There’s this idea (where it started, who knows) that there are comedies for different groups of people. With Bridesmaids, we had a comedy for women. With everything that is Tyler Perry, we have comedies for African Americans. We nerds dominate the internet with webcomics such as xkcd and web comedies such as The Guild. Are any of these niche comedies funny to peoples outside of their intended audience, or are those comedies simply not funny to other people? And who’s the audience for all those seemingly more generic comedies?
Answering the second question first, if a movie doesn’t seem to have a specific audience, chances are it’s for white men. Take Family Guy, for example. Clearly men are supposed to find it funny because that’s the stereotypical kind of frat-boy humor (fart jokes, overconsumption of beer by men and the ensuing bad choices, people getting run over by automobiles, etc.) that is used in the show, and the cast of characters is entirely white-male dominated. And look at the (lack) of racial diversity; anyone who isn’t white or male gets to be the butt end of the jokes. It’s easy to see that it’s a lot of white guys doing things that white male audience members are supposed to think funny.
Now to the first question. I think in general that most comedies can appeal to a wider audience than just their intended one. For example, my (white) mom likes Tyler Perry and thinks he’s funny. However, I think that in general a comedy is funniest (or supposed to be funniest) for its intended audience simply because the intended audience can find it more relatable.
I hope this all makes sense so far. I felt the need to establish the above before getting to what I really wanted to write about. I’ve read recently that white movie critics have an extremely difficult time critiquing Tyler Perry movies because they are afraid to say something accidentally racist. They think that they ‘just don’t get it’ and that the intended audience (in this case African-Americans) will love it.
I think that’s wrong. I’m a white nerd girl, and I know there are plenty of issues that I don’t have to face because of that. But having every racial group hide themselves away in different corners is just going to make the accidental racism we’re all trying to avoid more likely when we do cross paths. If we instead engaged in a dialogue about issues facing each race, gender, orientation, etc., we wouldn’t get so angry and many times sound so ignorant when we interact. If a dialogue was established, we could actually civilly talk about how to solve issues every group has when interacting with each other. Because I know white people aren’t perfect, and I’m fairly certain no one else is either.
The problem comes when comedies go out of their way to quell a dialogue before it’s even started. Looking at xkcd as an example, since I’ve written about it before, it has issues. I think it is meant for male science nerds, and not girls or those who don’t have a fondness for science. Firstly, xkcd treats most women like their only true purpose is to be used by men; it is all about the sex. And if you don’t understand math/science or computers, well, then you can just skip over this comic, because people who don’t understand the former are the exact targets of most of the jokes. On an unrelated note, xkcd also treats violence and crime like it’s a really funny joke, which I really don’t find funny. And I really don’t know how much minority representation is going on since everyone is a white stick figure. But if I had to guess, very little. And some people might say that science-y women are supposed to think xkcd is funny and also meant for them, but I have to disagree. I may not be the biggest science nerd, but I’m a huge math nerd; I frickin’ love math. And I find xkcd, as much as I love some of their comics, to be degrading towards people who aren’t male science and computer geeks. And as someone who doesn’t entirely fit that description, I almost find it hurtful how they hate on other groups. I feel that I should be allowed to share my opinion on something, such as xkcd, in an open dialogue so that racism and sexism can be reduced, if not eliminated. Maybe this is possible for webcomics, but from the various conversations that have taken place about fake geeks, it is clear that even nerds fall into nasty, sexist, and racist tirades rather than civil discourse.
Why is comedy a better way of starting these conversations? Well, because it can give the most extreme examples of things. Many times, an incident may be blown out of proportion, or a stereotype used to the extreme, in order to be funny. In a drama, for example, this rarely happens. Comedy, by magnifying things for comedic effect, also magnifies other issues.
I know I’m opening up a somewhat large can of worms here, but my point is that groups should be able to critique other groups in a civil manner. I believe comedy does a very good job of highlighting how different groups think/act and that a dialogue can stem from that medium. If comedies didn’t go out of their way to denigrate people not seen as part of its “intended audience”, it would be a lot easier to have a civil conversation. Hopefully, my idea that we can all learn from each other through the ability to civilly critique one another is a good one. If you disagree, let me know in the comments!