NOTE: I’m using neutral pronouns here and Xs for the purposes of anonymity.
This Tuesday, I went to my therapist’s office and I didn’t even pretend to talk about my personal issues after the first 5 minutes. I began ranting about how disappointed I am in the fact that Donald Trump became president. And the rant morphed into a full on sob about Hillary Clinton’s loss and I admitted something out loud that I kept to myself for a week: I felt that her loss destroyed my hope of truly succeeding at stand-up comedy.
When I first started doing stand-up comedy in New York City, I was 22 and figuring out my identity. I just graduated from a liberal arts college and I was fully of phrases like “Fight heteronormativity” and “Let’s make safe spaces.” I was hungry and went to many open mics to work on my craft but I ran up against a similar problem that a lot of minority comics encounter—unfiltered white males. I was forced to sit and placidly smile through terrible racist and sexist jokes, liberal use of the word “faggot,” ironic use of racial slurs, and copious amounts of “rape but not rape-rape” jokes. Because I was sick of the bullshit, I started my own open mic that had a rule of not being racist, sexist or homophobic. And frankly, it was a fun space. I got to attract a lot of diverse and talented voices. One of those voices was X. X was socially awkward (like 90% of comedians) but X had a gifted and sharp mind. While I noticed some sort of volatility with X, I assumed it was from a place of insecurity.
All of that changed on February 8, 2007. It’s a date that for X was just another day but I’ll never forget. A relatively famous celebrity had died that day and every comedian was quickly churning out jokes, as they do for any dead celebrity. I was talking to X and a group of comedians outside of the open mic and X told a corny celebrity death joke. I laughed and asked X if it was okay to tell this joke onstage to introduce X; X agreed. When the mic started I brought X up to the joke and X was angry with me. X got on stage and ranted at me, calling me untalented and yelled that I was “just a jungle bunny.” The audience and the bartender (who is half-black, although to be honest the race is definitely not important here) were shocked and horrified. The bartender immediately asked me to ban X from this establishment. Because I was young and didn’t know any better, I tried to actually argue for X. I wrote X a very long letter explaining why that kind of language was not okay and especially not from someone I considered a friend who I allowed into my safe space. X gave a standard apology that honestly wasn’t good enough but I was just starting and in comedy, drama equals career suicide. On the surface, I forgave X but I knew this friendship was dead. After all, this wasn’t even the first time X had ever done something this reprehensible but I fully understood the ugliness of X’s personality.
Years later, I watched this comedian get a special on a major comedy network and it was devastating. I had to watch people on Facebook and in real life congratulation this person and rave about how X is so nice and charitable to new comedians and I felt like throwing up. X actively bullied and shamed people, some of whom were close friends of mine, out of a profession that X felt was a manifest destiny. I watched X truly feel entitled in that scary white privileged way that Trump supporters felt entitled. And worse, I felt frighteningly alone.
Until in 2015, I performed in San Francisco with a guy who was familiar with X because they had worked together in X’s home state who also confirmed that X is a shitty person. And every couple of months, I’ll meet another comic who will confirm that X was and in some ways still is a major asshole and no one understands why people work with X.
I hate when people say things like “X is a different person now” or “Those were just words” or “X was just angry at you.” That denies my personhood. If I were angry at another comic, I would never resort to slurs or name calling. This is a person who is essentially my coworker. If we worked in an office job, I could have reported this abuse to HR. But because we are in a business where there are no real hierarchies or accountability, all the bullshit just gets swept under a rug. At least in the New York City comedy world, you’re undesirable until you have something to leverage and I have been forced to endure and watched people tolerate racists, sexists, and sexual harassers as long as those shitty folks can help them/me get to the next level.
So what does this have to do with the election? I watched Clinton being targeted for savage sexist attacks and being picked apart on every minor issue. And so much of the onslaught against her mirrored issues I’ve had in my own career of having to fight against antiquated and racist/homophobic thoughts and fears. I’m not saying that Clinton is perfect; I indeed intended to hold her accountable for some of her problematic policies. I’m also not saying that I’m the best comedian in the world; I know I don’t always bring it and I sometimes get lazy with joke endings. However, her policies were actually pretty solid. And she actually had policies and experience! I’ve seen Hillary admit to her culpability in bad events. And I would never resort to calling her a nasty woman, a bitch, or a cunt, or demand that she’d be in jail.
In contrast, I watch a man who called Mexicans rapists, who circulated dangerously false statistics on black-on-black and black-on-white crime, who believes all Muslims should be detained or deported, who literally said that he loved being powerful so he can “grab women by the pussy” like a handsy caveman. I watched this man become president—and moreover, less than a full week later, I watched this man walk back a slight fraction of his statements and people are already calling to unify with him and his constituents and give him a chance. Is this real life? Of course it is.
I really thought Hillary Clinton winning would have at least been the repudiation of my fears about how backwards this populace really is. But they aren’t. Her loss is just another ratification of the proof that abjectly terrible white males can get away with saying whatever they want and still achieve as long as they say “I didn’t mean it” or “I’m just kidding.” Here I am watching people deny Trump’s abusive language and dismissing many legitimate concerns about what this outcome means. I’m now watching so many hate crimes appear in my news feed and so many folks who feel okay with crapping all over political correctness and wokeness. And it breaks my heart.
Obviously, this 2016 election outcome is bigger than my career. And I have, at least on the surface, forgiven myself and this comedian. But this election and that therapy session has opened my eyes to how I react to big losses. I understand that I have a lot of work to do. I’ve spent so many years being paralyzed by white bullying and I am taking a stand, not with violent looting but with my words. I will loudly stand in my truth, put in the legwork, and donate to organizations that best represent my political interests. As long as I can stand and breathe and love my art, I will continue to produce and strive. I will continue to speak out against injustices done to me and my fellow people of color/queer brothers and sisters. Because I’m tired of seeing incompetent bullies win.