Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld, two of America’s most well-respected veteran comedians, won’t perform on college campuses. Their reasoning centers around the usual complaints about political correctness, assuming that today’s young people don’t appreciate, or maybe can’t even handle, the types of humor they tend to use in their sets. High-profile examples of clashes between college audiences and comedians are ripe for cherry-picking. Last December Nimesh Patel, a writer for SNL, was pulled off stage in the middle of a set at Columbia University after one of his jokes was deemed too offensive for the event: an example that fits snuggly into the idea that college students can’t take a joke. But in an op-ed in The New York Times that followed the incident, Patel himself acknowledged a complexity that this stereotype doesn’t completely capture, writing, “I do not think we should let the actions of a small group — actions that get blown out of proportion because they feed a narrative many people want to hear — paint college campuses as bad places to perform and paint this next generation as doomed.”
I talked to students who perform comedy at Cornell, at other universities and in cities across the United States.