To plagiarize Joan Rivers, “Can we talk?” May I rant freely? Can I get angry and still be heard? Am I going to have to apologize for sharing my feelings and throwing a table later? Do I have to always be a giggilng ray of sunshine, even if I am pissed off? I need to rant about being angry and, well, ranting. I am frustrated with the dismissal of anger as “ugly” or “unproductive” or unfunny. The truth is, anger is a legitimate, important and motivating emotion for activism, personal development, and humor. Anger is important, anger is necessary, anger is funny.
It turns out being pissed off can really motivate and mobilize a group of people to work for social change. As a child, I remember hearing about the Black Panthers from the lens of my mother. They were militant (somehow this was a bad thing). They were angry (and that was an illegitimate, divisive sentiment). And they wore berets. The Black Panthers were angry because they had been silenced and oppressed for centuries, and rightfully so. The Black Panthers were (and are) not concerned with attractively packaging their feelings for the gaze of my mother and other White folks in power. They used their anger to connect with the anger and frustration that so many Black people felt. And they made an impact. The Arab Spring was fueled by some Tweets with smiley faces, but mostly by anger with corruption and a hope for fairer governments. And I do not believe that anger and hope are mutually exclusive. Now, I see many people involved with the Occupy Wall Street movement angry because they do not have a job, because they live in debt, and/or because of straight up correction coming from big banks and businesses. Their anger sparked a global movement that acknowledges the interconnectedness of people’s experiences and feelings. Social movements are pretty weak when they are not powered by hardcore, angry zeal.
On a personal level, anger is a basic human emotion, along with sad, glad, afraid (pronounced “afrad” in this case) and countless others. Sometimes those other emotions motivate us to reach our goals and grow as humans, and sometimes we are fueled by our anger. Maybe it’s irriatation from a mouse infestation that empowers us to clean the house (true story for me), or maybe the sadness and frustration sparked by a breakup that inspires us to get that dope haircut, firing or rejection of any kind empowers us to reevaluate our passions and work harder for them. And it’s certainly healthier than always being a rainbow bright cupcake on the outside and crying on the inside, and more realistic than being an emotionally controlled Stepford Wife.
When it comes to comedy, ranting is often a scandalous mistake made by a standup in the moment, a mistake that reveals bigotry and hate (Michael Richards’ use of the n-word and Tracy Morgans’ homophobic rants come to mind). But rants are often hilarious to watch, whether they be about something mundane like yogurt or something larger like stereotyping. Rants are captivating to an audience because we are drawn into the passion, the anger that a comic feels. You can’t phone in a rant. No matter how “ugly” a rant may be, a rant is a demonstration of both our human vulnerability and our passion and zeal. Commitment shown through anger and ranting proves we are not robots. Ranting shows we care and I do not want to have to apologize for my anger. When I feel anger inside me, it’s not fair to dismiss it as me being on my raging period. Sometimes I’m a positive ray of sunshine, sometimes I am mad as can be. Whether I am protesting, performing, or piddling about my rat-infested apartment, I try to embrace the rage within, mix it with some buttercream frosting, and slather it on top of a complex human emotions cupcake.
Emily Schorr Lesnick is a recent graduate of Macalester College, where she studied gender, identity, and comedy. Her writing has been featured on Splitsider, The Mary Sue, Funny not Slutty, Hello Giggles and Lilveggiepatch. You can follow her on Twitter @ESchorrLesnick.