To say I was severely unimpressed would be a vast understatement, yet to call the experience uncomfortable would be an even greater one. The show began innocuously enough, with opening sets from local comedians Jeff Ford, Reese Leonard, and Bret Hayden. Though the openers contained a healthy mix of self-deprecation and poking fun at everyday frustrations, the headliner himself fell short in both departments and managed to present himself as misogynistic, transphobic, Islamophobic, racially ignorant, and generally worthy-of-cringe – all within a one hour time span. In hindsight, Landau’s initial shoulders-back-beer-belly-out swagger onto stage should have primed me for the untamable discomfort that was to follow, a discomfort amplified with each distasteful joke about marginalized communities that was somehow ‘validated’ by waves of tipsy, white laughter.
I’ll admit it; Landau is not an unfunny comic. During his set’s rare, unproblematic moments, his lackadaisical demeanor actually contributed to the joke’s delivery and drew out some genuine laughs. His fast-paced opening line and commentary about his colorful drug history were humorously original, but beyond those candid pockets, the premises of most of his jokes were rooted in the systematic objectification and demeaning of women and mocking the advancement of societal acceptance for communities like the LGBTQ+. Within minutes of taking the stage, Landau took an inappropriate jab at the Dearborn Muslim community and had the audacity to then improvise with two audience members with South Asian features by insinuating that they were Muslim, and later labelling them Indian. To add even more icing on the cake, Landau scanned the front row for more people of color to continue his racially ignorant bit with, before targeting my East Asian-looking friend. After that extended punchline, Landau’s attempts accelerated downhill: the white male comic found it in his place to objectify Transgender people as hybrid cars, continuously refer to women only in demeaning sexual contexts, all while under the cookie-cutter guise of lauding women for “being so strong” in undergoing menstruation and pregnancy. Oh, and shaming his wife’s post-childbirth vagina in reference to a wigged squirrel.
However it would be fruitless to paint Landau as the only perpetrator of such “comedic” tastelessness – he is but one of many contributors to America’s rampant ‘comedy man’ problem – which plagues the industry from Louis C.K to Richard Pryor and now, Dave Chappelle, with his Netflix special Sticks & Stones. Whilst sitting in the darkened room at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase, enshrouded in raucous and affirmative white laughter, I finally realized the twisted nature of today’s American, male-dominated stand-up scene. Comedians such as Landau escape true scrutiny and are enabled to ascend to platforms like Comedy Central, using their privilege and defensive powers of “just wanting to make people laugh” to justify gross jokes all the while eschewing all political correctness as antithesis to ‘free speech’, or the art of stand-up itself.