A group of humanists walk into a bar … well, actually the Port Grill restaurant, but it has a bar! Anyway, we were there for a night of fun, food, and comedy. The evening is going well, and the local comedians led by Molly Hiers are putting on a good show.
We’ve seen most of this group perform before, and they’re quite funny. Some of them are just starting out and perform in these small venues to hone their craft, try new jokes, promote local comedy while providing the area with some quality night life.
The first comedian up was Tony Tamaccio. His material is a bit on the dirty side (he talks about real life after all), but didn’t seem incredibly contentious to our group. (To be fair, maybe we’re a twisted bunch!) A couple of jokes into his set, he pokes fun at transgender bathroom issues and references the body parts that transgender people may no longer have.
So far, a pretty standard comedy routine.
Not so for one woman in the crowd.
Apparently, this woman named Sarah felt strongly about the public discussion of “private parts.” She proceeds to have a chest-thumping (literally) argument with her table. Presumably, this argument is about the propriety of comedy, what constitutes as acceptable comedy, if they should leave, and how much they were willing to stiff the wait staff upon departure.
Sarah comes to the conclusion that she is extremely offended and will leave the restaurant – but not without letting Tony know how she feels about his “inappropriate” comedy. For reference, the Port Grill has two exits: one in the back that would allow for a quiet exit and one in the front that is right next to where Tony is performing. Guess which exit she chose.
So, Sarah marches angrily up to the front door and starts berating Tony for his choice of topic and language about “private parts.” Tony, a comedian, responds appropriately by engaging this heckler by advising her on the correct heckling protocol. Generally, hecklers remain in their seats and offer drunken banter. Then, comedians respond and make the heckler look foolish. Everyone laughs and the night continues onward.
Sarah is not amused.
She leaves the restaurant in a huff. Decides she has more to say. Comes back. Tells Tony that she’s been a flight attendant for 35 years. Those that hear the statement are confused as to its relevance. She leaves again. Tony continues with his set. The rest of her table leaves offering various levels of comment upon their departure. One man offers Tony an additional testicle implying that he only has one and then presents his middle finger (maybe he was counting how many testicles he thought Tony had?) before departing. Tony then responds to the audience by noting that if he only had one testicle, that would likely make him a cancer survivor and the patron’s raising that topic would be quite rude.
The entire debacle last only a few minutes, but will forever live in the minds of the audience. Team Sarah provided excellent material for the comedians to shape into a hilarious evening for the rest of us. While Sarah and friends were clearly not amused, we should thank them for their contribution to comedy that evening.
(Note: Sarah’s table did pay their nearly $250 bill, but gave no tip. Apparently, they faulted their waitress for approving the comedy content for the evening.)
The sets continued and the remaining audience seemed to have a great time.
David Allen was the final comedian for the evening, and like those that preceded him, he offered some jokes about our now favorite topic for the evening. He also made a great point about comedy.
Comedy lets us reflect on topics we would otherwise avoid in “polite” company.
Comedians regularly examine sensitive or taboo topics using humor and relatable language as a way to provide distance from the subject. Tony’s examination of transgender issues was no different. This idea makes humor an amazing tool to start conversations about uncomfortable topics. Having difficult conversations is critical to civil discourse and something our society always needs.
Yes, comedy uses language that some find offensive. However, that offense is theirs to take or leave. The common phrase is “take offense.” That means the receiver determines whether or not to be offended. In this case, Sarah chose to be offended by slang terms for genitals. Those words have no meaning or power than that which we choose to give them. They are not different from the word stone, flower, stick, or cup. Words do have meaning, history, and baggage, but we don’t have to give them power over us.
On another note, comedy is extremely difficult for a variety of reasons and epitomizes our church’s ideas about failing and trying again. These comedians are putting themselves on display for brutal examination each time they perform and regularly fail at landing jokes. Their resilience should serve as an example for us all.
Thank you to Tony, David, Molly, and the rest of the comedy team for being examples of what it means to be human – trying, failing, trying again, starting conversations, and bringing people together through laughter.
To hear more about about this story and the need for civil discourse, check our our related Sunday Service on our YouTube channel.