Why Michael Che Matters to the World of Comedy

I fell in love with the world of stand-up during my freshman year of college. I was 18, had just abandoned my lifelong dream of becoming a musician and I needed something new. I thought I should get into writing comedy, because I had always enjoyed writing and I was absurd enough to be mistaken for funny. So when a friend at college told me I should go to the stand-up club’s first meeting of the year, I thought, “That’s perfect!”

Five of us showed up, and two of those people were the club creators. It was a hilariously rocky beginning.

*Our original club with College Humor’s Josh Ruben.

Our first venture as a club wasn’t actually performing, it was attending a showing of a film called, “A Night at Whiplash.” It was a product of CollegeHumor guys, Josh Ruben and Vince Peone, who had taped seven comics and turned it into a film. They were cool enough to bring it to our school for a Q&A and viewing. The stand-ups were great but man, by the end of it, it seemed like we were there for a while. Then at the end, it was time for the set of some guy named Michael Che. He came out and said,“I was going to start with a joke but I’ve been drinking and I don’t feel like doing it.”

Relatable, Michael Che.

He went on to tell jokes questioning racism and the war; by which, I mean he wanted to know why we’re in a war over gas - which in theory only costs $3 dollars a gallon - when we should be in a war over printer ink because that’s way more expensive. He took on racism in a casual, dumbfounded way, such as calling out the stereotype of black people liking chicken.

“You know who else likes chicken a lot? Everyone with f****** taste buds. That’s the one thing we can all agree on. Why’s it only funny when we eat it?

“There’s a guy who made the news named Sergio Garcia, he’s a professional golfer. And he got in trouble because he told the news, ‘I’m going to invite Tiger Woods to my house and I’m going to make him some fried chicken. And white people were like ‘Ooh that’s racist’ and I’m home like, ‘Is it?’ What kind of thoughtful a** racist finds out your favorite food and then threatens to make it for you? How hospitable.”

I loved it. Almost immediately after this, he was hosting Weekend Update on SNL, which became my favorite thing to watch in college. Week after week my friends and I sat around watching live (I know, instead of raging it up, I have no regrets) and Michael Che became a constant in my new comedy world.

As time went on, I learned the rest of the world didn’t necessarily love Che. One of the things that seems to get Che in trouble over and over again is the fact he jokes about sensitive things that people don’t think should be touched. For example, after making a sarcastic quip about the viral video of a woman being catcalled on his Instagram, he received enough backlash to make it on the news cycle and ultimately ended up deleting his social media accounts temporarily. More recently, he put Boston in a tizzy by saying they were still the most racist city he’s ever been to. A lot of times on Weekend Update, the crowd gives him an unsure “ooh” rather than laughs and he will call them out on and stand behind his joke. But buckle in for my rant on stand-up comedy, because this is such a big reason of why I think Michael Che matters.

Comedy is literally one big joke. It’s amazing to me that comedians have so much influence over people’s opinions, politics, news and whatever else, because it’s not meant to be taken seriously. Not to say that comedians aren’t qualified to give you their opinion on any topic they want to, because let’s be honest here, comedians are some of the smartest people in the world. They’ve gone to Ivy Leagues, they’re up to date on everything happening in the world (so that they can make jokes about it) and they do trial runs of their material hundreds of times before they even put it on the high scale Comedy Central Special or headlining tour or however you’re watching them. Meaning if Michael Che makes a comment about racism, he’s put a lot more thought and tweaking into it than your racist uncle did at Easter this past weekend. But people don’t seem to resonate with that. If certain jokes are in their set, it’s because a crowd of people laughed at it. It’s not because the stand-up loves it so much that they will continue to tell it even if they get no laughs. (Spoiler: that’s not a good way to make a living). Yet people act like everything that they say is to be taken seriously. PSA: It’s not. It’s a joke. If you don’t like what they have to say, that’s perfectly fine. If their jokes make you uncomfortable, that’s okay too; that comedian is clearly not for you. Don’t listen to the Anthony Jeselniks or Jim Jeffries of the world, listen to Demetri Martin and Mitch Hedberg because they’re not throwing anything at you that’s going to make you question real life. But the fact of the matter is, it’s okay (even smart) to question things that make you uncomfortable, to talk about topics that you think shouldn’t be touched, because otherwise there’s just going to be ignorance and avoidance and before you know it, it’s 2050 and people will still be saying, “I’m not a racist/homophobe/sexist but…” before whatever bad statement comes out.

So I will say it again, comedy is meant to shed perspective on things in a funny fashion. It’s not coming from a place of malice, it’s not trying to shape opinions of unsuspecting victims who have fallen down watching a Netflix special and can’t get up, it’s just meant to bring some light and humor into the world and sometimes that happens to be in dark or touchy places.

I love Michael Che because he stands behind his comedy. In an interview with UpRoxx he explained his brand pretty well:

“I try to be honest. And being honest isn’t about being right or being 100% factual. I put out what I think is funny. To me, that’s honest comedy. Rodney Dangerfield is honest comedy. Not because he’s really got a doctor named Vinnie Boombatz, but you know when Rodney Dangerfield wrote that joke it made him laugh. And it was something he wants to share. It’s funny to him and he’s not just doing something because he thinks it works. He’s not just doing something because he thinks that’s what the audience wants to hear. He’s doing his brand of humor. And for me, I feel like as long as I have this job I have to be honest in putting out what I truly think is funny. People may like Tina Fey’s brand better. People may like Norm Macdonald’s brand better. Some people might like Jimmy Fallon’s brand better. Some people may like Seth Meyers. And that’s great! I like their stuff, too. But I’m not going to do what they did just to please them. You know that saying, “A camel is a horse built by committee”? Well, I’m the only one building this horse.”I could go on and on about how Michael Che is changing stand-up comedy. He didn’t even start telling jokes until he was twenty-six, when most comics start young and take at least ten years to get make a dent in comedy (it took Che three years to perform on Late Show with David Letterman and four years to become a writer on SNL). He did a stint on The Daily Show as a correspondent and joked about how he became “the guy that always talks about dogs” when he couldn’t keep up with their conversations. He stands behind his material but he’s said on record that if you think he’s wrong, just teach him why, he’s not against change.

I think in an oversensitive world where comedians are getting barraded for telling jokes, it’s refreshing and important to have someone who can so casually and faithfully stick to their guns and be the comic they want to be. It’s that casualness in which Che tells his jokes that lets a viewer know you’re getting a genuine performance, and the fact that he’s managed to accomplish so much so quickly makes it worthwhile to keep an eye on what he’s going to do next.

I guess in all, I love the world of comedy and it’s partly because I got such a strong introduction to it. Had we not gone to see the College Humor guys’ film about stand up comics performing at WhipLash, I don’t know that I would’ve gotten the background that I did. Had I not seen Michael Che so casually joke about printer ink - which by the way is a joke I can’t find on the internet but I just remember so fervently because it killed me - I don’t know that I would’ve had the guts to try doing stand-up at college myself for the first time. He makes his craft relatable and down to earth, and I think that’s what people connect with, that’s what’s making him rise so fast in this industry. Whatever the reason is, Michael Che has proven over six short years in comedy that he does, indeed, matter.