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?
There’s a reason Michael Kent has been named ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR by Campus Activities Magazine and MAGICIAN OF THE YEAR by The Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities. Michael gives magic a facelift with irreverent comedy and satire. His unique style of performing magic has made him a FAVORITE in over 500 college campuses he’s visited. Michael has performed for audiences all over the globe – from Hollywood, California to US Troops serving overseas. Many colleges and universities book him YEAR AFTER YEAR because students can’t wait to see the show again!
In a style reminiscent of a late-night talk show, Michael invites the audience to laugh with him at the absurdity of a modern-day magician. Michael’s audiences experience what its like when a stand up comic performs (and occasionally pokes fun at) the art of magic.
For information about booking Michael at your next event, please send us a note and we’ll get you all of the information you need!
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!
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.
This will be an event you won’t want to miss. If you’ve heard any of Jimmy Mak’s stories about Bubba Jim, you know what I’m talking about.
Some of my favorite bits of magic
Jimmy and I perform a sketch written by Jimmy’s 5-year-old daughter – as written
Jimmy’s HILARIOUS tales about Bubba Jim
My stories from the road, including the story about recently having been bitten AND my experience auditioning for America’s Got Talent
The show is TOMORROW NIGHT, APRIL 29 at Shadowbox Live’s Backstage Bistro (Directions). My “Magic and Stories” event in 2013 sold out, so you’re going to want to get your reservation in advance for tomorrow’s show. It’s going to be a fun one!
Pop-culture is a large part of my magic, but magicians are also a large part of pop-culture. Here are 10 awesome TV Moments that are about magic, but aren’t necessarily performances of magic themselves. This is, by no means, a comprehensive list. But they’re some of my favorites.
10. Pete Holmes on Magic and Magnets
This ultra-quotable bit makes me laugh every time. As a magician, I hear insane explanations for how people think magic works ALL THE TIME. So this totally hits home.
9. Curb Your Enthusiasm – Larry David battles the kid magician
I tell people about this clip quite often when they make the case that I should tell them how it works because someone taught me.
8. How I Met Your Mother – Barney’s Magic
Neil Patrick Harris is not only a life-long magician, he isn’t shy about bringing his passion for magic into his acting career, as he has done regularly throughout HIMYM. This is just one clip of MANY instances where Barney has performed magic on the show.
7. The Dark Knight Rises – The Joker’s Magic Trick WARNING – GRAPHIC/VIOLENCE
Had to include this clip of the late Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning role as the Joker. Gross, but extremely memorable.
6. The Cosby Show – Carl Ballantine
Carl Ballantine was an actor and one of the GREAT comedy magicians. He made the “failed magician” act a thing, and no one has done it as well as he did. This episode also featured some great clowning by Bill Irwin.
5. Patton Oswalt – the Angry Magician WARNING: NSFW LANGUAGE
Not much I can say about this clip other than watch it and marvel at how well Patton Oswalt uses the english language. He’s one of my favorite comedians.
4. Scrubs – J.D. Meets David Copperfield
My childhood idol making a cameo appearance on Scrubs and exhibiting a very “real” moment when he mocks J.D.’s child-like excitement.
3. The IT Crowd – The Guy Who Looks Like a Magician
This clip doesn’t do the episode justice. Find it on netflix and watch the whole episode. And once you do, you’ll want to watch the rest of the show. I recently did, and LOVED it.
2. Arrested Development – Gob Bluth
Gob was brought up to me in no less than 4 media interviews the last couple years. I’ve even done a couple Arrested Development-Themed Events to commemorate the show. My favorite Gob Bluth line: “Yeah, but where did the lighter fluid come from?”
1. Steve Martin – Flydini
A classic. It doesn’t get much better than Steve Martin doing Flydini.
Great news! I’ve received a nomination for the third year in a row for Campus Activities Magazine’s Entertainer of the Year Reader’s Choice Award! It’s a huge honor and I’m extremely appreciative to be listed among the OUTSTANDING talent nominated.
In both 2012 AND 2013, I was RUNNER UP for this award. With your help, we can make 2014 the year that I take it home!