We often get caught up in our own perspectives, neglecting to consider the sensitivities of others. Then, when we become the victim of a heartless quip, the conditioning is usually apparent: we fear speaking out against it, lest we suffer a backlash. It’s time to break this cycle. Over a year ago, I shared a video in which I was not afraid to take a stand. It received little attention until recently, when instead of being lauded, it served as a spark for an online hate campaign organized against me. If there is one thing I did not realize then, that I realize now, it is how far we have to come as a society before we all understand how to accept one another. So, I am engaging in this conversation. It’s time that we finally have a serious discussion on what should be considered unacceptable in our discourse.
“It’s just a joke!” many will say, after making an offensive statement. Why do we act like this is a suitable justification? Why do we prioritize telling offensive jokes over respecting the psychological welfare of fellow individuals? I, for one, will no longer put up with this excuse. Labeling an insult a joke is merely a cover for allowing discrimination and insensitivity to persist and go unnoticed. We have deluded ourselves to the point where many actually believe that joking about horrible occurrences of death and suffering, or associating someone with these, is funny. This is absurd, and it is damaging; it is the epitome of perversity.
So, you might ask, how do we know what isn’t okay to joke about? What happens when things seem to fall into grey areas? The truth of the matter is that there is no single, catch-all answer to this question - no hard and fast rule. The most crucial component in determining whether a joke is acceptable or not, is the exercise of an empathic judgment. What many know as “The Golden Rule,” is a very useful tool. We shouldn’t say or do things to people that we certainly wouldn’t want to have said or done to us. Now, you might ask, isn’t it the case that some things are offensive to some people, and not to others? This is true. So, when someone tells us they find something we said offensive that we didn’t anticipate being interpreted as such, and they explain why this is with good reasons, while being completely genuine, we should respond accordingly: we should be sensitive to their perspective.
Now, are there things that we all object to being said to us? At first glance, it would not appear to be the case. The people that pour out their hatred and bigotry online don’t seem to care, do they? However, I think they actually do. The reality is that they have been desensitized. A cultural conditioning mechanism is at play, continually being reinforced, making them think they don’t care. Nowadays, it seems to be the norm that we turn a blind eye to things we should actually voice our objection towards. This is the muck we find ourselves in; this is what we are up against. It is going to take many brave voices (not just my own) to speak out against it, and wake people up.
Some say that in comedy “anything goes.” Well, to that I say: more of a fallacious notion I have not heard. Just think for a minute if the most devastating thing were to happen to you - the people you care about the most were killed. Imagine that your family was out for a drive, lost control of their vehicle, and ended up spiraling over a cliff, leaving them decimated on impact. Later, your friend calls you, and thinks he has a great joke to cheer you up. He says, “Hey, I heard your family just got killed. Look at it this way though, now you can say you live on your own - much cooler!” I bet most “anything goes” comedy advocates would have hung up the phone immediately, or would have at least been terribly disappointed, and offended, by such a heartless remark. Your friend just belittled the most tragic event in your life - of course you should be upset! So as you can see, “anything” does not “go.” There are things that can be said that can hurt everyone. I’m sure many will deny this, but that just shows the sinister nature of the delusion so many are operating under.
I am reminded that all hope is not lost when I see cases of people coming together to ardently express their disapproval of terribly inappropriate jokes. Recently, there was the movement initiated by Suey Park. Unfortunately, much like myself, she has been persecuted by many for the views she has expressed. I will go into more detail on that situation later in this essay. First, let’s take an example where everyone seemed to be on the same page. Look no further than the incident several years back involving comedian Michael Richards. He referenced an African-American person in the audience in perhaps the most offensive way possible. What was the result? He was promptly booed off the stage, and forced to issue a public apology. That is the proper response. That is what needs to happen much more often when other unacceptable “jokes” are made.
I see cases like that and I think people do still care - we have not become completely desensitized. There are certain things people say, that many of us actually agree should not be said without eliciting defiant, unwavering condemnation. However, it is unfortunate how rare these responses occur. What is at fault for their conspicuous sparsity? The active, cultural mechanism of desensitization is to blame. We have to learn to consider the perspectives of others, and to object to jokes made regarding a plethora of serious issues - not just a select few - that matter to a whole host of people. We have to come to greater understandings, and from there, newfound passions on these issues will emerge. The examples of us coming together to denounce unacceptable joke-making are a testament to the power that exists within us all - the power to revolt against injustice.
While I admit that grey areas exist, there are certain things we can absolutely identify as examples of what we mustn’t accept being joked about, due to the potential psychological harm they can inflict. Obvious examples are those having to do with the death and suffering of individuals, as well as unjust discrimination based on arbitrary characteristic distinctions. Everyone should be treated equally and with respect. Tragic events that deeply affect people (and should deeply affect us all), ought to be revered, not mocked. We must arrive at a time when any joke about a tragedy is dutifully renounced by all that hear it. There is a reason for the classic distinction between “comedy” and “tragedy.” They are not meant to intertwine. If we try to make comedy out of tragedy, chances are we have crossed a line in terms of what should be deemed acceptable. As far as making tragedy out of comedy, it seems to me that simply doesn’t work.
You might be under the impression that it appears difficult to point out jokes that are inappropriate. However, this is not the case. Most of the time, they are incredibly easy to identify. In your typical setting, it is blatantly obvious that something is unacceptably offensive. Heck, some comedians will even go so far as to label their material purposefully offensive - a narcissistic gloating exercise arising out of their irreverent callousness. So, while it might be true that there are issues that fall into grey areas, this is no excuse for falling victim to the trap of allowing our sensitivity to sink into utter paralysis, preventing us from calling out the things people say that we know are wrong. Just because a spectrum exists, in which more nuanced things on one end are not as clear, the obvious things on the other end remain absolute and clear as day. If someone claims something is offensive, and you disagree - but you both have legitimate reasons - that issue might fall into a grey area. This does not change the fact that it is wrong to joke about things which entail great suffering.
So, what are some steps to take moving forward? Well, regarding live comedy settings, most people seem to think it is impolite to interrupt a comedian and heckle them. I agree with this, as long as the comedy is respectful, and not crossing any lines. However, the game changes dramatically if the comedian opts to joke about a sensitive issue, or poke fun at a tragedy. Once this occurs, it becomes the duty of the audience to interrupt, and make it known that what has been said is unacceptable. How else would we expect progress to be made? If the audience members are too afraid to call out blatantly unacceptable jokes, at the very least they can not laugh. The moment we bail out the comedian by succumbing to conformist chuckling, we fail in our duty to uphold justice. An example of an unacceptable joke that got attention a couple of years ago was made by comedian Daniel Tosh, when he said something to the effect that he wanted an audience member to get raped. The fact that this is actually tolerated by some is unbelievable. There were people arguing on both sides of the issue, but the fact of the matter is that Daniel Tosh is a sick individual for making such a remark, and he should have been booed off the stage. To laugh at such a joke - to take pleasure in wishing suffering and misfortune to others - is utterly vile.
It is here that I see a glaring need for a newfound activism. The sad state of the comedy world today is that unacceptable material has become the norm. The sickness has taken over to the point where aspiring comedians think they must do this sort of thing by necessity in order to succeed. So today, more than ever, the role of the heckler could play a vital role in bringing us back to reality. People need to be called out when they are in the wrong, and if no one else is going to step up, it looks like it is up to me to be a leader. If no one else is going to provide a voice of reason and of conscience at comedy events, which sadistically perpetuate this “anything goes” mentality, further strengthening the cultural mechanism of desensitization that bleeds out hatred, perhaps the time is now for me to embrace my calling. The necessity to advocate for this cause I speak of seems to allude many. But while I continue to be persecuted now for what I believe, based on ill-founded reasons, in the end I know my work will be honored, and I will be recognized as a visionary.
Another way to create meaningful change is by being active online, especially through “hashtag activism,” or “hashtivism.” As I mentioned previously, a recent example is the phenomenal work done by hashtag activist Suey Park, with #CancelColbert. She called out Stephen Colbert for making a racist joke, and in doing so, jumpstarted a larger conversation on what should be deemed unacceptable in our discourse. Much like myself, she suffered an intense backlash from people who must be experiencing drastic amounts of cognitive dissonance. Aside from having a misunderstanding of the situation, many undoubtedly take out their frustration on her because they realize they are wrong, and they just can’t accept it. Suey Park is a hero, and someone we should all look up to. Sadly, folks like she and I end up being treated like villains, but hopefully, this will one day change. I sincerely hope that she appreciates the work I have done and will continue to do. Perhaps our paths might cross eventually, at which point we can fight for this cause together.
And I must take a moment to speak in her defense, as she has been the target of an even more vicious online hate campaign than the one directed at me. I must address the many brainwashed fools out there who think Suey Park was wrong in her criticism of Colbert’s racist joke. A common response was something along the lines of, “Hey, it’s satire! You didn’t get the joke!” The level of foolish misunderstanding embedded in this response confounds me. I find it painful; it makes me cringe. Of course it’s a joke! Of course it’s satire! Do you honestly think Suey Park does not realize this? If you do, please, go back to school. She is criticizing the satire! She is criticizing the joke! She is making the same point I am making, which is that there are some jokes we should deem unacceptable! How this is lost among people is beyond me. And no, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution has little relevancy if any in this discussion. We’re not talking about establishing restrictions on types of speech and subjecting those who break them to government persecution. The main point being addressed is regarding what should be deemed unacceptable in our discourse. We’re talking about reaching greater levels of civility.
Satire is not exempt from criticism. Just because something is satirical doesn’t make it a good thing. In fact, there is a good chance that it is damaging. In Colbert’s joke, he rehashed old racist tropes and used Asian-Americans as a punchline. This is offensive whether he is actually satirizing a racist person or not; the context is irrelevant. The joke was a response to the charity started by the owner of the Washington Redskins, and it implicated how the obvious motivation behind starting the charity was an attempt to divert people from clamoring for the racist, anti-Native American name of the team to be changed. Pointing this out is good. However, in Colbert’s joke, by drawing a comparison between this and Asian-Americans, the suggestion is being made that a distinction is not needed between these two different examples of racism. In the end, an offensive caricature coupled with insensitive language is justified on the mere basis of being ironic in its usage. This is no excuse for exploiting a minority group by making them into a punchline; it is far removed from contributing to any social good.
It is difficult for me to fathom how so many people seem to be against me. When will you realize that I am fighting for you? I am fighting for everyone’s right to equal respect, so that when you find yourself on the receiving end of a “joke” that demoralizes you and makes you feel worthless (rightfully so), you will have the courage to stand up for yourself, and tell that person that what they said was wrong. Perhaps you just need to understand what it is like to struggle, and to be picked on. And then you will no longer see me as a villain. I am certain that in the end, the haters will be on my side. They will regard me as a trailblazer - a fighter for principles they always believed in, but never fully understood. When we reach a moment of true awakening, we will all be on the same page; there will only be one side that makes any sense. The movement Suey Park helped initiate is fantastic, but it needs to continue, and there needs to be more like it. We need more widespread awareness and activism against unacceptable jokes. The people that believe in this must come together and take this to the next level. One of my goals is that one day, all those who express nothing but hatred toward me now, will realize I was fighting for them all along, and that we’re in this together - to cultivate a more respectful society.
Sometimes I think what it would be like if I hadn’t posted that video. I recognized a dire need to call attention to wrongdoing, but obviously, the world was not ready to commend bravery. Instead, the world decided to band together and demonize me - make me into a punching bag for online bullies. Well, there’s no going back now. I can’t undo this. And the more I think about it, the more I realize I don’t want to go back and undo anything. I don’t want to be just a pawn - a keeper of the status quo. Rather, I want to be a fierce activist - intrepid in my advocacy. This experience has changed me; I have become hardened. Before, I used to be hesitant in standing up for what I know to be right. I recognized the problem, but didn’t know how to approach it. Now, more staunch and resolute I could not be. There is no doubt in my mind what must be done. The power structures that allow callous indifference to persist must be shaken. Those who wish to derive sick pleasure out of offending others must be called out. I won’t tolerate allowing insensitivity to go unchallenged. And in this quest, I will not be silenced.
Just the other day, I decided to check my email. Not long after, I realized that a video I had posted over a year ago, as well as an accompanying blog post, had “gone viral.” The only problem was, this had come about for the wrong reasons. What has happened during the past couple of days, is that I have experienced an outpouring of hate that has left me emotionally scarred and broken.
I feel betrayed - ripped apart. I posted that video to show how one can be victimized. I was called a slur that associated me with an evil act of terror. And I have received no support, whatsoever. It tells a lot about the tragic state of our culture. Also, the insincerity expressed by many regarding the 9/11 terrorist attacks is appalling. We must come together and stop the hate. I have not given up hope, but I must say, after this experience, the bigotry seems nearly insurmountable.
“Too small is our world to allow discrimination, bigotry and intolerance to thrive in any corner of it, let alone in the United States of America.” - Eliot Engel
The video showed a clear example of a joke that crossed the line. Am I still mad at the people at that improv audition, including the gentleman that used the slur against me? Of course not! Once they apologized to me, I even apologized to them for what might have been a slight overreaction on my part. The fact that I went so far as to apologize shows that I am selfless. I did not have to apologize for being wronged. I did that out of my ability to express forgiveness.
After going through this whole ordeal - becoming the target of incessant bullying - I could easily give up. Maybe I’m just not fit for this world. I cried after reading the comments directed at me, and I am not afraid to admit it. Things are going terribly for me, and this couldn’t have come at a worse time. I honestly thought about just killing myself. What I am trying to say is, I need help; I can’t fight this alone. I challenge people to stand up for me! Don’t be afraid of the haters! Where are the people who stand for fair and non-discriminatory treatment? If you support this, let your voice be heard! I feel like I am on an island.
Many people commenting seemed eager to point out that I should stop doing comedy, and that I will never succeed in comedy. If you read my first blog post, you’d know that I never intended to do comedy in the first place! While my friend and I were waiting for our ride, the people at the improv audition practically begged us to participate, since barely anyone had shown up! And so I ask the haters: who’s the fool now?
“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.” - Winston Churchill
As a matter of fact, I actually like comedy; I always have. I like comedy that treats people fairly and doesn’t unjustly make people feel like garbage. I’ve even tried comedy in the past; I’m not afraid of trying different things.
And I have to say, in a weird way, all this talk that I can’t do comedy actually really makes me want to prove you wrong! I believe this stems from my ardent belief in not backing down from bullies. I happen to live near NYC, considered by many the comedy capital of the world. Maybe I’ll start going to some open mics, huh? Maybe I’ll show you how easy it is. Maybe I’ll make you eat your words.
Despite the mistreatment I have received from the haters, I will forgive them. In the spirit of Jesus Christ, I will “turn the other cheek.” I realize the sad reality for them, which is that they just hate themselves. Such vile bitterness is merely a projection of the self. It tells much more about them, than it does about me.
So, where does this leave me? As far as I see it, I have two options: I can let this destroy me, or I can use it as an impetus to create meaningful and lasting change in our society. I can choose to rise above and seize this moment, to promote equality, to live for justice, to live for Truth. And I can do comedy, too, if I want to - that or anything else. I can take a stand and not let people dictate what I can and cannot do.
“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” - Christopher Reeve
Martin Luther King Jr. once said something to the effect that he felt “pushed” to fight for the cause of bringing about equality. In a way, I see myself in a similar light. I have been bombarded with hate, but what pushes me forward is the hope that I can make a difference, helping mankind transcend hatred, and understand how to accept others. This is the meaning behind my username: I await the “year” for “mankind” to transcend hatred.
So remember, haters, this isn’t over. You thought you picked just another guy to ridicule - someone you could exploit for your sick games - and forget about soon after. Well, let me tell you something: you picked the wrong guy to mess with. And you’re going to be sorry. I’ll prove you wrong; I will win.
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” - Mahatma Gandhi
Video response, which includes my poem “betrayal”:
P.S. It seems many have trouble understanding the necessity for boundaries in comedy - lines one shall not cross. I will be posting a follow-up in the coming days delineating and shedding light on this issue.
A few days ago, it was after 7pm and my friend and I were waiting to get picked up by someone at a community college we were visiting. We walked inside a building just outside where we had told him to meet us, and once inside, we noticed a group of about five people who were looking over at us. Not after long, one of them asked if we were here for the “improv”. We asked what he meant and told him that we were waiting for our ride. He said they were having an improv comedy audition and that we could participate if we wanted to. We found that quite amusing and thought, “Hey, this is how we can punish our friend who’s late in picking us up, by making him come in and do improv comedy.” And as we stood there wondering whether our friend would ever show up, the guy told us that they had a lower turnout so far than expected and that we should be a part of it. We thought, “Hmm, why not?” Well, the answer to that question would become apparent soon enough.
They had us fill out a form with our contact information and answer a couple of questions. It was kind of funny: we had just been wandering around and all of a sudden it looked like we were becoming part of comedy troupe. So we walked into the room and it was time to start. My friend had his mini-video camera with him which would come in handy. First, they had everyone go up one at a time and talk about a topic for 30 seconds. We did that and I remember thinking, “Okay, I can do this.” The next part was a group activity where I was picked to go up with two other people and act out a scene. It was about a reunion at which one of us didn’t actually belong. Also, one person had to be sitting, one standing, and one leaning, and if someone changed position then the other person had to change. Seemed kind of silly but I thought, whatever, I’ll go along with it.
What happened next is the main reason I am writing this. The guy who “didn’t belong at the reunion” in the scene we were playing, called me something that I did not take lightly. He called me “9/11 beard”. At first it took me a moment for it to sink in, but then I realized, he just associated me with a terrorist attack, the most devastating in recent history. What followed was that I lost my cool (rightfully so), and left the room. I don’t know how most people would have reacted to being called this and being discriminated against, but I felt taken advantage of and offended. Here I was participating in this event off the cuff for these people, and that’s what I get in return? Unbelievable. The thing is, there are lines that should not be crossed in comedy. Joking about 9/11 and associating someone with it is just not acceptable. The attempted “joke” really hit me in a bad place.
I did get an apology which was good, and as we went back into the room, the guy in charge said they were going to call it a night and stop the audition. So we walked out and hoped our ride would finally show up. After about ten minutes we were still waiting, so my friend went back to the room to see if they had all left. It’s hard to believe the situation could have become worse, but it did. My friend heard some noises and when he got there, he found that they were still auditioning. So they had completely lied and told me they were done just to get rid of me! I went back in and asked them if this was true but they denied it and assured me they were just about to leave. Yeah, right.
I am writing this to show people how easily it is to be taken advantage of. Don’t discriminate against people!!! Don’t make jokes about 9/11!!! And don’t lie to people just to get rid of them!!! Spread the word.