“Thank you for coming to our annual spring, uh… show,” said Jordan Goyette, SAC Concert Chair.
Thus the evening began. The controversial switch from the traditional spring concert to a comedy performance had raised eyebrows, but when it was announced that SNL member Pete Davidson would be performing, many held off on judging too early. After all, Davidson had a successful televised comedy special under his belt already, and a position with one of the biggest comedy shows in the world. It seemed unlikely he would disappoint.
Davidson was preceded by four openers, who in terms of comedic skill ranged from pretty great to indescribably awful. One of the better ones was Kyle Ploof, an MCLA alumni (‘08) whose set had the advantage of some North Adams-themed humor, like the story of a public intoxication incident that caused an unnamed member of RPS (who is still present at the College) to send Ploof to an AA session in Adams, at which hijinks ensued.
Neko White was also fantastic. The Harlem native spoke about gentrification and the dog strollers that come along with it. He wasn’t afraid to poke a little fun at the predominantly white Berkshire area, and the audience loved every second of it. It must be said, however, that some of the laughter White got was probably from relief that the previous opener had left.
That previous individual, whose name was not included on any informational literature about the show, was honest to God the worst comedian I’ve ever seen, in person, on Youtube, or anywhere else. One of his better-received bits was on high school students who have sex with their teachers, and how awesome it would have been if that had happened to him while he was in school. Another reminisced on a moment his freshman year of college when he’d opened his laptop during a class and pornography started playing. It was like witnessing a Yahoo comment that came to life and started yelling at me. After this trainwreck had gone on for several minutes, he began complaining that the audience had “gotten a little hostile.” There are few things as embarrassing as watching a comedian lash out at a crowd who he thinks he’s offended with his edginess, when he’s actually just so devastatingly unfunny that audience members can’t even muster up pity laughs.
The last up before Davidson was Joey Gay, who, as you may have guessed, spend a significant portion of his set on jokes about his name being the word “gay.” The funniest bit he had was one of these, actually: he found out at some point that his name was actually pronounced “Ghee,” and that it came from the Champagne region of France.
“I know,” Gay said as the audience tittered, “It got gayer.” Compared to the rest of the set, it was gut-busting, and although he wasn’t irredeemably awful, he too found time to complain about the audience’s reaction to his mediocrity.
Do we invite this upon ourselves when we pay comedians less money for these uniquely college student-directed shows? Maybe so, but nobody deserves to be subjected to people like this—in a synagogue, no less. I can only imagine the horror of Davidson and the other human comedians, listening to their comrades, grown men, strike out with a room full of 18-year-old liberal arts students.
In most ways Davidson was a more proficient comic than his openers, which is to be expected. One way in particular: he knew that some of his jokes sucked, and he accepted the occasional flat response as a natural part of touring untested material. During a Q&A session after the show, Davidson answered honestly that this had been one of his worst sets ever, emphasizing, however, that the crowd had been polite, which, to be fair, would be the right move even if we hadn’t been.
This made it easier to forgive him for the disproportionate number of masturbation and porn-themed jokes (some of which, it must be said, were pretty good), but not for ones like an early bit, where he asked if we were one of the Trump-supporting colleges, or one of the colleges that “think he’s a faggot.”
That one didn’t land very well. Davidson clarified that when he said “faggot” he meant it to mean a despicable jerk, and that he would never use the word to offend anyone. He then talked about his belief that Trump was “the first retarded president.”
I know this is a liberal college in a very left-leaning state, but before you try to tell me that I’m just a snowflake with a thin skin, please take a moment to think deeply about whether those jokes are actually funny. Maybe you think they are, and in that case, are they funny enough to outweigh the use of language which inarguably has been used (and continues to be used) to cause institutional and personal violence to human beings?
The thing is, I’m sure Davidson already knows all this stuff. He really must’ve thought the joke would kill. It has to be an audience thing: if he used words like “faggot” or “retard” derogatorily on a show like SNL, he’d be forced to justify it somehow—and any justification would simply be “it’s funny, and I care more about that than I do about the consequences of the words.”
Wow, this is excruciatingly not fun to write.
I’m not happy that I have to devote space in a review of a comedy show to talking about the morality of using grotesquely outdated terms for laughs, but I do have to, because Davidson somehow didn’t look at his notes and at any point say “Hey, maybe this won’t go over super well in a liberal arts college in Massachusetts in the year 2017.”
Of course, many parts of Davidson’s set were hilarious. The guy writes for SNL—he’s self-deprecating, has a great sense of timing, and his improv was invariably brilliant. He talked about the frustration of Apple movie rentals for a minute or so before trailing off. The punchline:
“I didn’t have a joke about that, it just pissed me off.”
On North Adams:
“It’s nice to be here in your scary town. It’s like f****** Westworld. Everything’s closed. Why did you come out here?”
At the end of the show, when Davidson explained that the material would probably be good “in, like, a year,” I believed him. It’s no fluke that someone so young is already writing screenplays for big-budget movies. I just wish we could’ve gotten the show at the end of the tour, rather than the first draft.