“Comedians Are The NYT Columnists of Entertainment”

Tressie McMillan Cottom
4 min readNov 28, 2020

That is how my friend and comedian Brandi put it to me.

Brandi was responding to my drive-by reflection on the latest comedy drama.

Brandi knows how to speak my language. In “Thick”, I have a lot of fun with columnists at elite publications. I use these columnists as a proxy for cultural hegemony. Whether we think they should matter is irrelevant. They do and one of my jobs is figuring out how they matter for different groups of people.The comedy drama that got me going went down with Kevin Hart but, like those elite columnists, there seems to be a larger point to make.

Kevin Hart went on a new social media platform today to argue with people who say his latest special isn’t funny. They may also have been arguing that Kevin isn’t funny. I am getting this all second-hand because I am never going on Clubhouse, the social media platform in question.

I am never going on Clubhouse for the same reason I got to wondering about why comedians melt-down: I want to always know my lane. Clubhouse is not my lane.

Dave Chappelle recently did a provocative Saturday Night Live monologue that manages to be both brilliantly incisive on race and pedestrian as hell (and bad) on gender and culture wars. Dave has joined many comedians in loudly, repeatedly bemoaning that “political correctness” and “woke” are killing comedy. Dave has been careening wildly lately between his lane and lanes best reserved for Reddit moderators. He isn’t the only one. Kevin isn’t in the same atmosphere as Dave. At his best, Dave is the very definition of a social critic. However, this week they share the honor of being comedians who really get *it* in some ways while not getting it at all in other ways.

I wondered if comedians have the same built-in reality checks on the natural limits of their creative lifespan that athletes or singers or dancers have. Creative lifespans are idiosyncratic, but are often special in the same ways. We can create forever but few of us will do so. It takes time…

Tressie McMillan Cottom

Sociologist. Writer. Professor. MacArthur Fellow. Books, speaking, podcast: www.tressiemc.com