Late to the Smosh fandom

When I was exposed to Youtube culture for the first time in 2014, I was not impressed with Smosh.

I found the humour too juvenile for my taste. It was baffling how its fans Anthony and Ian compared to Dan and Phil, who make entirely different content. To make it more baffling, some even said Anthony and Ian were the funnier version of Dan and Phil, even though latter made much wittier jokes.

Considering I only liked two of their older videos, I am surprised that I clicked on more of them.

Now, fast forward to 2022.

It has been six or seven years since my last Smosh videos. I don’t remember how I stumbled back to the franchise. But somehow, I clicked on their recent Smosh Pit and Smosh Game videos and I was surprised that I was laughing at the jokes!

The cast and even some crew members are able to create witty, bizarre and even dark off-the-cuff jokes. No scripts needed! I don’t remember encountering this kind of humour on Smosh videos years ago. I even never realised how dark and bizarre Ian Hecox’s humour can be.

But, I am not a big fan of the Try Not To laugh videos. While they do have some gems, the cast members often end up trying too hard to be funny; many of the jokes fall flat, feel like inside jokes or end up being too abstract.

I also tried watching their recent scripted sketches… and I was not disappointed.

The scripted humour is still over-reliant on exaggerations. But, I love how it has significantly matured. Nowadays, many of the sketches revolve around the frustrations of lives as adults and media consumers; they even spoof the daily life at Smosh office.

In fact, I notice that Smosh and Saturday Night Lives share something in common: their style of scripted humour works best when their sketches include blatant commentaries. It successfully highlights the human stupidity they critique.

But, despite the improvements, I think the sketches are not the best things about the main Smosh channel. I prefer the Funeral, Gives Relationship Advices and Interview Exes series.

Like the sketches, they involve scripted narratives. But, unlike the sketches, the jokes are made not only by a handful of selected writers, but by the cast members as well. Hence why those videos have the most dynamic and lively content in the main channel.

Of course, there is also this annoying nostalgia of the former fans.

I do have my own nostalgia. The original Scooby Doo TV show, the first two English-dubbed Pokemon films, S Club 7, 1990’s comedic supernatural-themed Indonesian TV shows, those are some of the things I feel nostalgic about. Seeing and hearing them always give me fuzzy feelings.

But, at the same time, I also acknowledge their undeniable mediocrity. No reasonable minds consider the things I mentioned above as masterpieces.

And those former Smosh fans fail to comprehend that. Not only they are unable to be critical of anything feelgood, they also refuse to grow up together with their idols.

They think their lack of growth is a badge of honour.

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What Dave Chappelle’s defenders reveal about so-called comedy fans

They don’t get what freedom of speech is

They think they can dictate what others can feel offended by, dictate how others feel anything.

While you should definitely criticise their lack of level-headedness, you should also remember they are your fellow human beings, NOT your toy robots. It is unreasonable of you to demand them to stop behaving like human beings.

While you have the right to defend any jokes, it is just sensical that the butts of the jokes – whose lives are definitely being affected – are entitled to the biggest megaphones.

And when the jokes target the likes of you and you are fine with it, just remember that you are just one person. As worthy as your opinions are, your fellows’ are just as important.

They care too much about your feelings

If they really don’t, why would they think negative opinions ruin their fun? Why can’t they just enjoy the things enjoy and ignore the haters?

I was able to enjoy Harry Potter despite knowing that religious puritans hated the series and they even made the books banned from school libraries. Considering we live in a digital age, we can still access banned works, anyway.

Maybe they are those annoying fans who demand the rest of the world to love what they love. Maybe they think their taste comedy is objectively the best and it is an atrocity against reason to think otherwise.

Those are fair assumptions. Don’t deny it.

They don’t know comedy that well

They believe jokes are meant to be jokes, nothing more. Well, history of comedy says otherwise.

In America, some of its most legendary comedians are ones who insert serious messages into their jokes. Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Smothers Brothers, Mort Sahl are just a few examples.

If you want to go more contemporary, The Daily Show correspondents and veterans are arguably the most well-known examples. Heck, even Chappelle himself has inserted commentaries about racism into his jokes. In fact, isn’t that a reason why he became a legend in the first place?

Regardless whether Chappelle is a transphobe or just a preteen edgelord stuck in an adult’s body, how can anyone who claims to be comedy fans thinks every joke should never be taken seriously?

If jokes can have underlying serious commentaries, why can’t they accept that jokes can also harbour genuine bigotry?

Pay attention to the jokers when they are not performing. The more they talk sincerely, the more likely they reveal their true selves. Then, we can tell whether their jokes are just edgy OR genuinely hateful.

Wait, who am I kidding? I am expecting too much from my fellow human beings.

Too many of them are blind to what is in front of them…. and yet, I am expecting them to read between the lines.

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Why it is bad that comedians use Trump as their punching bag

That’s a clickbait title. No, there is nothing bad about it!

To entertain is what entertainers do. There is no obligation for them to be neutral and objective. If they are entertaining, they have fulfilled their duty. They are not journalists, for fuck’s sake!

There is also nothing obsessive about focusing on Trump. Unless you are a dumbfuck, you know he was the president of the United States. For four years, he was the most powerful person in the country and the whole goddamn world!

Telling us to stop caring about him is basically telling us to stop caring about reality.

If you want to criticise comedians, why don’t you condemn those who punch down? You know, those who belittle the plights of marginalised people?

Why is it that political content -which often targets the powerful- angers you more than bigotry does? Well, I have two assumptions: It is either you are a bigot yourself or you are an emotionally-stunted sentient rectum who cannot enjoy anything that isn’t offensive.

Don’t act like you are neither. If you aren’t, you would not be offended by jokes that punch up. Don’t act like you care about quality either. If you do, you would have focused on the humor; the topics should be irrelevant for you.

Oh, and let’s not pretend the intertwining of politics and entertainment is a new phenomenon. Artists and entertainers have been making political statements since forever, long before Trump ran for president. Even the Ancient Greeks made satires.

If you notice, some of the political comedians on US TV are The Daily Show veterans. Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, John Oliver and Hasan Minhaj have been making political jokes long before it was cool.

With Oliver, Colbert and Jon Stewart specifically, they started making fun of Trump long before the deformed gourd ran for president. Oliver called him a selfish asshole (I am paraphrasing), Colbert told him to suck his balls and Stewart nicknamed him Fuckface von Clownstick.

They did not join the bandwagons. They created them.

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Punching sideways

In general, I despise jokes and satires which punch down.

Punching down can give the impression that marginalised groups create the most number of problems in their societies, despite their lack of political power and smaller population sizes.

I have made a blog post about it. But, it seems I forgot to talk about punching sideways.

Another issue with punching down is the punchers are often ignorant about the problems within marginalised communities. The punches are either full of oversimplifications or inaccurate stereotypes. Do you know who can provide nuanced and accurate information about said communities? Their own members!

Admittedly, I don’t believe you understand a community just because you grew up in it. Fanaticism and cultural cringe can cloud your judgement, compelling you to whitewash and exaggerate the problems among your people, respectively.

But still, if you want to truly understand a community, wouldn’t it make sense to listen people who have lived the life?

I wouldn’t think about this if it wasn’t for a video titled The Darkness by Youtuber Natalie Wynn AKA Contrapoints, in which she asserted that telling funny trans jokes requires knowledge to actual trans experiences. And yes, she has made lots of funny trans jokes.

Disclaimer: I am cis. I certainly don’t know what kind of trans jokes trans people like. But, I have yet to see her any significant backlashes from the trans community regarding her trans jokes.

This also reminds me of Muslim American webcomic artist Huda Fahmy, known for her work Yes, I am hot in this. While she does not create crude content, she constantly makes fun of her fellow American Muslims and, to a lesser extent, the entire Muslim world.

And the fact that she is a hijabi reveals a previously-hidden complexity about Muslims.

When you think of a hijabi, you think of someone who supports shaming of non-hijabis and takes hijab too seriously. That’s what anti-Muslim bigots, liberal Muslims, ex-Muslims and even some moderate Muslims (the old school Indonesian ones, at least) believe.

Huda Fahmy isn’t like that.

For one, she believes in giving women the freedom to wear anything they desire. She despises the idea of shaming them for dressing “immodestly”. In a satirical tone, she offers new dehumanising pro-hijab metaphors which do not involve ants and candies. She even acknowledges that modesty does not prevent sexual harassment.

She also makes jokes about hijabs, including one which she jokes how women become hijabis after bitten by hijampire, who has snaggle pins as fangs.

Never mind non-Muslims. As someone who grew up Muslim in the biggest Muslim-majority country and attended two Islamic schools, I have yet to met a hijabi who makes such jokes. She showcases an aspect of the Muslim world which is hidden even from many Muslims.

Basically, unless your intention is to dehumanise them even further and make them even more prone to discrimination, you have to learn about intricacies of the lives of marginalised peoples before you make fun of the them.

And no, stereotypes are not good enough. They are beliefs about our fellow human beings which are never 100% accurate, but shamelessly waiting to be affirmed.

Apart from the power imbalance, the absence of nuanced perspectives is another reason why punching down is problematic.

Yes, black and white thinking is problematic. It is just a few steps away from misinformation.

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My thoughts about Trevor Noah

Okay, I should mention the controversy regarding his anti-Semitic jokes. While I do agree jokes don’t always represent a person’s true character, those Jewish jokes are particularly hard for me to handle.

My problem with them is not because they were crude, but because they were not expressed in any appropriate contexts; I have no problem if they are done while playing Cards Against Humanity or the joker mockingly portrays an anti-Semite. So, even though I don’t think Noah is an anti-Semite, I also cannot defend his jokes. I am also not surprised Comedy Central defended him. But, he did have an unlikely defender.

The chairperson of South African Jewish Board Of Deputies.

I can’t say if other South African Jews shared her sentiment. But, she did defend him by saying it was his style of humour and he was just being playful. The fact that a Jewish individual who led a Jewish organisation defended crude Jewish jokes seems mind-boggling to me.

This case convinces me that while there is nothing inherently wrong about getting offended by jokes, we should never do so on the behalf of others; our feelings are ours. Let the actual targets of the jokes decide whether they are offended or not.

The criticism against his past jokes is valid. But, there are other criticism that, to this day, I still find stupid.

First and foremost, some fans of the old Daily Show find Noah not funny. Obviously, not finding someone funny is not a bad thing; humour is subjective after all. But, instead of trying to be actual critics by pointing out the actual flaws in his humour, many prefer to use the ‘my-taste-is-better-than-yours’ argument.

Well, those particular people also have this way of discrediting Noah: just point out that he does not write his own materials! Of course, the method is stupid in so many ways. Not only it inherently does not prove his unfunniness, it shows how they know nothing about him and the entertainment industry.

Trevor Noah is not just a random South African dude Jon Stewart randomly picked. Before The Daily Show, not only he already had an established career, TDS was not even the first American show he had appeared on; prior to his ‘tenure’, he already had years of experience creating his own jokes. When he becomes the host, he is indeed assisted by a team of writers. But, he still writes his own jokes, nonetheless.

Those detractors also don’t realise virtually every scripted entertainment TV show in the US has a team of writers. So, if they really believe what they are saying, that means they believe every late night TV host in the country, including the beloved Jon fucking Stewart, is a talentless hack. Do they seriously think those TV hosts can long monologues almost daily… just by themselves? They are not Gods, they are human beings. If they try to do that, I am sure they would rage quit in less than a month.

If anything, I believe Noah performs much better without the writers. His scripted TDS performances often feel stilted and fail to encompass his trademark intercultural dynamism. The scripts fail to embody his personality. For me, his best performances are his solo stand-ups and his Between-the-scenes videos.

In the latter, not only he has proven himself as skillful in making jokes on the spot, he is able to engage with members of the audience and answer their impromptu questions intelligently and articulately. As much as I love Jon Stewart, I think Noah beats him in those departments.

Now about Noah being a foreigner…

His critics believe his status as a foreigner supposedly can make him emotionally detached from issues affecting Americans. On the surface, the concern seems valid; it is indeed very hard to get passionate about the plights of places you were not born and raised in.

Hard, but not impossible.

Just like Americans who have become invested in other countries’ problems (to the point of being proud interventionists), non-Americans like myself are also preoccupied by America’s internal issues. While the sympathy can be misguided or provoked by gross misinformation, its ability to transcend borders has been proven from time to time.

Americans should also be aware of their status as the world power (never mind Beijing catching up quickly). Like it or not, the world stage constantly focuses its many spotlights on America’s best… and worst. Like it or not, the world knows more about America than America knows about the world. If America can destroy other countries by installing dictators that serve its own national interests, foreigners have the right to join its domestic conversations.

I also believe Noah’s status as a foreigner can be a plus point. Many citizens all over the world, not just Americans, feel invaded when foreigners trespass the conversations. The feeling of being intruded is understandable. But, if we want the conversations to move forward and possibly reaching substantial solutions, we must be perceptive. We must lend our ears to dissenting yet reasonable voices.

And, like it or not, they include ones of well-informed foreigners.

If their words anger us, we should ask ourselves: are we angered by their falsehood or are we angered by their truthfulness? That depends on what kind of citizens we are. If we are ones who believe in our countries’ so-called flawless and inherently moral foundations, then it is obviously the latter.

Speaking for myself, I am strongly benefited by the consideration of foreign perspectives. They gave me lenses that I never knew existed, let alone I could utilise. Thanks to them, I learned something negative and positive about my home country that I had never realised before: while Indonesia is way more tolerant of bigotry than the US is, its embrace of diversity (when occurs) is also more sincere and less likely to be inflicted by feelgood tokenism.

And, if they are willing to listen, Americans can also learn a lot from well-informed foreigners like Trevor Noah.

In one Between-the-scene video, he noticed how South African police officers were more likely to see themselves as citizens with higher civic responsibilities than their American counterparts, who tended to see their badges as tickets to infinite amount of unaccountability.

In another Between-the-scenes video where he got a scathing letter from the French ambassador (who had so much time on his hand, it seemed) for declaring Africa the winner of the world cup, he observed how the US gives rooms to hyphenated identities while France only tolerates ones entirely derived from the la Métropole.

(I also have to add that France looks down on its own regional accents and is very eager to bring its own regional languages, which are not intelligible to French, to extinction; if anything, France seems to derive its identity almost entirely on the Parisian one. Correct me if I am wrong).

His words functioned as reminders to his American audience. They must remember that the police’s job is to protect us, NOT to oppress us. They must acknowledge that inclusiveness, NOT enforced homogeneity, is what makes America admirable on the world stage, it is what makes America great in the first place.

Okay, one may argue hiring him in order to add foreign perspectives is unnecessary; they could have chosen Canadians Jason Jones and Samantha Bee and Brit John Oliver as they also have the ability to add some. But, their backgrounds would not make much difference.

While Canada is an Anglo-Franco country, both Jones and Bee are Anglo-Canadians and they are very much almost indistinguishable from their cousins down south. Oliver is from the UK, which is another Anglo-western country that has been maintaining a strong alliance with the US for many years and sharing similar stances regarding international affairs.

Compared them to South Africa, a country which heritage is not only influenced by the diverse Bantu cultures, but also British, Dutch and Asian ones. Not to mention Noah is a biracial man who grew up under Apartheid and, apart from English, is able to speak Afrikaans -the descendant of Dutch-, German -the native tongue of his Swiss father-, and five Bantu languages.

If either Jones, Bee or Oliver was promoted instead, the shift in the show’s angle would not be as global. It would still be America-centric.

Almost every time I encounter criticism of him, the so-called critics love to make a big deal out of his nationality and act like their taste of humour is objectively the best in the universe. Almost every time, the criticism is far from actually constructive.

I consider myself a fan of his… and yet, I am able to bring myself to criticise him. I have a distaste for his past, edgy jokes and I think him labelling Antifa as ‘vegan ISIS’ shows how he still falls for false equivalences; I am open to being exposed to more of his flaws. But, the ‘haters’ did a horrible job of critiquing him.

If anything, they make me love him even more. If they never pointed out about him having a team of writers behind his back, I would never realised how good of a showman he is. If they never made a big deal out his nationality, I would never see it as an advantage his colleagues lack.

Okay, I make it sounds like all of his critics are just haters; I have no doubt reasonable ones who can provide constructive criticism also exist. But, somehow, the ones I encountered online were indeed just mere haters. If I explore more internet trenches, I am sure I would actually find good reasons to dislike him as a comedian, reasons why he is a horrible successor of The Daily Show.

Hours after I finished the previous paragraph, I just realised I did have encountered a good critique regarding the appointment of Trevor Noah, in which he is compared with Bassem Youssef. Some people may call the comparison unfair. But, I have to acknowledge it has some validity to it.

While Noah’s humour was already laced with cultural commentaries prior to TDS, I would not call him a political comedian; Bassem Youssef, on the other hand, started his entertainment career as one and he had to flee his homeland because of it. Unlike Noah, who was mostly a stand-up comedian, Youssef had made two political comedy shows when he was still in Egypt. While both have cited Jon Stewart as an influence, the latter would have a much easier time being his successor.

Oh, and Youssef is also a foreigner. He would also be able to bring a much more global outlook to TDS.

I do think Noah does a great job hosting. But, I also understand why some people think Youssef is a better choice.

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