Did you hear the one about the stand-up comedian who performed on a college campus…

Never mind. It’s not very funny.

Check out this terrific article from The Atlantic, dealing with the problems of booking acceptable comedians for college campuses.

Stand-Up Comics Have to Censor Their Jokes on College Campuses – The Atlantic.

Believe it or not, there’s an actual organization — the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) — whose annual convention includes a showcase for comedians to strut their stuff, and then get booked (or not) by representatives of the various universities. Caitlin Flanagan attended the event, interviewed some of the comedians and officials, and her article makes for fascinating — and disturbing — reading.

I already knew that certain comic mega-stars, like Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock, had spoken out about why they were no longer interested in appearing on college campuses: the kids were too humorless, demanding only the safest and least offensive material. But I had never heard of NACA and its mass audition process, and so this article came as a big reveal for me — as I think it will for you.

Here’s just one excerpt:

A young gay man with a Broadway background named Kevin Yee sang novelty songs about his life, producing a delirium of affection from the audience. “We love you, Kevin!” a group of kids yelled between numbers. He invited students to the front of the auditorium for a “gay dance party,” and they charged down to take part. His last song, about the close relationship that can develop between a gay man and his “sassy black friend,” was a killer closer; the kids roared in delight, and several African American young women in the crowd seemed to be self-identifying as sassy black friends. I assumed Yee would soon be barnstorming the country. But afterward, two white students from an Iowa college shook their heads: no. He was “perpetuating stereotypes,” one of them said, firmly. “We’re a very forward-thinking school,” she told me. “That thing about the ‘sassy black friend’? That wouldn’t work for us.” Many others, apparently, felt the same way: Yee ended up with 18 bookings—a respectable showing, but hardly a reflection of the excitement in the room when he performed.

Is it possible that the  entire generation of college students can be so stiff and fearful? Maybe,  but there’s an even more chilling explanation:

The students’ determination to avoid booking any acts that might conceivably hurt the feelings of a classmate was in its way quite admirable. They seemed wholly animated by kindness and by an open-mindedness to the many varieties of the human experience. But the flip side of this sensitivity is the savagery with which reputations and even academic careers can be destroyed by a single comment—perhaps thoughtless, perhaps misinterpreted, perhaps (God help you) intended as a joke—that violates the values of the herd.

When you talk with college students outside of formal settings, many reveal nuanced opinions on the issues that NACA was so anxious to police. But almost all of them have internalized the code that you don’t laugh at politically incorrect statements; you complain about them. In part, this is because they are the inheritors of three decades of identity politics, which have come to be a central driver of attitudes on college campuses. But there’s more to it than that. These kids aren’t dummies; they look around their colleges and see that there are huge incentives to join the ideological bandwagon and harsh penalties for questioning the platform’s core ideas.

Why does  this matter? Because eventually they will graduate and move into the real world…


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. Vice President, Zoomer Media Ltd. . Author of "The New Old" . 30 years experience in marketing communications, advertising, media . Speaker, writer, commentator on the revolution in aging and how to market to Boomers and seniors

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