Comics vs. PC battle lines still being drawn

Last week, comic Dave Coulier was onstage at a college, telling a G-rated joke that included a Middle Eastern character, and the college kids began saying “Eww,” which he interpreted as political correctness.

Coulier, a silly comedian who doesn’t curse onstage or do political jokes or hate humor, stopped the show for a moment.

“I said, ‘You don’t even know what you’re ‘ew-ing right now, because you haven’t heard the end of the joke,'” Coulier said.

Coulier wrapped up the joke, the crowd of 1,000 laughed, life went on.

But Coulier (also known as Joey Gladstone on “Full House”) is concerned he had to add a step to his comedy act, effectively telling young fans they were in a safe zone, to assure them he isn’t one of the villains in society who suddenly spouts hate speech.

“I don’t want to take this extra step,” he said.

Coulier’s son is in that generation.

“I think it’s wonderful they’re looking out for each other. I think it’s wonderful my son has Hindu friends, and Muslim friends, and (friends of) all different races. It’s great. I wish I had more of that experience when I was growing up,” said Coulier, who performs Oct. 9-11 at the South Point hotel.

“But they’re so politically correct now, they’re not going to experience (the humor) of putting each other down in a really fun way. We always called that ‘ribbing’ somebody. That’s frightening to me. When you do that, it blows off a lot of steam. It gets rid of a lot of tension.”

Coulier is just the latest comedian to tell me about a PC culture among young comedy crowds this year. Jerry Seinfeld recently groaned about PC fans in an op-ed.

But “political correctness” is not the real issue.

The real issue is the snowball effect, which goes like this:

A) Neanderthals who hate the idea of President Barack Obama/Lena Dunham/Caitlyn Jenner express racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and other stupid things online, on Fox News and in Republican debates.

B) Many Americans don’t want to hear this garbage. They don’t think of themselves as being politically correct but as living with civility and politeness. In the Reagan Eighties and “South Park” Bush years, anti-PC people diminished advocates of civility as PC. But that tactic isn’t working this time.

Coulier is familiar with the Neanderthals.

“I travel around, and I see racism is alive and well in the United States, and it makes me sick to my stomach,” Coulier said.

On the other hand, Brad Garrett (who insults crowds at the MGM’s Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club, because he’s the funniest living insult comic) recently said he’s got nothing to complain about with crowds, and that comedy has always been this way — with sensitive comics complaining about sensitive crowds.

“We’re a country that appears to be PC, but we’re so behind on so many social and ethnic scenarios, shame on them for even saying they’re PC,” Garrett said.

“Our racial conflict in this country is frightening and racist,” he said, then he launched into funny bits mocking Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump and government clerk Kim Davis for denying gay marriage “in Kentucky, the home of the Klan.”

Here in Las Vegas, it seems, crowds aren’t the supposed PC purveyors that sensitive comics such as Seinfeld fear.

Paul Mattingly, a revered improvisational actor and teacher, says he’s only heard about these crowds that make performers walk on eggshells.

“I don’t see it here in town, but I think that’s a product of location,” Mattingly said. “I’m grateful, because people still come here with an expectation to get naughty and push the boundaries.”

Mattingly will find out, again, just how un-PC improv can get on Friday and Saturday, when he co-hosts young troupes from around America at the third annual Improv Goblet Fest at the Baobab Stage inside Town Square ($10 each night; Saturday features “Star Trek: The Next Improvisation.”)

“We’re in a weird space right now, especially because of where the Trump candidacy is, and the fact that his whole platform is, ‘I hate The Other,'” Mattingly said.

But Mattingly isn’t a fan of PC. His advice: Consider the source.

“It’s about intent,” he said. “If you’re watching Fox News, they are intending to scare, and upset, and manipulate your mind.

“Most of the time, comedians are up there saying outrageous things to provoke thought, and to make you laugh at the absurdity of the whole sitaution.”

But, he agreed with me, performers need to be just as strong.

“If we want audiences to have a thicker skin about the stuff we’re bringing up, and the topics we want to joke about, then we have to have a thicker skin about the way they react and interpret the jokes,” Mattingly said.

“We have to be a little more open to them expressing (displeasure) — as long as it doesn’t destroy, or take over, the performance.”

— Doug Elfman can be reached at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman. On Twitter: @VegasAnonymous

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