June 17, 2019 | 78° F

EDITORIAL: Leave lectures out of comedy clubs

Margaret Cho’s Stress Factory performance falls short of potential


Comedy clubs are spaces of mirth, joy and laughter. On an evening out with your significant other or friends, you don’t really expect that each and every performance at a comedy club is going to cause cramps from laughter or tears streaming down your face. But it is likely you anticipate a minimal baseline experience of contentment and hopefully a bit of a good time, especially since you’re paying for the entertainment.

This weekend at downtown New Brunswick’s very own Stress Factory Comedy Club, this was far from the case. Emmy-nominated comedian Margaret Cho performed, but she didn’t cause thigh slapping — she incited fist fighting. Brawls are commonly a telltale sign that something is going badly, and this performance was a disaster. A fight occurred among members of the audience, people walked out and many asked for their money back. It's not often that comedy acts end up like this.

Rape is a delicate subject, and if you’re going to joke about it you need the finesse and talent of an expert comedian. Cho is a person that passes said criteria and more. She was raped as a young girl, and that was compounded with other issues growing up. Through many years as a comedian, she channeled her suffering and transformed it into a positive experience. Cho was scheduled to perform five shows at the Stress Factory, and the first four were met with standing ovations, but this final act was a tragic mess. She was slurring into the microphone and falling over, although she claims she wasn’t intoxicated or high. She forgot her punchlines and repeated herself over and over again. Cho had the capacity to perform well, but she didn’t. People left not only because they didn’t like how she delivered her act, but because she came incapable of even performing an act.

If the awful delivery wasn’t why they left, it could’ve been because people don’t want to pay and sit through a bad joke-turned-into-rant about rape and white privilege. People paid for a comedy act, not a lesson, and at some point in her performance she crossed that line. At any time, you can be forced to listen to other people rant about rape — for free. There’s a way to talk about sexual abuse in a manner that’s thoughtful and clever, but that wasn’t what she gave. Humor is commonly used to talk about relevant social issues, and many comedians such as John Oliver or Steve Colbert do it all the time, and it’s been effective. This is an instance in which it wasn’t.

What Cho also demonstrated is that people can’t sit through ideas they don’t agree with. In what might’ve been another tangent or rant that instead discussed white privilege, a woman walked out, and afterward Cho said, “White people get so mad.” That comment is crass, but in the same way that the woman can walk out on her free will, Cho can call her out on it.

Cho shows that there’s a two-way street. Notable comedians said that they don’t want to perform on college campuses because students are more likely to get offended by a comedy performance, since comedians have the tendency to touch upon issues of rape, race or privilege very lightly to elicit laughter from the audience. But when attending a comedy show, it is generally expected to hear jokes that can be found offensive by some, and if you’re particularly sensitive, it would be easier not to go a comedy show. Perhaps Cho’s jokes and rant did go overboard during her final show, but comedians are human and sometimes they just flop.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 148th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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