How #CancelCulture is ruining America – volume 1700. How many of these ridiculous articles have been written in the past two years? I’m claiming this one as the 1700th, but there’s honestly probably been 10x that amount. Cancel Culture is a topic that people are tired of reading about, talking about, and even hearing about — and yet — it’s still here, and I’m about to tell you that it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I’m Josh Denny. I’ve been a stand-up comedian since January 2007, and got my start in the tiny comedy clubs, dive bars, and all-black night clubs of Minneapolis Minnesota. I had moved to the Midwest in 1998 from Philadelphia to live with my mom and stepdad graduating in 2001. I started working my way up at a chain of video stores in my day job life and rising to the corporate ranks; joining a very successful foam shoe startup, all while playing metal music with my friends in garages. My dream was to replace Wes Borland in Limp Bizkit, until my bands broke up and I found myself at a Dave Attell show in 2006 in Florida. It was at that moment I knew I had to try my hand at stand-up comedy — a request of many of my friends over the years who knew I wasn’t that talented a musician. I did my first open mic in January of 2007, and I’ve never looked back. In many ways, I’ve lived an INSANE life story. The startup I joined in 2006 was Crocs shoes — where I was one of the first 4 retail executives tasked with building that half of the brand. We were the most successful ugly product in the history of America, and I did pretty well with my vested stock options in the first 2 years. So much so that I decided to take a year off from the job and do stand-up full time. I lost my ass financially and went back to work with Crocs, this time on the West coast in Los Angeles – still with my new dream of someday becoming George Carlin in the back of my mind. I landed at other companies, making more money and climbing the ranks all while doing BYOB open mics at underground theaters, Latin bars, and Refried Fridays at the Hollywood Improv. It wasn’t until 2013 that I had my first experience with what we now call #CancelCulture. I was working for a family owned company as a Director of Operations, when about 90 days in we had a large meeting at their corporate headquarters. I found out they were refusing benefits to unmarried couples (something that was highly illegal in my operational territory of California) and pointed this out to our C level executives.
They played dumb in the moment, promised to get on top of rectifying the situation, and a week later fired me over the phone citing that my stand-up clips on Youtube were “unacceptable content” for a high level executive in their company. I got a lawyer, sued them for whistleblower retaliation, and ended up settling the case 18 months later. It was at this time, I decided to focus on comedy full time, and drive ride-share on the side to supplement my income. In 2015, I was lucky enough to have my food-centric podcast “March of the Pigs” catch the eye of reality TV executives in Knoxville, TN – home of the development side of Food Network & Travel Channel. They offered me an opportunity to develop a show with them, which we piloted and was later picked up to series. My first ever pilot was picked up to series. I have no way of knowing exact figures, but that’s perhaps something that has only happened a handful of times in television history. The show trailer debuted to 35 million viewers online, and our premiere episode hit higher numbers than any new show for Food Network in almost 10 years. We were a hit. “Ginormous Food” went on to be syndicated in 14 countries world-wide, ran for 3 seasons and was seen over 100 million times. I signed instantly by UTA, thrown a team of 5 great agents & execs to help me develop in my career, and we were on our way.
The rollercoaster ride came to a screeching halt in contract renegotiations after the first 3 seasons, and it was over in less than 2 years; the harsh reality of the world of reality TV. My next bout with #CancelCulture came 6 months after that. I was in talks & pitch meetings regularly for new shows in the food space, pitching my scripted work, as well as attempting to get the stand-up side of my career moving again when I made the biggest mistake any public personality can make in this day & age: I shared an opinion. Publicly. Here it is, in case you were under a rock in May 2018:
You see, I had just come home the day before from a meeting pitching a show based on my life as a straight-edge comedian surrounded by friends that were alcoholics and drug addicts. A show that I had been developing for about 7 years; one that I was really proud of. The simple feedback I got in that meeting from an executive at that network was “we’re not making any straight white male content right now.” I sort of rolled my eyes, thanked them for their time, and set out on my day. May 18, 2018, — the Santa Fe Springs shooting. The internet was ablaze with gun control articles, mental health thought-pieces; all with a common theme: The problem wasn’t guns, or mental health. The problem was straight white men. I did, at that time, what I had been grown accustomed to. I took to twitter with my thoughts on the subject. Suffice to say, It was not met warmly.
The mob worked quickly — diving into my twitter archives and using all kinds of mental gymnastics to take my old jokes out of context and wrap them in the blanket of white supremacy. Literally taking jokes condemning the use of racial slurs out of context and painting those words as my own. In the coming days, I was dumped by my agents at UTA, had all of my pitch meetings killed at the various networks around town, and was back to square one as an entertainer. A year later I went back to work in the corporate sector, only to be fired 2 days into the job because a woman at the company googled me, was uncomfortableabout the controversy a year before, and that was all it took. I was out on my ass again, forced to use GOFUNDME to cover our bills and stave off eviction with my abrupt termination. I was all the way at the bottom. Suicide crossed my mind more than sex for the average man. I didn’t see a way out of things. I persevered. I figured things out. I kept moving. I worked on whatever I could, stayed strong with the support of my partner of 10 years and my parents; the greatest three living people in my world. You would think that being at the bottom would be enough for these people. Having my career derailed, starting from the beginning all over again, and being labeled a white supremacist would be the victory they needed to move on to the next person and forget about me entirely. You would be wrong. They came for me in 2019, when I said Billie Eilish’s music sucked. “What kind of pedophile criticizes the music of a 17 year old girl?” They came for me in 2020, when I criticized comedian Jim Gaffigan for denouncing Trump, but refusing to denounce abortion.
“Oh, so you’re a Trump supporter, huh?” They came for me 2021, when I applauded the Texas abortion ban.
“You just want to control women’s bodies — probably because you can’t get laid, you incel!” Each time, the mob petitioned Food Network to cancel my show. A show that had been off the air since January 2018. They just came for me again this weekend, when I criticized millionaire comedian Trevor Noah for being rich and out of touch. Now, this lengthy backstory is NOT some attempt to paint myself as some kind of tragic figure. The things I lost through all of these cancellations were things I feel lucky enough to have had in the first place, and am hardly entitled to. The thing that I find most interesting about all of these cancellation attempts, is how quickly they stopped being about the truth. The reason that #CancelCulture is the biggest threat to the American way of life is not the direct consequences of the actions of these mobs. Sure, they cost people jobs and money in the immediate, but we will hit a critical mass at some point where almost every person in America will have been cancelled for something, and thought crime will be as disregarded as having a “minor consumption” charge in your past. The most dangerous thing about #CancelCulture is that it’s rooted in the manufacturing of a perspective based on feelings. I feel like this started during the HR movement I lived and worked through in the late 90’s and early 2000s. HR conversations around policy slowly morphed from things that were truly inappropriate for the workplace, and shifted to focusing on merely how things made people feel. A supervisor grabbing a woman’s butt in the workplace is clearly inappropriate, but telling her that her new haircut is nice might also make her uncomfortable — so we have to treat them as the same thing. But they aren’t the same thing. They should produce different levels of discomfort, but you can’t write policy around nuance or context. So now, legally, it’s all the same, and the punishment for all discomfort is corporate death. Imagine our justice system working the same way. Double parking disrupts the flow of traffic, and ruins people’s days; might make them late for an appointment, or effect the flow of municipal vehicles. Rape, also could potentially ruin someone’s day or make them late for an appointment. Rape is a horrific crime, but if they both can produce similar discomfort, then the punishment for both must be equal. The punishment is cancellation.
If you go back and look at ALL of my cancellations, you’ll quickly observe that they very swiftly became about how my words made people feel, rather than the words themselves. Even my most recent bout with Trevor Noah changed course immediately. Here’s the tweet:
Pretty simple, right? I’m criticizing a millionaire for being out of touch, and in an eye-rolling fashion said sarcastically “I know more about what it means to be black in America than Trevor Noah.” The insinuation here is that I know NOTHING; and he probably knows even less. This immediately morphed into responses like the one below:
Where did that come from? How is that the deciphering? This has to be an outlier, right? Of the over 6,000 negative comments — over HALF were under the belief that this is what the tweet said. Except it isn’t. So what the mob is angry about, is their own interpretation of my words and not my words. It’s the feelings my words generate for each individual person, and how that gets jumbled up and spit back out of the cancellation spin cycle.
I’ve spent HOURS talking about how special America is; how it’s created more Black wealth and prosperity than any other developed nation. This notion the mob suggests would completely contradict my primary argument for why America is so great. How do you begin to defend yourself for something you didn’t say? The answer: You can’t. But when these takedown mobs are successful at applying this in numbers, their interpretation becomes the truth by quantity. If a million people are saying it, it must be true. Right?
That was the problem with the Salem witch trials. We executed 19 people under the context and idea that magic is real. We don’t have a great history in this country of the mob “getting it right.”
How about Emmett Till? A 14 year old black kid who was lynched in 1955 for supposedly offending a white woman? She later confessed the entire thing was a lie, and guess what the outrage mob is thinking while reading this? “This failed, white comedian just compared himself to Emmett Till.” Do you get it now? #CancelCulture isn’t ruining America because it costs lucky white dudes like me TV deals. It’s not ruining America because it’s “holding politicians accountable for the consequences of their actions.” It is ruining America because it’s decaying our freedoms without holding to the truth. How can we be free if the truth no longer matters? What is freedom, if it can be taken away because a group of individual’s feelings simply become the facts in the majority? I wish I had the answer. All I, or any of us can do for that matter, is keep telling the truth and refuse to acknowledge misinterpretations of it.