I donated to a crowd-funded movie project by Mike Celestino last year. As a comedy fan and a huge proponent of free speech, I thought the film and its premise would be a good bet.
That’s Not Funny, “a dead serious documentary about comedy,” looks at so-called taboo humor. You know, jokes on race, 9/11, Hitler, rape, and other subjects some folks find anywhere from uncomfortable to outright offensive.
It was completed a few months back and has only played in three cities thus far – Los Angeles, Orlando, and Denver – while Celestino (presumably) enters it in film festivals and shops it around for distribution.
If you live in the Denver area and are wondering why you haven’t heard of this film or its recent local screening, I only caught it by happy accident myself. Sometime Saturday afternoon I saw a Tweet it would be part of the films brought by the visiting Freethought Film Festival Foundation at the Colorado Secular Conference.
And there we were, already at the conference – sweet serendipity!
Let me just say I couldn’t be happier with the investment. Celestino, as host and narrator, walks the viewer through a history of vulgar-yet-funny, hilarious-and-not-so, awesome-and-sometimes-just-awful politically incorrect humor, from blackface through The Onion and beyond. Nothing is sacred, save perhaps the patron saints of subversive stand-up, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, and Richard Pryor. The film doesn’t even back away from the problems with the recent on-stage tirades of Michael Richards, Daniel Tosh, and even Joan Rivers.
Of course, I am reviewing this as a comedy nerd who could name each and every movie, actor, TV show, and comedian in the film, sometimes down to the release year and episode number. As with all entertainment, your mileage may vary.
And I certainly want comedy fans to see it, but honestly, we’re the ones who get it already. We understand you don’t heckle at a live show – comedians are professionals who will OWN you by the time it’s over, regardless of the occasional (and rare) Richards- or Tosh-like crash-and-burn moment. We’re the folks who read and nod along to Patton Oswalt’s treatises on comedy without feeling the need to comment or correct haters and we don’t bother to write long posts about the worst of humanity we find on 4chan. We are fully aware humor is subjective and what one person finds funny another will find desperately offensive.
We are the choir – we don’t need the preacher.
Who does? The people who take comedy – and/or life in general – waaaay too seriously. You know them. They’re the ones who heckle jokes they don’t like, boycott TV shows they don’t understand, cry out for social justice because they personally find a subject too taboo for jokes, or walk out on an Oxford professor’s talk because they’re offended.
Meh. As with all such things, the people who need the lesson most will probably skip it. It’s just as well, too; to paraphrase Matt Dillahunty at the very same conference I saw the movie, no argument alone will draw a believer out of belief. Or, as my favorite living stand-up, Doug Stanhope, puts it, “That’s like trying to kick water uphill. It ain’t gonna work.”
I know it won’t. Kick when necessary and dream meanwhile.
Sometimes you run out of bubble gum.