by Chez Pazienza
I don’t write quite as much as I used to. The reason for this is that I have a full-time job elsewhere as a television producer, one who’s currently trying to wrap-up the debut season of a show that will begin airing early next year. It’s a gig that requires quite a bit of travel around the country, with stops, so far, in Upstate New York, New Orleans, Detroit, and soon St. Louis and New York City. These cities were the mere starting points of my various shoots, with many requiring travel from them outward to the furthest reaches of the areas they hub. Case in point: I may have landed in Detroit and used it as a home-base, but my crew and I, in order to get the material we were looking for, had to travel across most of Michigan’s lower peninsula day after day. This meant a hell of a lot of driving, some of it completely on my own — just me and my trusty Chrysler Town & Country. (Ask anyone who works in TV production and they’ll tell you, it’s all about the stow-and-go seating.)
Normally, when I’m driving, I listen to music. But with so much time on the road, during the Michigan shoot I decided to instead click over to Spotify’s comedy channel. I’ve been a big fan of Jim Jeffries for some time, first getting into him when he’d come in — often still awake from the night before on some combination of alcohol and chemicals — to the Opie & Anthony show. I’d seen Bare, one of his more recent Netflix specials, but I hadn’t had the chance to go back through his material — so with that in mind, I decided to listen to his album Fully Functional in its entirety. As expected, the record is fucking brilliant. It’s crass and vulgar and brash and even, on occasion, surprisingly insightful. If you’re a fan of Jeffries, you’ve probably already heard the record or seen the special of which it’s an audio account. If you’re not, I really recommend it. If you have a delicate constitution it’ll no doubt offend you — but so what?
About that: The whole record wraps up with what turns out to be Jeffries’s magnum opus — a nearly 20 minute extended story about an evening out with an unnamed famous actor and comedian that nearly ends with that unnamed figure raping two young women and actually does end with a drunk, coked-up and naked Jeffries trying — and failing — to have a threesome with the same girls. (According to Jeffries, it gets going only to end with “the hot one” backing out because Jeffries is flaccid, cackling like an idiot and dripping sweat into her face.) At various points, Jeffries makes a joke out of the potential rape, laments the fact that “the fat one” wants to continue having sex with him, and notes how an attractive naked girl sitting on a toilet and crying uncontrollably gives him a hard-on. It’s fucking disgusting from almost start to finish and it’s undeniably sexist as hell. It’s also a goddamn riot.
Lately I’ve been thinking quite a lot about that bit and why I’m able to laugh at it — but I’m not under any circumstances able to laugh off Donald Trump’s own brand of sexism. What he calls “locker room talk.” I get that Jim Jeffries is a comic and Trump isn’t, which automatically allows for the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the fact that everything is meant as a joke with the former and not the latter. But you don’t have to be a comic to turn something sick into something funny. So why is it that Trump’s comments about women, apparently seen as hilarious by that idiot Billy Bush, make me want to put my fist through something while a guy like Jeffries’s own brand of crude sexism, I think, is acceptable and even funny?
There’s little doubt that some of the shock value when it comes to Trump stems from the fact that he’s running for President of the United States. It’s a position that’s been occupied by a great many flawed men throughout history, but it’s also a position that on the surface at least has demanded an appreciation for a certain level of decorum. Decorum for which Trump has precisely zero respect. Trump insists on being Trump at all times and he damn sure doesn’t have the self-awareness to realize that someone with his history of horrific behavior toward women and public displays of misogyny has no business being commander-in-chief. There’s a reason people with terribly checkered pasts get put through the wringer when it comes time to run for president. It can be argued that somebody like Trump shouldn’t even have tried.
But it’s more than that. I think it comes specifically down to intent. The late, great comic Patrice O’Neal used to say that when it comes to how comedy is perceived, it’s vital that the comic’s intent be considered. A comedian’s sole purpose with everything he or she says is to make people laugh. None of it is meant to be taken too seriously. So when Jim Jeffries is telling this extended story of lechery and depravity, first of all it’s impossible to even know whether he’s being truthful, but regardless the whole sordid tale is designed to get a laugh — even, potentially, a cringe-filled laugh. Now it can be argue that Trump could just as easily have been issuing empty boasts when he talked about grabbing women “by the pussy,” although the accounts of many women would seem to shoot that down, but the comment absolutely wasn’t designed to get a laugh.
So what was it designed to do? That’s where the real difference between Jim Jeffries and Donald Trump comes in. Trump’s boast was just that — a boast. As with so much of what Trump says and does, it was designed to make himself seem big and powerful. The comment to Billy Bush especially seemed to issue a silent challenge to Bush: “Do women let you grab them by the pussy? No, because you’re not me.” It was the usual Trump show of one-upmanship, a dominance ritual. When he’d tell Howard Stern his tales of walking in on naked teenagers at his beauty pageants or a camera crew how he’d be dating a ten-year-old when she was just a few years older, it was all designed to leave the audience — a male audience especially — wishing they were Trump, that they could do what he does. But they can’t — and that’s the point. Because they’re not the almighty Trump.
Jim Jeffries, on the other hand — and most good comics — approach the stories they tell and the comedy they do from another perspective. The polar opposite perspective than Donald Trump. Jeffries relates his alleged night of drug-fueled sex and general insanity not to make himself look good but to in fact make himself look like a complete bastard. A human train-wreck. Because throughout the tale, there’s an undercurrent of self-deprecation. Jeffries goes into such ugly, vivid detail about how pathetic and revolting some of his behavior is that it doesn’t come off as being the least bit glamorous. It’s fucking hilarious — but it’s also kind of sad, in the best possible way. That’s because good comedy comes from pain, even if it’s pain temporarily quashed by completely atrocious hedonism. As ill-advised as it is to dissect comedy, I do think that if you break it down, this is what makes Jeffries’s story work.
He’s an asshole. He does shitty things. He can be a bad person. He admits all of it.
Now contrast that with Trump. Trump is constitutionally incapable of self-deprecation. His entire life has been about being better than you, no matter who you are. He’s better than everyone. We’re talking about someone who behaves as if he can take what he wants because he’s the ultimate alpha male, a guy who, no matter what your personal or professional status or how successful you are in your field, can find something to insult about you, just to make you smaller than him. For fuck’s sake, to Donald Trump, even the President of the United States wasn’t above humiliation and dominance. No one is. Because nobody’s better than Trump.
What this means is that when Trump talks about grabbing and kissing anybody he wants, whether they want him back or not, he intends to be taken seriously — because if he is, it puts him above the rest of the world. He’s not someone who tells a sordid story in which he’s the butt of the joke. He doesn’t say something that allows you a genuine look into his grotesque psyche. He doesn’t make a joke where he winds up looking pathetic or sad. He can’t do that. He won’t do that. This is what makes Trump’s sexism so toxic: It’s literally meant to keep women beneath him the way everyone else is beneath him. At no point does Jim Jeffries insist that a threesome was always his for the taking. In fact, quite the opposite. Trump, though — for Trump he’ll tell you that’s just last Thursday.
Again, he can’t not brag. And there’s never anything at all funny about bragging. It’s typically just repellant. Hence, Donald Trump.
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