Comedian Jerry Seinfeld recently made headlines with his statements about how college campuses are too “PC” for comedy due to college students’ lack of understanding about sensitive topics like racism or sexism.
“I hear that all the time,” Seinfeld said. “I don’t play colleges, but I hear a lot of people tell me, ‘Don’t go near colleges. They’re so PC.’ I’ll give you an example: My daughter’s 14. My wife says to her, ‘Well, you know, in the next couple years, I think maybe you’re going to want to be hanging around the city more on the weekends, so you can see boys.’ You know what my daughter says? She says, ‘That’s sexist.’ They just want to use these words: ‘That’s racist’; ‘That’s sexist’; ‘That’s prejudice.’ They don’t know what they’re talking about.”
Well I may not be a stand up comedian, but I’m a comedian and magician who has performed at over 500 college campuses in the last decade and I can say that I wholeheartedly disagree with Seinfeld’s comments.
1. Jerry Seinfeld doesn’t work college campuses.
While he may perform at an occasional college campus with a ton of money, or give a commencement speech here and there, Jerry Seinfeld admits in his statement that he doesn’t work colleges. He doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of what college students are like. He’s basing his opinion on a thing that college comedians love to complain about. “Colleges are too PC.” I suspect that comedians who complain about this use it as an excuse for a joke that goes over with a comedy club crowd and falls flat with college students. Or maybe they think they’re not getting repeat bookings with colleges and blaming it on the college being “too PC.” I can’t speak for them. But I do know that there are MANY comedians who make a decent living from performing at colleges and they have no problems with this issue. They know the audience and they know the gig (see number 4).
2. This isn’t just a “college campus issue.”
Are college students politically correct and sometimes a little too quick to claim that they’re offended? Yes. Guess who else is? F***ing everyone. College students are intelligent, quick, and connected. They GET IT. They know pop culture more than anyone else in the world and while some of them may still have naive or underdeveloped views about socio-political issues, they know right from wrong. If we’re going to have a discussion about college students getting “too PC” to take a joke, we need to be having it about everyone. College students aren’t any more politically correct than a diverse television viewing audience. There are some great debates out there about whether political correctness is killing comedy. I can see both sides of that argument. But that’s not what I’m here to write about.
First of all, the example Seinfeld gave about his 14 year old daughter is somewhat irrelevant. That’s not the type of misunderstanding of sexism that would keep a joke from being funny in a college. So what would keep a joke from being accepted as funny in a college?
3. Jokes that disparage groups of people just aren’t funny.
In my experience, college students don’t want to hear jokes that disparage groups of people. It’s not only because it’s not politically correct; it’s because gay jokes, fat jokes, sexist jokes are easy, unintelligent and lack creativity. They’re not funny because there’s not that much effort involved in writing them. I have watched nationally-known comedians bomb with college students by trying to do entire sets based on homophobic material. The crowd goes silent, the tweets and Yik Yaks start flying. I’ve personally witnessed it on multiple occasions.
This reminds me of a joke from one of my favorite comedians, Mike Birbiglia: “I wasn’t like the class clown in school growing up. I think the class clown was always the mean guy who walks in the room and was like, ‘You’re fat! You’re gay! I’m outta here!’ You know? I was always a little fat, a little gay; I never got along with that guy.”
The stuff that goes over in colleges is comedy that is relatable. Today’s audiences want the person onstage to be someone they feel like they could hang out with. There’s a reason people love Jimmy Fallon. Gone are the days of the comedian being the guy in the room who is cooler than everyone and has to prove it by making fun of everyone he can. Now before you say it, YES, I do often call a guy a “dick” in my shows. But I’m very adamant about doing it in a way that makes it feel the same way it would feel if that guy were one of my best friends.
4. These are learning institutions, not comedy clubs.
I’ll stress again that I’m not a stand-up comedian. What I do is a different game. But I see entertainers go into the college market expecting that THIS is the place they can really let go. Of all places, colleges are supposed to fulfill that Animal House stereotype of anything-goes reckless abandon. It’s like they forget that they’re performing in a student union ballroom next to an academic advisor’s office. If a joke works in a comedy club but falls flat in a college, there are many situational factors that could be blamed. Political correctness may be one of them. But there are other issues to think about. In a comedy club, people are usually there with a small group of close friends. Those people usually know each other very well and the rest of the room is full of strangers. In a college, a student is aware of the impression he or she is making on everyone around them. There isn’t the amount of anonymity in a college audience that you find in a comedy club. It’s not as easy to laugh at sensitive topics when you think the people around you might hold you responsible for your views. Everyone can be a little bit of an asshole when they’re anonymous.
5. This is a business.
Show business people often forget about the second word. This is a business. The discussion about the commerciality of art and “selling out” will go on forever in coffee shops and art studios around the world. Are we creating our art for them or for us? At a certain point, we must realize that if we are being paid to do our art, we have to accept that we’re living by the rules of the person who pays us. If they don’t like what we do, they won’t rebook us. Many times it’s not the students who are the barometer of what is acceptable in a college, but the administrator or director of student activities. They will clearly tell you if you shouldn’t drop “F-bombs.” And I hear about it when a comedian disregards these rules. I hear about it when a director or administrator says “Oh, _____ won’t be invited back here. We asked them to keep it kind of clean, but they were way too dirty.” So is that the fault of the audience? Why paint college students with the broad brush of “they’re too PC” when it’s the comedian who made a bad business decision? I know. It’s not sexy to talk about comedy or any art as a business. But we kind of have to, right? Did Seinfeld complain when the FCC censored scripts on his show? Probably not, because he was getting a million dollars an episode.
So I ask the question: What jokes do Jerry Seinfeld and others want to do in colleges that they feel like they can’t? Do they wish they could do more gay jokes? Racist jokes? I honestly would love an example of a joke that works in other venues, but not colleges. I would be willing to bet that if it doesn’t play in a college, it also doesn’t play on television. Seinfeld has always prided himself on working clean. He’s a clean comedian, so what material is he afraid won’t hit hard in colleges? As far as the college market goes, Jerry doesn’t have a dog in the fight. He can say what he wants. Most colleges don’t have “Jerry Seinfeld” money anyway. They can book one of the MANY comedians making a living on working college campuses. I’ve been asked by a lot of people about my opinion on this matter. Are people too PC these days? Maybe. But as someone who visits 80-100 college campuses a year, I can tell you that college audiences are some of the best and they love to laugh just like every one else.
I would love to hear your opinion on this matter. If you’re a stand up comedian, or a comedian who works in colleges, what are your views?
I’m excited to announce that I will spending April of 2015 touring Europe, Asia and the Middle East to perform magic for the US Navy in honor of the “Month of the Military Child.” The tour, produced by Navy Entertainment, will send me to many different military installations throughout the world.
This tour will be my 3rd time overseas to entertain the troops. Performing for military groups is some of the most rewarding work I can do as a professional entertainer. It gives me the opportunity to create positive lifelong memories not only for myself but for deployed sailors and their families. I’m grateful for their service and sacrifice and this is the least I can do to express that sentiment. For a full press release about the tour, click the link below.
Download Press Release
I was very pleased and honored to received a mention in the most recent “Campus Activities Magazine.” You can read the user-submitted letter to the magazine below!
I don’t know the identity of Lisa from Kentucky, but I’m very appreciative of her comments!
On Saturday night, I entertained over 450 smiling faces at Hollywood Casino in Columbus, OH. They were employees of the award-winning Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, The Wilds, Zoombezi Bay Waterpark and Safari Golf Course. The extravagant night featured entertainment from Matt Ryan DJ and a full-length headline performance by yours truly!
The highlight of the evening was having TV’s Wildlife Advocate and Columbus Zoo Director Emeritus, Jack Hanna onstage with me. I can honestly say that Jack was the most fun audience volunteer I’ve ever had onstage. It was a sight to see when Jack legitimately thought I had shredded his 20-dollar bill. He held back the swear words when showing his amazement when the money showed up inside a locked box in the audience.
After the show, Jack said “You’re the best we’ve had. I’m proud you’re from Columbus.” What a great guy – and what a great zoo!
This week was a fun one! I was given the opportunity to entertain at “The Crease,” a 1920’s Speakeasy-Style Event put on by the Columbus Blue Jackets Foundation in celebration of NHL All Star Weekend to raise money for children with Pediatric Cancer. The event, hosted by my good pal Johnny DiLoretto, and conjured up by the amazing IM Creative, raised $600,000 for the cause. I shared my close-up social magic with the elite attendees, including NHL All Star Team Captain Nick Foligno, Columbus Blue Jackets Head Coach Todd Richards and Former NHL Player/Commentator/CBJ Team Ambassador, Jody Shelley. The evening was full of surprises including music by NBC’s “The Voice” star, Maiya Sykes, amazing atmospheric performances around the room, professional dancers and a surprise appearance by Sara Bareilles!
Thanks to YOU, my amazing fans, friends and supporters, I’ve been voted Entertainer of the Year by Campus Activities Magazine AND Magician of the Year by APCA!
Entertainer of the Year
I was voted “Entertainer of the Year” by the readers of Campus Activities Magazine! As you can imagine, this is an unbelievable honor for me. After having been nominated for the last 3 years, it’s a huge thrill.
Read the Official Press Release Here
To be recognized in your field is something that always feels good. I’m humbled and honored to receive the title of “Entertainer of the Year” and will do my best to keep putting on the best shows I possibly can to truly earn the title. I was “real-life-share-a-drink-with” friends with all 4 of the other nominees in this category and they’re all amazing, top-notch entertainers. Adam Grabowski is a guy who is taking the college market by storm with his comedy, funny charts and observations about 90s life. Daniel Martin is someone I’m proud to call a friend and someone with whom I regularly workshop new ideas. His “making an audience member disappear bit is one of the most clever “I wish I had thought of that” things out there. Peter Boie is a magician who has a thing in his show with a harmonica that I have never figured out — and never want to. It’s a magical experience to see him perform. Matt Corey convinced me that the saxophone can actually be exciting and fun to watch (not to mention, he’s a fellow Ohioan)! I’d also like to say CONGRATS to all of the winners in other categories!
Campus Activities Magazine was nice enough to feature me on the cover of their April Issue, which is distributed to 4,300 colleges and universities nation-wide and ran a 3-page-spread about me.
The self-billed “Comedian, Magician, Smart@$$” has become one of the most respected and in-demand entertainers in the campus market and this win proves it.
You can read the full story here.
Thanks again for your support. I’ll do my best to live up to it.
Magician of the Year
In other exciting news, I recently attended the National Conference for the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities in Atlanta, GA, where I was given the “2014 Magician of the Year” Award! The title is determined by votes cast through ballots given to Student Activities Groups in colleges throughout the country. I was genuinely surprised to be notified about this award!
Click to watch a video of Michael accepting his award!
Being recognized by your peers is always a wonderful feeling, and I smiled the whole way home from Atlanta. So thank you for the honor! The beautiful trophy I was given will be placed in my office display case next to other proud mementos that serve as reminders that I really am working in my dream job.
Thank you so much to:
- The APCA Administrators, Staff and Volunteers,
- All of the Student Activities Advisors/Directors and students who have enjoyed what I do,
- Entertainer friends with whom I regularly consult for improvement and ideas
and of course,
- My agent, Laura Gilman with Fresh Variety for helping me continue to move forward in my career.
Here’s a special story about Christmas – just for you.
This limited edition tour poster will only be available live at shows OR, for a limited time, on sale at the link below!
Get the poster HERE.
Columbus blogger and 614 Magazine Contributor Cheryl Harrison sat down with me recently to ask me questions about my job. The article originally appeared in May’s issue of 614 Magazine. Enjoy!
Columbus actually has many magicians, but most of them are magicians that only magicians would know. But 99 percent of magicians are only magicians that magicians would know.
– Read the rest of the interview…
I’ve got a preliminary list of some of the first 2014 Fall College Tour dates that have been posted. Do you live in or near one of these cities? Have you simply been to any of these cities and have a fun memory or story? If you have a suggestion of something I should try, see or do, please let me know in the comments below!
Here Come the Car Selfies.
I’ll be constantly updating social media followers throughout the tour on my twitter and facebook. And check my Instagram to look out for tons of videos, audience and venue photos, general thoughts and car selfies. Lots of car selfies.
Keep checking back! Also, see my official tour schedule for the most up-to-date information!
If you’re interested in attending a show listed in your city, let me know. Almost all of these shows are on college campuses. Sometimes they are open to the public, sometimes they aren’t.
July 15 – Tampa, FL
July 30 – Orlando, FL (Private)
August 4 – Orlando, FL (Private)
August 6 – Orlando, FL (Private)
August 11 – Orlando, FL (Private)
August 20 – Brevard, NC
August 22 – Philadelphia, PA
August 23 – Westerville, OH
August 24 – Cobleskill, NY
August 25 – Greenville, NC
August 26 – Hamburg, NY
August 27 – Baltimore, MD
August 28 – Bowling Green, OH
August 30 – Manchester, NH
August 31 – Oxford, OH
September 1 – Manchester, NH
September 4 – Sanborn, NY
September 5 – Chattanooga, TN
September 6 – Emory, VA
September 9 – Denver, CO
September 10 – Providence, RI
September 12 – Annville, PA
September 17 – Lubbock, TX
September 18 – Atlanta, GA
September 20 – Columbus, OH
September 24 – Aberdeen, SD
September 26 – Manhattan, KS
October 3 – Elon, NC
October 4,5 – Syracuse, NY (Private)
October 7 – Columbus, OH
October 10 – Wilmington, OH
October 16-18 – Lancaster, PA (Private)
October 21 – Dallas, TX
October 22 – Victoria, TX
October 23 – Tyler, TX
October 24 – Texarkana, TX
October 28 – Harrisburg, PA
September 29 – Reading, PA
October 30, 31 – Hartford, CT (Private)
November 1 – Gettysburg, PA
November 6 – Covington, KY (Private)
November 7 – St. Cloud, MN
November 10 – Dallas, TX
November 12 – Huntsville, AL
November 21 – Dayton, OH
If you would like information on bringing me to your campus or corporate event, please let me know ASAP and we’ll get a date reserved for you!