This essay was inspired by a joke from my show.
The joke happens when I have a lady join me onstage and think of the name of her first crush. The joke itself is irrelevant. It’s the wording that matters here - specifically one word.
I used to make a joke about the volunteer, referring to the crush as “him”, but one day after the show my wife gave me some insightful notes on the drive home. She had the brilliant observation that saying “him” was making an unfounded assumption about a volunteer that might someday put me in an awkward position on stage.
Ever since that conversation the joke has changed. Now I refer to the crush as “them” so I won’t offend or embarrass my volunteers.
It was only one word but it’s made a huge difference for that small moment. It's still funny - possibly funnier - and better than before.
There was a similar moment during my tour this summer that made me rewrite a small section of my show all over again.
At the time I was referring to a drawing of a stick person as a “stick man” but I didn’t realize I had a transgendered person in my audience that night. They politely called out “Stick person!” and it stopped me dead in my tracks. I made a small joke and continued with the show, but that night I stayed up late rewriting my script so it wouldn’t happen again.
The goal of theatre should be inclusivity. I don’t want a single member of my audience to be personally offended by something I say during the show. I may make political or topical jokes, sure, but I don’t want to make an unnecessary comment at someone’s expense. I don’t want a single person to feel singled out.
It seems we’re at an impasse in society where we can either say “I wish things were the way they used to be!” or we can consider other people’s feelings when speaking to them. If the choice doesn’t seem obvious, then I don’t know how to convince you that you should care about other people.
When someone makes an off-color joke at my gigs now, I make it obvious I’m offended and I walk away. I refuse to put up with any degrading, deplorable “locker room talk” or offensive comments.
You can say I’m being a “snowflake” or call it PC Culture run amok, but the truth is society is going to keep changing whether you like it or not. If you want to stay relevant, it’s up to you to embrace it and evolve with the times.