Why some comedians don’t like college campuses

Updated 12:53 PM EDT, Wed June 10, 2015

Story highlights

Some comedians are leery of playing colleges

Jerry Seinfeld had said colleges are "so PC"

But comedy changes because context changes, say experts

(CNN) —  

Did you hear the one about the comedian and the college?

The two usually go well together. Indeed, colleges are popular venues for comedians, with agencies devoted to booking performers on campus. Comedy Central even has a college tour.

But, sometimes, it’s as if students and comedians are speaking different languages.

Take comedian Chuck Nice. He told a bit about getting on his knees at the playground and giving his young daughter a dollar for swinging on a pole in a manner that reminded him of a stripper.

It was satire, he says, meant to show that the last thing he wanted was his daughter to become a stripper. The next day, he received a letter telling him he was not welcome back to the institution, he said.

“That’s what comedians are talking about when they say college campuses have become places where sensitivity has run amok,” he said. “There are tons of stories like that.”

Apparently, some of those stories are getting back to Jerry Seinfeld, who told ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd that he’s been cautioned against playing colleges. Cowherd asked Seinfeld whether he was worried that the overall media “climate” was too sensitive for comedians, citing comments from Chris Rock and Larry the Cable Guy, who said they don’t want to play college campuses.

“I hear that all the time,” Seinfeld said. “A lot of people tell me ‘don’t go near colleges.’ They’re so PC.”

He cited his 14-year-old daughter’s use of the word “sexist” as evidence of how people – presumably, those between his daughter’s age and college age – misuse the words “racist,” “prejudice” and “sexist” because they don’t know “what they’re talking about.”

The Internet reacted, as it’s known to do, with many an opinion piece. Comedians debated his perspective on social media, but no clear consensus was reached. (Seinfeld later expanded on his points on “Late Night with Seth Meyers.”)

Still, some comedians say there’s no denying the perception of college campuses as dicey territory for comedy. Comedy is meant to be provocative, but they observe that offending jokes are being amplified and acted on faster and more frequently in the digital age than in previous eras – especially on college campuses.

’We’ve lost our taste for satire’

Part of it has to do with people posting offending snippets of acts online with an incendiary caption, sometimes taken out of context.

Other times, what’s funny to some is simply offensive to others as cultural norms change. “The redefining of ‘funny’ for each generation is a constant of our humor,” wrote Ben Schwartz in The Baffler.

Words and ideas fall out of favor as they change in power and meaning. People today think twice today before saying “that’s so gay” or calling someone “retarded.” That probably wasn’t the case even a decade ago.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, says Nice.

“The landscape of cultural norms is always changing, and comedy changes along with it,” he said.

By way of example he offered up Norman Lear’s “All in the Family,” the popular 1970s sitcom about a working-class family and its bigoted patriarch, Archie Bunker.

The show would never get made today, he said, and “part of that’s a bad thing, because it shows we’ve lost our taste for (its) satire.”

On the other hand, “it’s a good thing, because it shows we’re aware of the need to be sensitive to those outside the cultural majority,” he said.

“Everything in life is a tradeoff. Everything has a price. The price of advancing to racial equality and understanding is, we’re going to be a more sensitive nation.”

’A whole new ballgame’