“Why do you have to be so dirty?” a voice called from the darkness. “The show’s called Cartoon Violence, but it’s not about cartoons. There should’ve been a warning!”
Michael Che paused. He was onstage in August 2013 during his second show at Scotland’s annual Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It’s true, few would mistake Che for a clean comic. (Earlier he’d confessed to the audience what he loves most about Brits: “They say ‘cunt’ a lot. I don’t know how saying it got such a bad rap; it’s literally my favorite thing on the planet.”) Yet within industry circles, he’s a far cry from the world of shock comedy, where perfunctory filth often supplants punch lines of consequence.
He tried his best to answer the question posed by the heckler, a white-haired woman. “My favorite cartoon is Tom and Jerry, because it’s violent,” he explained. “But kids are watching it, so it’s, like, ridiculous. You ever been slapped in the face with a rake? It’s hard! It’s like . . . I’m talking about some serious shit, but what I’m saying sounds ridiculous coming out of my mouth.”
“Can you tell me one clean joke?” she pressed.
Che paused again. He looked at the floor, pushed back the bill of his navy baseball cap to rub his head. An idea took hold.