Few entertainment institutions have been more resistant to change in recent years than the humble comedy club, a series of privately owned, strictly controlled cash factories with little interest in anything beyond parading big names in front of two-drink-minimum audiences. Said clubs have faced unwanted attention in recent months, though, most notably thanks to Louis CK, who keeps popping up like The Phantom Of The Comedy Cellar in an effort to mount some kind of low-key stand-up comeback.
Now TV host Jimmy Kimmel—who’s getting ready to open his own club, in association with Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace—has wandered, apparently unwittingly, into the debate, attempting to talk his way unsuccessfully around the industry’s shitty standard practices in favor of focusing on Vegas glitz and glamour.
Kimmel was talking to THR’s Lacey Rose about his club this week, when the conversation turned from appetizer choices to how his club would respond to, say, a world-famous but disgraced stand-up deciding to do an unannounced set upon its stage. Kimmel’s responses paint a depressingly hostile (and typical) reaction to the idea that clubs have some sort of responsibility to vet the performers they’re paying to be there:
If we get into the business of sanitizing every comedian and doing a thorough background check before they walk through the door, it’s going to be a very empty stage. [Laughs] I think people tend to focus on the one or two people who walk out of a situation like that. Ultimately, the audience decides whether someone is welcomed back.
And when asked about curating a more diverse line-up for his club, which he’s supposedly going to be taking a very personal hand in:
Comedy is very democratic. The people who are great, rise to the top; the people who are good, rise to the middle; and the people who aren’t good, don’t make it. We want to get a lot of very funny people, and we want to give new comics an opportunity to work. I don’t focus on their gender or their skin color. I’d never want a woman to think that the reason she’s booked to be on stage at a club is because she’s a woman. The reason she’ll be booked to be on stage is because she’s funny.
The interview’s most depressing moment came when Rose attempted to ask a question about how Kimmel intends to make his club feel like a “safe space”—and as soon as she says those dreaded words, his inner Adam Carolla emerged, interrupting and laughing her off, saying, “Oh, I don’t know that comedy clubs should be a safe space!”
If we’re really straining the benefit of the doubt here, we can assume that Kimmel was falling back on the old stand-up philosopher’s favorite defense, the idea that no idea should be off-limits in comedy. But that declaration against safe spaces is still a pretty fucked-up thing to hear from a guy who is about to start actively employing people, especially since he just spent his last two responses first deflecting the idea that a club has a responsibility to make sure its employees won’t, say, take their dick out in front of other performers backstage, and then refuted any responsibility for making sure his club’s line-up isn’t a lazy parade of shitty-but-funny men. It is, in other words, both a continuation of the comedy club status quo, and a major bummer, especially since Kimmel has positioned himself in recent years as a voice for at least some angles of progressivism, ostensibly far removed from his old “Girls jumping on trampolines” origins.