While I was waiting in line for the doors to open at the Smith Center Saturday, I was thinking about the jokes and jabs that Hasan Minhaj, a former correspondent on The Daily Show, would make in just a few short hours. The anticipation kept climbing as my friends and I quickly found our seats on the ground floor of the arena. But, then I remembered that the opening act was still to come. And I wasn’t ready for it.
The opener for the comedy show, which replaced Fall Fest this year, was comedian Thomas Dale. Dale has worked on Comedy Central, HBO and even on The Late Show with Craig Ferguson. But despite his vast credentials, his jokes didn’t land well with the GW audience.
Toward the end of his set, students and alumni in attendance had to sit through a comedian who used transgender women as the punchline of a joke.
Throughout his 45-minute opening set, Dale talked about being bigender, bisexual and an Italian-American from New York. While all of those topics were interesting and may have been relatable to some members of the audience, as the program went forward, Dale’s jokes heavily relied on making misogynistic comments and poking fun at mental illness and marginalized communities.
Toward the end of his set, students and alumni in attendance had to sit through a comedian who used transgender women as the punchline of a joke. When a few students, who sat directly behind me, loudly booed against Dale’s attempted joke, the comedian chastised them.
The crowd went silent when Dale made this inappropriate joke, but the few students who spoke up drew a negative response from the comedian. Dale told his hecklers that he could make this joke because he was bigender and because he had a history of mental illness and self-harm. He insisted that it was just a joke. But that’s not how comedy or life works.
Political correctness and comedy aren’t two mutually exclusive things. Successful comedians, including Minhaj, John Mulaney and Ali Wong often make risky jokes – but they don’t rely on minorities as a punchline. Even though I am Filipino-American, it doesn’t excuse me from making racist or xenophobic jokes. Jokes that rely on a community to be hurt aren’t good jokes.
Looking back, I wish I had also spoken up. If I had spoken up, and maybe if other students had spoken up, the comedian may not have responded in the way that he did.
Many audience members applauded Dale when he told his hecklers they were too sensitive. But I guess those students didn’t realize what it would feel like for someone to disregard your identity in exchange for a few seconds of laughter from an arena full of your peers.
If these events happen in the future, the screening process for opening acts should be as selective as the headliner.
After this unfortunate situation, Hasan Minhaj could not have started his set sooner. Program Board picked a great headliner for this event, but Dale was not a good fit to open the performance. Program Board has faced criticism in the past for selecting artists that students declared inappropriate due to their content when Action Bronson was set to perform at Spring Fling in 2016. In response, the organization took a positive step forward and altered its vetting process for performers.
Perhaps the material that Program Board used to make its decision didn’t reflect on the jokes and material that Dale used on Saturday night, but Dale was still the wrong choice. If these events happen in the future, the screening process for opening acts should be as selective as the headliner, and Program Board should continue to carefully vet performers before bringing them to campus.
In the future, I will push myself to speak out when a performer does or says something wrong, especially when it is funded by student dollars. In an ideal situation, we wouldn’t need to do this and no student would have to defend themselves in front of their peers, alumni and faculty, but when the situations do occur, it is up to us to speak out.
Renee Pineda, a senior majoring in political science, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.
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