Choose Your Own Adventure: You're a Comedian Who Got Canceled

There's a formula to mounting a comeback as a disgraced comedian.
Drew Schwartz
Brooklyn, US
June 26, 2019, 11:00am
Andrew Dice Clay, Louis CK, Aziz Ansari, and Roseanne Barr
Photos (left to right) by Scott Montoya / Wikimedia Commons; Laura Cavanaugh / Getty Images; Andrew H. Walker / Getty Images; and Leah Mark / Wikimedia Commons

Just over a year since that blatantly racist tweet cost Roseanne Barr her show, the disgraced comedian is getting back into stand-up. She's traveling the country with Andrew Dice Clay—another comic who was effectively canceled over his racist, sexist, and homophobic jokes—for what they're calling the "Mr. and Mrs. America Tour," which Clay announced on Sunday. From what he told Fox News, it's shaping up to be just as deeply problematic as you'd expect, a crusade against political correctness from two people who "don't give a shit what anybody thinks about anything."


"She's an original, I'm an original, and people should just stop reading Twitter. Calm down with your political conversations. Whoever is running the country, nobody else's life changes," Clay said, a take that is just flagrantly, objectively wrong. "We still gotta go out there and make a living. Enjoy your family, enjoy your friends, bang your chicks, and make your money."

Despite the fact that Clay has made repulsive jokes about the killing of LGBTQ people, and that Barr compared a black former White House official to an ape (to name just one offense), they're both back in business. Tickets for their tour go on sale Friday.

We've watched this return to the spotlight happen over and over again. To get there, every comedian who falls from grace walks essentially the same path—whether it's Barr, or Clay, or Louis CK, or Aziz Ansari, or Norm Macdonald. There's a blueprint to mounting a comeback, a specific set of moves you make to emerge from exile and get back on tour. The process is so predictable, you can lay it out in a step-by-step formula—a choose-your-own-adventure, if you will, for fallen stand-ups.

Let's begin, as every disgraced comedian begins, right here:

So you just got canceled.

The story is out; the public has largely condemned you. Regardless of what you did or said that landed you in this position, you've only got two real options. You can either A) Apologize or B) Double Down on Your Problematic Behavior. Go straight to whichever choice you make.

A) Apologize

You've decided to face the music. This seems like it should be straightforward—admit to your wrongdoing, say you're sorry, vow to do better—but, for whatever reason, it almost never is. Maybe, like Louis CK, you acknowledge that the allegations against you are true, but never actually say the words "I am sorry." Maybe, like Aziz Ansari, you express that you were "surprised and concerned" by what you've been accused of—but, again, don't actually say you're sorry. Maybe, like Norm Macdonald, you try to apologize, but then wind up saying something deeply offensive about Down syndrome. No matter what kind of apology or non-apology you make, you promise you'll step out of the spotlight for a while—whether you're taking "time to process" or "a long time to listen"—and that's what you do. Now you're left with a new set of options: Either C) Disappear Completely or D) Begin Mounting a Comeback. What do you do?

B) Double Down on Your Problematic Behavior

After earning a reputation as a villain, you're fully leaning into it. Maybe you take a page out of Barr's book, and start retweeting people who support you despite the terrible thing you did, or defend your racist tweet by claiming you "thought that bitch" you slandered "was white." Perhaps, like Clay, you just keep making offensive jokes about marginalized groups. You're giving into your worst proclivities; you're pissed off about the fact that the world has turned against you, and you don't give a shit who you offend anymore. You're an anti-PC warrior. You're getting on whatever stage will have you and making awful jokes about school shooting survivors and nonbinary people, and you don't care what anybody says about them. At this point, you can either quit while you're behind and C) Disappear Completely, or—drawing on the legions of new, like-minded fans you've picked up from doing extremely problematic comedy—F) Go on a Major Tour.

C) Disappear Completely

Congratulations—you're literally the only canceled comedian who's ever done this. See you never.

D) Begin Mounting a Comeback

You sort of apologized, and you've taken what you've determined to be a long enough break from comedy—say, nine months if you're Louis CK, or four if you're Aziz Ansari. You're itching to get back on stage, and you almost certainly do so by showing up unannounced at the Comedy Cellar in New York City for an impromptu set. (If not, you do so at a similarly tiny venue.) Maybe you get a standing ovation. Maybe a heckler yells at you to take your dick out onstage. Maybe a bunch of major comedians throw their support behind you. Maybe you're confronted by protesters. It doesn't really matter; you've tested the waters, you've caught the bug, and now you want to do more stand-up. You can either suppress this urge and C) Disappear Completely, or give into it and E) Go on a Small Tour. Make your choice.

E) Go on a Small Tour

You announce that you'll be doing a handful of limited-capacity shows at small venues to "work out new material." You force everyone who attends to put their phones in Yondr pouches, so no one can leak your sets, or maybe go so far as to subject them to a non-disclosure agreement. When it comes to the material itself, you're either ignoring the thing that got you canceled, leaning into it in your new role as a villain—if so, proceed to B) Double Down on Your Problematic Behavior—or making an attempt to reckon with your wrongdoing onstage. Eventually, the small tour ends, and it's decision time: Either C) Disappear Completely (an unlikely choice at this point) or F) Go on a Major Tour.

F) Go on a Major Tour

While your fans might look a little bit different now (maybe explicitly anti-PC, maybe a little less diverse) and a few of your projects might've fallen through, you're basically back to where you were before you got canceled: You're going on a big, nationwide (or even international) tour. It doesn't really matter if you've attempted to atone for your actions, or if you've been forgiven for what you did. People are still giving you standing ovations, and they're still buying tickets. You followed the formula, and it worked. You took all the steps every disgraced comedian takes to make a comeback, and now here you are, once again, raking in money, telling jokes under a spotlight, whether you've earned the right to or not.

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