In September 2010, I went to see comic Joel McHale perform at Vanderbilt University. McHale’s show was very amusing – and was very similar to the antics that he displays regularly on E!‘s The Soup. A lot of making fun of E! and celebrities. The audience ate it up.
In any case, McHale brought an opening act. His name was Brooks McBeth. McBeth’s act was absolutely awful. But one attempt at a joke that evening really rubbed me the wrong way.
McBeth: “So, I was in Antioch. Or should I say, Hisp-Antioch.”
I remember the audience being entirely quiet, and more-or-less, puzzled. Everyone seemed to wonder, “Was that a joke?”. McBeth followed that line with some unmemorable comment about Hispanics in Antioch driving El Caminos.
Most people probably assumed “this guy sucks” rather than “this guy is offensive”. I was somewhere between the two, but somewhat offended, because I knew that this comic had very little knowledge of the Nashville area. After two years there, I knew next-to-nothing about Antioch. But to criticize one’s race with such a lousy joke just didn’t sit right with me.
I pretty much forgot about the lousy comic, or Antioch itself, until last week, until a colleague in Teach For America told me that he was working at a school in Antioch. So I visited the area and his class. And I made three initial observations.
- Nobody in Antioch drives an El Camino.
- The class I observed was 50% Hispanic… at the most. Probably closer to a third.
- The kids were incredibly hard workers, who powered through a lesson designed for a grade at-least three or four grade levels higher their own. Students were eager to participate, and on-task for the whole lesson, with no complaints. Assuming that the kids keep up this work ethic, I don’t see them driving El Caminos any time soon.
I love seeing stand-up comics. And it’s a difficult art. If I don’t find it right for Brooks McBeth to insult Hispanics, why is it right for Joel McHale to insult Lindsay Lohan and the Kardashians?
Whether it is right or wrong, it seems that culture accepts comedy when you are poking fun at your own image or heritage. That’s why Larry the Cable Guy and Jeff Foxworthy can make fun of rednecks, or why Ralphie May can poke fun at obese individuals. But you can’t just go out and insult a place or group of people that you know nothing about. That’s where Michael Richards went wrong.
After visiting both the students of Antioch and the teachers and administrators working to make it a better place, the joke just seems more tasteless than ever. I would encourage Mr. McBeth to spend at least a few hours in Antioch (and not locked up in a hotel room) before attempting to make any more fun of it.