"It's called satire."

This week in alt-right comedy

On Thursday the comedian Kate Willett posted a series of tweets about her harassment at the hands of Compound Media. As longtime Humorism-heads know, Compound Media is the digital network founded by Cumia after his unceremonious exit from SiriusXM. Originally called The Anthony Cumia Network, it was home to the Legion of Skanks until they left in 2016, and it was home to Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes until he left in August 2017.

Two years ago Willett was invited to appear on the show Mornin’!!!, hosted by Bill Schulz and Joanne Nosuchinsky, though in this instance it was guest hosted by Geno Bisconte, co-host of Compound’s In Hot Water. She went on, thinking it was your typical morning show; when she realized it was “some kind of edgelord/racist/misogynistic shit”, she walked out. Her punishment for this grievous offense was two years of vicious harassment by Bisconte and his In Hot Water co-host Aaron Berg.

Willett describes Compound Media’s cast of comics as “the alt-right comedian crew.” This is not hyperbolic. Berg and Bisconte’s show is a cesspool of racism and misogyny featuring characters like “ISIS Faggot” and a segment called “Rape of the Day.” In his tenure on the network, McInnes’ guests included former KKK leader David Duke, “the Crying Nazi” Christopher Cantwell, Unite the Right rally organizer Jason Kessler, Proud Boy leader (and goat sacrificer) Augustus Sol Invictus, neo-Nazi Milo Yiannopoulos, Richard Spencer, and noted white supremacist Jarod Taylor. Since McInnes left the network, Cumia—who is only marginally less open about his racism than McInnes—has kept the right-wing gravy train going with guests like Ann Coulter, Donald Trump Jr., McInnes, Roger Stone and Dinesh D’Souza.

Then there are all the comedians.

You cannot blame a comic, like Kate Willett, for showing up to a guest spot without looking all that carefully into the show’s background. This is harder to square for Compound Media’s repeat guests, who stayed past the point Willett walked out, then came back again and again. These are the people who give it legitimacy in New York City’s standup scene, because they are New York City’s standup scene: Bobby Kelly, Colin Quinn, Jim Norton, Ari Shaffir, TJ Miller, Jared Freid, Bert Kreischer, Rich Vos, Jim Florentine, the Legion of Skanks, Ian Fidance, Mike Vecchione, Joe DeVito, Joe DeRosa, Mike Recine, Joe List, Mike Cannon, Mike Figs, Mark Normand, Adam Ray, Justin Silver, Jay Mohr, Tim Dillon, the list goes on. Each of these comics came back to Compound Media after one of its marquee names founded a hate group, and after one of his guests organized a rally in which a neo-Nazi murdered a protestor. Many of them were regulars on his show.

I’ll have more reporting on Compound Media out in the coming weeks. Right now I’d like to look at a segment that encapsulates how comedy gives cover to extremism. The following clip is from an April 2016 episode of The Gavin McInnes Show, guest hosted by comic Pat Dixon. Dixon is the host of Compound’s New York City Crime Report, in which he reads New York City’s crime reports. (If I may quote leftist media critic Adam Johnson: “local ‘crime reporting’ is a fundamentally broken news genre of police stenography and racist doxxing specifically designed to sow panic in suburbanite and gentrifying white populations.” Funny!) He also appeared in Comedy Central’s This Is Not Happening, created by Compound regular Ari Shaffir. If you can stomach ableism and ableist slurs, I’d recommend watching the first ten minutes of the clip, but if not I’ll summarize them below:

In brief: the clip opens with a discussion between Dixon and his guests, Luis J. Gomez, Rich Vos, and Bonnie McFarlane. Vos theorizes that intellectually disabled people are the only group comics cannot “go after,” because they “can’t fight back.” McFarlane, Vos’s wife, suggests that intellectually disabled people can, in fact, recognize when they’re being made fun of. From here Dixon launches into his theory that it’s more harmful to sexually assault neurotypical people than intellectually disabled people, “because they are able to fully process it. They are able to fully understand what’s going on.” (He doesn’t use the terms “sexually assault” or “intellectually disabled,” to be clear.) He goes on for a bit about how “they’re not going to reproduce,” because care homes “keep them in separate cages and they’re like, they don’t let them fuck.” McFarlane tells him he’s being an idiot, then says she’s uncomfortable and leaves.

That’s not the worst part. In the subsequent discussion, Vos tries to explain to Dixon that he was being insensitive to McFarlane, whose sister is intellectually disabled. Dixon defends what he said both on the grounds that it was “a funny joke” and that he didn’t mean it in a legal sense. Vos repeats the cages line back to him, to which Dixon responds, “It’s called satire.” Which does the trick. Vos folds! "Okay, it's satire," he concedes. "You have the right to say whatever you want, and you did, and that was your right. And she has the right to leave."

Isn’t that how it always goes? A comic says something horrific, gets called out, and declares retroactively they were satirizing some hitherto unidentified target. The discussion immediately reorients from what they said to their right to say it. Not only are we not talking about the horrific thing anymore, but the sayer is suddenly a victim of the person they said it to. Everyone else is called to their defense. "We're having a conversation about, kind of, being able to tell jokes," Gomez says. "If he's making jokes, I get where Pat's coming from. But I also defend Bonnie's right to, kind of, get pissed off." But that’s not what the conversation was about, and Dixon wasn’t telling jokes. He was saying what he thought, jokingly. Still, Vos responds: “She would never try to have Pat fired from anything, you know? She would never badmouth Pat.”

This is Compound Media, the self-styled “free speech network,” in microcosm. Just as the grammar of comedy provides cover for extremist speech, so do comedians provide cover for the extremist ideology at its heart. You’ve never heard any comedian speak out about it (until Kate Willett) because for most of them it’s nothing out of the ordinary: just another room where they sat for a while and riffed, or their friends did, and if anything seemed off, well, everyone has the right to say whatever they want. Even if you think it’s reprehensible, why would you ever speak ill of another comic?

I occasionally marvel at how even today, in 2020, so many comics still react so angrily to the prospect of any comic facing backlash for transparently bigoted jokes. I think this helps explain why. A huge segment of contemporary standup is literally complicit in the legitimacy of an alt-right podcast network. They need “it’s just a joke” to justify that sort of speech, or else they’d have to seriously consider the possibility that what a person says actually reflects their character. And then they’d have to face their role in giving white supremacy a home in comedy.


What else…

-I loved this video by my friend Sam Saulsbury:

-Also this one by Sarah Squirm:

-Second City is selling its Chicago theater. So is iO.

-UCB is hiring production assistants for some sort of election special next month? Break a leg, I guess.

-The director of a new Showtime documentary about the Comedy Store openly admits in this Vulture interview that he omitted key parts of the story because he’s friends with the Store’s owners—the series’ producers—and further that he manipulated scenery to avoid upsetting Jay Leno. Tbh I’m probably gonna watch it anyway, as I think auto-hagiographies can still be very revealing.

-A tale of two headlines:

Alright, that’s all for today. See you next time.


This article was based in part on information provided by far-right researcher Juliet Jeske.