When Dirtbags Are Actually Funny

by Alexandra Molotkow


Comedy has changed a lot since I was a 10-year-old taping the Comedy Network on VHS, almost entirely for the better; back then, the Kids in the Hall were considered transgressive for featuring an openly gay troupe member. I much prefer an inclusive world in which it’s not OK to be a hateful dirtbag with impunity, and I much prefer to laugh at things that aren’t hateful.

But here’s the thing: I sort of get what comedians worry about nowadays. Humor is one of those special regions of human experience in which the agony is suspended and we agree that a silly thing matters more than what actually matters. It seems important to preserve a little world where funny is the highest good.

I would love to argue that jokes that punch down are never funny, but that just isn’t true. My go-to case in point is Jim Jefferies, who tells terrible jokes about women that I can’t help but laugh at because they make me laugh. At a party, I once tried to explain a bit about, I dunno, how women are stupid and expect too much oral? The person I was talking to said, “misogyny is never funny,” and I reluctantly disagreed. I just wasn’t explaining it right.

I’m talking in a roundabout way about Norm Macdonald. I always kind of hated that guy — the guy, I hated the guy, from his Weekend Update jokes about Brandon Teena to his Twitter trolling to his creep remarks published recently in the Hollywood Reporter

, interspersed with otherwise funny observations:

Sometimes the only thing that can save you is if you drink. Because they’re all yahoos in some of these joints you play. So you tell a joke and they don’t laugh and you go, “I’m going to have a drink!” And they go, “Yeeahhh!” You take a gulp of alcohol and they all cheer. So for a while, since I have no tolerance for alcohol, I was having the waitress bring me fake shooters that had nothing in them. I’d down like 20 shooters and by the end of the night I was the biggest hero ever because I wasn’t down on my hands and knees barfing like a normal human would be doing.

That’s pretty clever.

And I’d do it to get girls! I’d be in a bar and for some reason when you’re drunk, girls will put up with it if you try to grope them or whatever. (In a high-pitched voice:) “What are you doing? Haha!” If you’re sober, they’re like, “Hey! Just what do you think you‘re doing?” So I’d just garble my words. I have used being a drunk to my advantage many times.

It’s easy enough to separate the art from the artist, I do it all the time. I love the music of Fleetwood Mac and Chuck Berry and the movie Crimes and Misdemeanors. (Also, people in general are not the sum of their worst characteristics.) But it’s harder to make that separation when the art form involves standing there and being a person. You feel as though you do have to buy in. When a demonstrated asshole is actually funny, it feels wrong and manipulative in the manner of a terrible romantic drama that still makes you cry. What to do about it? I genuinely don’t know. What do you think?