1960s but MLK put a stop to that, and that's the end of the story. Barack Obama is President, hooray we beat racism!
But then, you know, we end up with mostly white friends, mostly white bands we like, and - wouldn't you know it - mostly white comedy show lineups. We live in Chicago - which, wouldn't you know it, is still painfully segregated - and we don't even think about it. We make jokes about "scary" red line stops below the loop and "ghetto" neighborhoods and we don't stop for a second to think about what it implies. We're not all terrible racist people. Of course we're not! (OK some of us are, calling something "ghetto" is racist yes) But when racism comes up, when just the subject of race comes up, we shrug it off. We ignore it. Because we can ignore it. We have that privilege.
But I'll tell you this: we are scared of being called racists. Fucking terrified. Yup! Heck, test it yourself if you don't believe me! Go outside, call a white dude a racist and just watch how fucking fast he flips out! Ninety to nothing. It's incredible. All it takes is for one person to walk in and say "Heck, what's with all the white people?" for us to scream until we're blue in the face. Because fuck you, we're not racists!!
Related: I remember when someone called out that Lorde song "Royals" for being racist, the reaction from my white friends was catastrophic. Because how dare they? The sheer rage, directed at this person who just brought up the notion that a Lorde lyric might be racist. But I love that song! It's just a good song! Let's all stop reading all this racist nonsense into fun pop music please! I would prefer to not have to think about this!!
What I am trying to say is: I know this perspective. I understand where it is coming from. Heck, when I see Jerry Seinfeld becoming enraged when that interviewer states a simple fact, I understand why. He doesn't wanna have to think about this shit. I can empathize.
But I can't agree. Can't do it. I can't go with ya on this one, my friends. My patience has its limits. Realtalk: I think Jerry's comments were ignorant, paranoid, and kind of pathetic coming from a dude in his position. Out of date. He's an older dude with an older dude's perspective. This is not somebody we should be trying to defend. The dude isn't worth it.
Am I demanding a boycott of Comedians In Cars 'cause it's mostly white people? No I'm not. I still like Comedians In Cars. Do I take offense to Seinfeld calling equal representation in comedy "anti-comedy"? Yeah, I do. Because when you say something like that, when you say "oh, funny is funny and I don't even think about race," and the result of this courageous and noble colorblind comedic process is a cast of 99% white comedians, what you're really saying is: "Non-white dude comedians aren't as funny as us. If they are, I'm not seeing them. And I refuse to consider trying to add one for the sake of 'diversity'."
You might not think that's what you're saying. I'm sure Seinfeld didn't! But hey - that's what you're saying. That's the message you are conveying. And that's sad. That's some weak shit.
This isn't an issue of being "politically correct" or being "diverse." It's an issue of paying attention. You wanna know why people got mad that SNL didn't cast any black women last season? And have only cast, what, four black women in their entire four decades of existence? Because there are tons of black female comedians who are just as funny as anybody in SNL's history, and white people got picked over them. Over and over and over again. And it's not because SNL's casting folks are all horrible racists. (OK, some are.) It's worse than that: it's because they didn't even realize they were doing it. Because we live in a colorblind world, racism is dead, let's not worry about it! Let's not even think about it.
And that's what we need to do. We need to recognize racism, call it out for what it is every time we see it. That is what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to think about race, equal representation. I think about how many comedy groups I've been in that have been mostly white (all of them), and it's like - fuck, why? What the fuck is going on here?
Here's the thing, here's what we need to remember: you can think about all this stuff - you can care about equal representation, care about the representation of non-white non-dude performers in everything - and not compromise your values one iota. Caring about this shit does not equal making your work less funny to appeal to certain audiences. Fuck that assumption. It's not true. It's the opposite. This is something we should all be thinking about. This is something we should all be talking about. This is something we should be working to improve. Because there is nothing more important.
Seinfeld's going to be fine. He's a millionaire, he's in his perfect rich dude bubble where he never has to think about this stuff ever in his life. He's absolved himself of responsibility. He doesn't give a shit. That is not an example I want to follow. That's not an example I want us to follow. If we, as young creative people, follow in the footsteps of an out-of-touch millionaire, that's trouble. That's backwards. And I think we're better than that.