To begin, I want to address the fact that I have limited to no moral high ground in writing this article. I am not a public figure nor a stand-up comedian. I am simply an undergraduate student writing for a college newspaper that, let’s be honest, gets a fraction of the followers that this comedian had applauding him last Friday in just one of a tour full of shows. I was a paying member of the audience at one of Austin, Texas-based comedian Tony Hinchliffe’s two shows at Holland’s Park Theater last Friday, February 25th. I had never been to Park before and consider myself a general fan of stand-up comedy, so I jumped on board when a few friends suggested we attend the show.
Hinchcliffe is what is known in the industry as an “insult comedian.” This is a performer whose jokes primarily consist of jabs to either audience members or fellow performers. In May of 2021, this technique was Hinchcliffe’s downfall when he took the insults a little too far. He was dropped from WME talent agency and from two live appearances with Joe Rogan after directing a racial slur at and mocking fellow comedian Peng Dang at a live show. I luckily learned about this context while sitting in the audience waiting for the show to start. If I had not, Hinchcliffe’s direct dive into the ways “cancel culture” has affected his career would have been confusing. Instead, I understood that what I was witnessing on stage was a man selling out shows for audiences to witness and applaud his inability and unwillingness to reckon with his own privilege.
The set began with Hinchcliffe describing in detail the embarrassment he felt performing a show in Holland, Michigan. Shaming the host city is a common occurrence in insult comedy. Hinchcliffe, used to selling out in larger cities, cited his “cancellation” last year as cause for the current lull in his career. As a non-native Hollander myself, I will never object to someone calling out the absurd number of churches in the area or the bizarre relevance of wooden clogs. I understand it’s Dutch tradition, but that doesn’t make it any less weird. In a more dexterous manner, however, Hinchcliffe was using his insults and amusing observations of Holland to address his cancellation without taking any personal responsibility. While it was impressively elusive writing, an insult comedian with enough talent should still be able to make a genuine apology sound funny.
As the show continued, it was clear that Hinchcliffe had warmly welcomed the audiences that were still following him after his incident last May. He embraced the odd kind of immunity that “canceled” public figures sometimes get; once the world knows that you’ve been called out by mainstream media, you become a haven for consumers who cringe at political correctness and thrive on insensitivity. This opens a door of affirmation to a world of jokes that many modern comedians refuse to touch. Audience participation was a minefield of eyebrow-raising cheers throughout the set; many audience members were quite enthusiastic after a joke about disabled women and clapped eagerly at Hinchcliffe’s long bit detailing Caitlyn Jenner’s surgical transition.
To bring the show home, Hinchcliffe solidified his vitriol for his recent career setback with a series of disparaging comments about the far more successful comedian Amy Schumer. His jealousy of her success spewed out in the form of attacks on Schumer’s weight, appearance, and numerous lucrative comedy specials. What better way to please a passionate post-cancellation audience than to insult a leading female comedian? This bit cemented Hinchcliffe’s juvenile need for external validation and child-like ability to take out bitterness on those around him. While I have immense respect for the craft of stand-up comedy and could never feasibly do it myself, some jokes are better off unwritten and some comedians better off unseen.