I know I have readers in Tennessee, and that Tennessee is a lovely place. I drove through Tennessee when I moved across country, I visited many small towns along the way, and I stayed in Nashville for three days. I like Tennessee for the most part. Beer’s cheap, the country is beautiful, and the fireworks laws are lax. Tennessee, were it not for the problems I’m about to discuss, would be a right swell state.
When I visited Nashville last summer I felt like I’d unravelled a huge mystery. Until last July, I had no idea who was paying money to see the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, where Country Music Television was finding people under 50 to make country records and star in its shows, or who still thought the Rockabilly scene was anything but hilarious. Tennessee is the place that all of these phenomena rely on for their existence. And if you’re looking for the locus of the mysterious connection between cowboy boots and booty shorts, it lies somewhere in Tennessee, I assure you.
Had I not been watching television one unfortunate night last week, I would have carried on for the rest of my life thinking of Tennessee as nothing more than an odd place full of relatively unsophisticated people who are into shit I think is funny. But Davetavius and I turned on the TV in our hotel room in Kaua’i to find a Ralphie May special on Comedy Central. We’re both fans of terrible stand-up comedy and wiggerism, so we decided to watch the show. (I know what “wigger” is a contraction of, but I think it’s taken on a meaning of its own and I certainly don’t use it in the way racist old white dudes who think they’re clever for being into Chris Rock do. Until someone can come up with a word I can use in its place, I’m not sure what else to do. Suggestions are welcome.)
Does everyone know who Ralphie May is? He’s the unbelievably obese white comic who has made a name for himself by trying to out-black every black comedian on the circuit, and he’s been pretty successful, if one can judge the success of a wigger comedian by how many black people he can get to come to his show. He’s never come up with an original bit of material, but has rather created a set out of a derivative melange of the kind of shit you’d hear on the average episode of Russell Simmons’s Def Comedy Jam. He’s always been incredibly unfunny and vulgar, but that was why I thought I’d watch his show, to see what he’d come up with to out-crass himself on his new special; I find nothing funnier than unfunny stand-up comedy. (I know I sound like a hipster, but I’m not just into shit that sucks for the sake of being into shit that sucks to show people how “ironic” I am. I actually analyze the shit I like that sucks and appreciate it for the understanding it can give me of the contexts from whence it comes. And my haircut isn’t asymmetrical.)
I was immediately disappointed to find out he’d dropped the wigger shtick to become a lewd Bill Engvall, an odd choice for Ralphie May to model himself on since Engvall might be the least funny comedian alive today. He’d knocked off all the wigger shit and become a “southern dude,” the kind of guy whose only goals in life are to grow the perfect manicured goatee, to own a $60,000 truck, to fish his ass off, and to get a Coors tap installed in his bathroom. You see, May is from Tennessee, and he’s figured out that there’s more money to be made off of stupid rednecks than there is to be made from being the world’s premier wigger (behind Eminem). And, being a native himself, he’s apparently so familiar with Tennessee that he knew something I didn’t: the white people of Tennessee have been hankering for someone to combine the vulgarity of Def Comedy Jam with the banality of the terrifically unfunny (and white) Blue Collar Comedy Tour.
Ralphie May has always traded in loud, overt misogyny for most of his material because he thought that’s what black people wanted to hear (doesn’t that make him a racist?). Apparently he’s figured out now that loud, overt misogyny is what white people want to hear. He spent nearly every second of his set telling “jokes” about how much women like to shop, about how crazy women are, and about how women, if they really want to give their men birthday gifts that will be appreciated, will give them one of two things: blow jobs and silence. The message, basically, was “if your mouth is open, it should be sucking a dick.” And he went on about it for at least five minutes. Do you know how long five minutes is in a stand-up comedy set? It’s a fucking eternity.
But the worst part of the set wasn’t listening to a guy who couldn’t get someone to touch his dick at a party full of people with dick-touching fetishes talk about how everyone should be blowing him. The worst part was watching the crowd footage. Men nudged the women they were with, pointed at them, made “I fucking told you!” faces at them, while the women acted shocked, covered their mouths, and pretended not to notice that they’d just been told that their purpose in life is to suck dick and shut the fuck up. A lot of the women were laughing, which blew my fucking mind (but not really). How does one laugh at being repeatedly dehumanized? I suppose it’s the only way to react, save storming out of the theater in a rage, which would just incur the ire of the room full of misogynists and appeasers who see nothing wrong with some good, clean “boys are dumb jizz machines, girls are annoying and crazy jizz receptacles” comedy.
The thing is, I’m sure there wasn’t a second of the routine that hadn’t been culled from some other unfunny comedian’s routine. It was as if I was watching a redux of the entirety of 1990s sports-coat-and-t-shirt stand-up performed by a twelve-year-old Tim McGraw fan with a wife. I don’t know how else to put that. It sounds stupid (and it is), but he’s actually a genius. He knows that what he’s saying isn’t funny or original, but he also knows that the huge fan base that keeps the Blue Collar Comedy Tour in business can make him rich. He knows that enough Americans are borderline brain-dead that telling them hackneyed jokes that are founded upon gross and stupid ideas about gender roles and the outright hatred of women will make them laugh until they squirt Long Island iced tea out of their noses.
So, I’ve put a few things together and come to the conclusion that there’s something amiss in Tennessee. I remember when I was in Nashville wondering why there were so many young women wearing hot pants and bra tops in a town known for its country music scene, and why there seemed to be so much raunch going on in what I’d heard was a fairly conservative state. Ralphie May knows something I didn’t at the time, but do now: Tennessee is a place where misogynistic blow-job “comedy” (redundant?) and conservative values come together. It’s a place where dudes who claim to be all about respect, family values, and church can get together in public and feel liberated and modern for agreeing, as did their forefathers, that women exist to be seen and used sexually, not heard. It’s a place where women think being told that the way to a man’s heart is through sucking his dick and not talking is simply hilarious. It’s a place where women laugh at their own oppression. It is, quite simply, one of the only places in America where there are enough people that are dumb enough to pay money to see Ralphie May — the ex-wigger — pretend to be Bill Engvall to fill up a theater. Tennessee is the place where country music meets the 2 Live Crew to give us Ralphie May and the “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” the kind of white-washed rap culture that even rednecks can get down with without feeling threatened.
Not that there isn’t something amiss everywhere. Sigh.