Comedy is being cancelled too. We got to keep laughing.
My goal in life is to know just enough about a subject so I can tell when someone is bullshitting me. And there is no shortage of bullshit in this life. Whether we’re talking politics, media, academia, or the culture at large. But what’s bad for society is great for comedy. And I hope you’ll join me on my journey through the muck, calling out the BS as I see it—and making a little BS of my own.
Comedy should be fun. And mine will be fun, provocative, and you may even get into trouble for sharing it. So…
How I Became a ‘Far-Right Radical’
Academics mislabeled me as one—as they did Bret Weinstein, Joe Rogan, Sam Harris and others.
By Lou PerezDec. 30, 2020 6:15 pm ET
Listen to this article6 minutes00:00 / 05:331x
I’ve been put on a list and not a good one. It isn’t the Hollywood Reporter’s Next Gen Class of 2020 or Forbes’s 30 Under 30—forget the accolade; I’d take being under-30 again. That would be so much better for my career than where I am now: a comedian approaching 39, who finds his work labeled “far-right” in an academic paper titled “Evaluating the scale, growth, and origins of right-wing echo chambers on YouTube.”
Although I’m not mentioned by name, if you turn to the last page of the preprint paper—which has yet to be peer-reviewed or submitted to a journal—you’ll see the words “We the Internet TV” huddled among other supposedly far-right YouTube channels. I was head writer and producer of We the Internet TV before my position was eliminated in October. For five years I was responsible for making hundreds of videos about current events, politics and culture. I was an equal-opportunity offender. Our comedy channel made fun of everybody—left, right, center.
I remember the good old days of cancel culture, when if you landed a gig on “Saturday Night Live,” someone would have to put in some work to get you canceled. Before online mobs could be whipped up in seconds, an angry detractor would have to roll up his sleeves, comb through your tweets, listen to hours of your podcast, or track down a recording of you bombing at an open mic to find the material to take you down.
Don’t get me wrong: My “problematic” material is out there. But this study eliminates the need for a critic of mine to go put in the legwork of a keyword search. Researchers from prestigious institutions including the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard already went to the trouble of demonstrating that I am somehow responsible for “the phenomenon of right-wing radicalization on YouTube.” It’ll be easy to cancel any success I find in mainstream media.
Which videos did it? I wonder. Was it “Burglars for Gun Control” or “Your Gun Makes You Look Like a D—”? The videos lambasting the alt-right or the anti-antifa one? The sketches critical of President Obama’s drone strikes or the one mocking YouTube commenters leaving racist insults about the 44th president?
I don’t know. I have never faced my accusers. I would like to scroll through the We the Internet TV library with them and point out the kind of “far-right” material that won us a Webby Award in 2017. Other winners that year included the Women’s March and CNN’s Van Jones.
At first I found it odd that the words “fascism,” “racism” and “terrorism” were missing from the paper, because these terms have become inextricably linked to the far right. Then I realized it was a smart (and cowardly) move on the part of the authors to leave them out: just use the umbrella term “far right” and allow your readers to fill in the tacit isms. That way, you don’t risk being called out for labeling people who are not fascists, racists and terrorists as such. Instead, the study is peppered with nebulous adjectives like “extreme” and “radical,” which allow readers to see their own bogeymen.
I’m not the only one who takes issue with being mislabeled. This gives me some hope for my future.
In the study’s view, former Evergreen College professor Bret Weinstein —a self-described progressive and Bernie Sanders supporter—is far-right too. Joining us are neuroscientist Sam Harris (a self-confessed liberal), podcast host Joe Rogan (who considers himself “pretty liberal”) and Bloggingheads.tv (whose regular contributors include Vox co-founder Ezra Klein ).
One thing that’s interesting—by which I mean bonkers—is that while Mr. Rogan’s channel is deemed far-right, the “Joe Rogan University—Fan Channel” is labeled “center.” Does Mr. Rogan’s podcast only radicalize casual watchers, but not his fans?
Even Mark Ledwich, whom the paper’s authors thank for sharing data with them, took issue with “the way the labels were converted into far-right and far-left.” (To wit: On his site Transparency.Tube, which tracks political channels on YouTube, We the Internet TV only scored “Right” and “Anti-woke.”)
Lumping together all these creators with vastly different political persuasions is lazy at best. At worst it undermines criticism of actual far-right content. As YouTuber Rebel Wisdom put it, “if everything is far right, then nothing is.” He is of course also “far right” by the paper’s standards.
It’s the type of analysis you’d have to be living in an echo chamber to come up with. The authors write that “the growing appeal of radical content on YouTube may simply reflect a more general trend driven by a complicated combination of causes, both technological and sociological, that extend beyond the scope of the platform’s algorithms.”
But the walls of their bubble must not have been adequately soundproofed, because the authors are revising their paper ahead of its official publication to include a new category: Intellectual Dark Web. This IDW category would include channels that are “Anti-Woke” or “Anti-Social-Justice-Warrior.” In the current labeling system, any channel labeled IDW automatically qualifies as far right.
I can’t speak for all those other “radical” YouTube channels. But when it came to We the Internet TV, its “growing appeal” had a lot to do with it being funny. I even dared to do the type of comedy that gets you put on lists.
Mr. Perez is a comedian and host of “The Lou Perez Podcast.”