Portland, Oregon

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Godfrey Elfwick. I am a genderqueer Muslim atheist. I am also WrongSkin, which means I was born white but identify as black (West Indian to be precise). I came out on Twitter as transrace in January 2015. When Rachel Dolezal confirmed her WrongSkin status later that year, it was a great comfort to me to learn I was influencing others to be proud of their transethnic identities. I only wish this level of awareness had been around in 1990. It would have been so much easier for Vanilla Ice.

Living with so many levels of minority status can be extremely difficult. As a biologically born white male who identifies as a black woman, I am constantly vilified. It’s disgusting how much scorn people pour upon me in my local supermarket as I shop for rice and peas while proudly singing Bob Marley in my Rasta hat and rainbow boob-tube.You would not believe how many times I’ve been misgendered in Macy’s because of my beard. Why can’t people just let me be myself?

One of the worst aspects of living a woke life while navigating emotionally draining gender-identity issues along with several self-diagnosed mental health problems (ADHD, PTSD, lactose intolerance) is dealing with a constant stream of mockery from uneducated people. Political correctness is no laughing matter, and this is never truer than when applied to comedy. Humor is very much a double-edged sword these days. Used correctly (in the political sense), humor can cause harmless mirth, but when it’s wielded by someone who isn’t in tune with the latest socially acceptable comedy trends, it can be exceedingly harmful, especially to those not equipped to deal with extreme levity (e.g. feminists).

An example of an acceptable joke would be:

‘Hey, you know that Donald Trump? Well he has really weird hair and he’s just like soooo orange, amirite?! And his HANDS…gee, are they small or what?!’ [Pause for audience laughter and possible standing ovation].

Whereas a problematic joke would be (trigger warning):

‘Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side!’

First, this ‘joke’ is obviously ableist: it discriminates against people who are unable to walk unaided. It also claims that all we need to do to get anywhere in life is to take positive action, and that anyone can achieve zher goal.This is a problem for many reasons, not least because of social class. The society we live in which awards certain privileges to those born into inherited wealth and cisnormative expectations. Also, as a vegan, I find the premise of the joke to be highly distasteful because it requires me to place a chicken (which is something I love) in an extremely toxic situation which my mind immediately red-flags. That leads to feelings of anxiety, and the only way I can counter those is by imagining the chicken surrounded by a support group of like-minded poultry, assisting it across the road via a bridge my mind has created.

So-called ‘comedians’ pay no mind to the levels of mental effort required in order to turn one of their ‘jokes’ from a negative experience to one of care that respects its subject matter. Their excuse of ‘yes, but it’s funny’ falls flat when you begin to examine in detail the problematic tropes and underlying prejudice their material relies on. In order to be funny, comedy must always be punching upwards. Any kind of humor which fails to do this is automatically deeply unsettling. If you find yourself laughing at it, it is a mistake on your part. For example, if you were to make a joke about working-class people who voted for Trump, you would be punching up because we all know how privileged Mike who works as a cashier in his local Target is, and as such he is an acceptable object of laughter. If, however, a stand-up comedian was to make stunning and brave millionaire Caitlyn Jenner the subject of ridicule, this would be incredibly problematic because Caitlyn is a woman. End of. I’m looking at you, Ricky Gervais. Your time in the limelight is over, and no amount of consistently successful sell-out shows is going to change that.

Of course, the best comedy is the type that makes white people feel terrible about themselves and educates men about consent. It may not be funny, but it’s progressive and that’s the main thing. Hannah Gadsby recently had a hit show on Netflix in which she says nothing remotely amusing. It was a tremendous victory for progressive comedy. Woke tabloids fell over themselves to praise this new wave of anti-comedy. ‘Does Comedy Even Need to Be Funny?’ pondered BuzzPost. Even cisgendered journalists now agree that no, it does not.

When you’re Woke, laughter itself is a problem. Many sensitive souls find the sound of merriment jarring. They associate it with moments in their life when a vile bigot found their blue hair amusing, or a 4chan Nazi fascist mockingly pointed out that their nonbinary pronouns were pretentious crap.

Back in 2016, British journalist Abi Wilkinson wrote a poignant article about how the laughing emoji has become a symbol of hate. ‘The “tears of joy” emoji is the worst of all — it’s used to gloat about human suffering,’ she wrote. ‘The cackling grin and tears of mirth are the mockers’ attempt to tell us that, in a world full of human suffering, their brand of callous disregard is winning.’

All in all, it’s best to steer clear of humor unless you have been properly trained to handle it with the necessary care and respect. For examples of how to disarm comedy by removing anything remotely amusing, try watching a few episodes of The Daily Show.

This article is in The Spectator’s October 2019 US edition.