An open letter to Inside Joke

As I write this, I am aware that it will most likely be met with groans of “can’t you take a joke?” and “you’re missing the point of the sketch”, and although I know many people will shrug this letter off as oversensitive, that does not mean that the blatantly transphobic joke that was made at the show on March 19th should go unaddressed. For anyone unable to attend, the particular joke I am referring to was part of a video sketch where a cisgender man says “canceled? Why am I being canceled? People should be celebrating me. I just won the women’s NCAA national swimming tournament” (time stamp 2:15). For additional context, on March 17th, Lia Thomas, a swimmer from the University of Pennsylvania, became the first ever transgender athlete to win a Division 1 national championship. Since coming out earlier this year, Thomas has experienced hate and backlash from the general public, other athletes, and her own teammates. Crowds showed up to protest outside of her races and her victories have been met with silence or booing. The controversy surrounding Lia Thomas competing in the tournament, and the butt of the joke, is the debate on whether transgender athletes, specifically trans women, should be allowed to compete in the same category as cisgender women due to a supposed “biological advantage”. However, because of the joke’s specificity, it is not just a joke at the expense of trans athletes, but also a direct attack on Lia Thomas. Because they specifically chose to use NCAA swimming as their example, just days after Lia Thomas won her title, it is not just a joke about the ongoing debate about trans women in sports, but a direct attack on her gender identity.

The theme of the show was cancel culture. At the beginning they showed celebrities that had recently been canceled, and even made a joke about how it would be hard to defend Dave Chapelle, who got canceled for some transphobic jokes he made during his recent Netflix comedy special. Perhaps the funniest part of the show was the irony of condemning someone for making transphobic comments and then turning around and doing the exact same thing. However, I want to make it clear that I do not believe in cancel culture and that the purpose of this letter is not to cancel Inside Joke. As a society, I hope we can move towards a method of accountability that allows people to learn and grow from mistakes. It is not productive to individuals or society to banish people for their faults, but accountability is still important. 

Popular rhetoric around comedy and cancel culture involves phrases like “you can’t joke about anything nowadays” and “people are just too sensitive,” but saying “it’s just a joke” does not undo the harm of what has been said. In that video, Inside Joke was not only equating Lia Thomas to a man, but also invalidating the existence and successes of all trans athletes. Transgender women are women. Trans people face plenty of discrimination, harassment, and violence in their lives and by furthering harmful narratives Inside Joke is doing nothing other than promoting transphobia. I hope that from this letter Inside Joke will push themselves to learn more about the struggles trans women face in athletics and how that joke contributed to a culture in our society that continually ostracizes trans individuals.


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