By Cary Chapman
Content Warning: Jokes about rape culture and hookup culture
(image courtesy of buzzofflucille.com)
The women were dressed in loose-fitted jeans, white T-shirts, and leather jackets. Short styled wigs covered up their natural hair, and their mannerisms had adopted the affected swagger of stereotypical American masculinity.
It was just another Wednesday at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Chelsea, and there I was, all too happy to be in the audience of a comedy show instead of the psychology lecture that had been cancelled that day. “Balls Deep” promised to go “DEEP into the lives of dudes… Balls deep…” I had purchased tickets for my boyfriend and myself, mostly out of a genuine desire to share with him one of my favorite things to do in the city, but also curious to see if our reactions to jokes at his expense would differ.
The show started with a parody of “Summer Nights” from Grease, the “tell me more” song in which the guys interrogate Danny about his summer romance. One of the real and certainly problematic lines from the song is “Did she put up a fight?” and in the Balls Deep parody version, this line is met with concern from the other guys, but that concern is quickly shaken off in an attempt to go on with the romance narrative. Other lines, all spoken by the same oblivious guy, build off of the original and are met with mounting anxiety by the group. (“Did she blow that special whistle” is an example.) Eventually, it becomes impossible to brush off their pal’s comments about “non-consensual sex” and the group is forced to acknowledge the “small part” that each of them plays in contributing to rape culture. The song concludes with them all singing, “tell me less” to their rapist friend.
Okay. So I’m aware that explaining a joke never makes it sound funny. And rape culture is a tricky thing from which to spin humor. But you’ll have to trust me on this one, or else go see the show and decide for yourself, but I was laughing in the moment.
The other stand out joke featured a different group of men, portrayed by the same four women, trying to one-up each other with stories of sexual adventure. Three of them, in their boasting re-enactments, draw the outline of an hourglass figure in the air with their hands. The fourth, however, draws a huge circle in the air and then proceeds to pantomime sex with a shape so like a kiddy pool or a giant Frisbee that the other guys in the group are left speechless in confusion. After a few beats of silence, one says, “Dude, what did you fuck?” The answer: “The sexy M&M!” There’s another moment of silence—the guys are trying to decide what to make of this—and then, all in unison, they join hands in a group high five with a resounding, “NOICE!”
Balls Deep was hilarious—both my boyfriend and I were cracking up like crazy, and I would definitely recommend the show to a friend. But did it deliver on its promise of going “balls deep” into male life? Well, no. The portrayals of men were caricatures—that’s essentially what humor is—and in the half hour time slot, there wasn’t much room for nuance. It was a pretty surface-level, stereotypical depiction of men, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t insightful, creative, and funny. It was all of those things, too.
As we were leaving the show, my boyfriend and I were talking and the word “feminist” came up in our conversation. Now, we both believe in equal rights for men, women, and people of any gender or non-gender affiliation, but that word remains a source of argument for us—I identify with it, he doesn’t like labels no matter what they mean.
“See?” I told him, referring to Balls Deep, “That was so feminist.”
He laughed and said, “That wasn’t feminist. That was man-hating.”
I recalled the intro to the show, in which the performers explained that they love men—no, really, they do—but it’s just that men can be so… the word “dumb” was repeated at least five times. The jokes throughout were mocking and sharp-edged, containing little sympathetic warmth to temper the jabs. So yeah: Balls Deep was funny, it hated on men, and the two are definitely related.
Cary Chapman is a junior at Barnard College and a writer for Barnard Bite.