We live in a time when seemingly everyone, no matter how rich, famous or successful, is angling to play the victim. Elon Musk invites sympathy by telling us that a company refusing to advertise on his site is equivalent to blackmail. When even Taylor Swift says she was canceled in the Time magazine article announcing her as Person of the Year, you know that the ability to repackage yourself as the underdog is limitless.
As it happens, this provides an opening for jokes. In Leo Reich’s cleverly self-aware new special, “Literally Who Cares?” (Max), the young comic spoofs this tendency. He begins by saying his show is sponsored by his dad, who runs an incredible small business you might have heard of named Deutsche Bank. By the end, he insists he’s oppressed. “I read something recently that even if you haven’t been oppressed, you can feel like you have and it triggers the same endorphins.”
The comic artist currently tackling this theme best is the filmmaker Kristoffer Borgli, whose feature “Sick of Myself” introduced audiences to a character who intentionally takes pills to make herself physically ill, to gain attention and fame. Borgli’s new movie, “Dream Scenario,” is about a beta male professor played by Nicolas Cage accused by a colleague of “searching for the insult.” In an outlandish twist, he starts showing up in people’s dreams doing violent things, and fragile students freak out in a parody of delicate sensitivities. The professor sees himself as the real victim and is then tempted by the embrace of Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson and, of course, the French. In other words, this movie is riffing on the most popular victim narrative of our moment: Cancel culture.
Thankfully, Minhaj doesn’t go there, but he gets close. At one point in his show, he said the real divide in the country was not between rich and poor, Democratic or Republican, but between “the insane” and “the insufferable.”
The insane include the people who stormed the capitol. He calls them nuts, before adding: “but fun.” Then he grew more animated describing the insufferable by their “NPR tote-bag energy” and “hall monitor” tendencies. It was a head fake to The New Yorker article before a pivot to self-deprecation, poking fun at the time he corrected Ellen DeGeneres on her show for mispronouncing his name.
“What was I expecting?” he asked. “She’s a billionaire who’s best friends with Oprah. She’s not a Sufi poet.”