In this, I’m Your Girlfriend speaks to a much larger trend in comedy: one that has elevated celebrities to the status of Tastemakers and Moral Guides, and that treats comedians, in particular, as a species of public intellectual.
Here’s Cummings, on the newly violent language of sex:
My theory is that women have gotten stronger, and as they get more self-sufficient, you guys are getting more aggressive towards us. Because 10, 15 years ago, you guys didn’t talk that way about us.
Here’s the thing: I think feminism is working, but I think you guys are mad about it, and it’s coming out in nefarious ways. Like the way guys talk about women has gotten more aggressive. The way guys talk about having sex with women has gotten super violent.
I was talking to a guy friend of mine a few weeks ago, and he was like, “I hooked up with this girl the other night. Destroyed that shit.” I was like, “Excuse me?” He goes, “Yeah, dude, I murdered that shit, bro.”
She also adds:
Do you remember, there was a rumor going around for awhile that men like strong women? People would say that, they’d be like, “Men like strong women. Independent, strong women.”
Yeah—no, they don’t. Okay? I’ve seen porn. Men like Asian schoolgirls with duct tape over their mouths.
On the one hand: Cummings’s set is comedy that is directly in the tradition of George Carlin and Joan Rivers and Richard Pryor. And also, more recently, of Jon Stewart and Key & Peele and Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert and Amy Schumer and John Oliver and pretty much every other performer who’s currently enjoying a successful career in the field. Their comedy, very broadly, is distinguished by the fact that it isn’t content simply to elicit laughter. It’s comedy that has an ethic and a vision, and that even more importantly strives to convince its audience of the rightness of that vision. Comedy that argues and insinuates and in general has Something to Say about the world and its movements.
Cummings’s special, with its talk of theory and perspective and “power dynamics,” shows that work. These aren’t jokes-with-an-underlying message, buried subtly under layers, as per stand-up’s tradition, of self-loathing and/or braggadocio; the jokes, here, are the message. Cummings found a way to turn her jokes into theories, rather than vice versa. She used her HBO special—the performance of which was a “lifelong dream,” she confessed to her audience—for purposes of, essentially, punditry. If traditional observational comedy takes as its key premise the highlighting of the hard data of everyday life—the Seinfeldian “what’s up with airplane bathrooms?” and all that—Cummings used her time on HBO’s stage to analyze those data. She shared the theories she had formulated. She assessed and she argued. At points during the set, a casual channel-flipper could be forgiven for confusing HBO with PBS.