They say there are two things you shouldn’t discuss at a dinner table: politics and sex. Two topics that, because of the tension, stress and/or awkwardness they bring, have been relegated to taboo status. Society has chosen to consider both issues improper and uncouth, and discussing either in public shows how uncultured one can be.
Over the years however, politics has become the cultural water cooler topic of choice. Thanks to programs like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, Last Week Tonight, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, and most recently Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, more and more people are getting into a wider discussion of politics and its role in our lives. There have been political shows before (and we were sad to see Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report go), but what has finally made politics accessible to so many is that these news-based shows use comedy to break down the barriers. Using the language of humor helps translate political realities for the masses, who previously might not have known just how big of an impact politics can have. All of a sudden, it’s become cool to talk about your candidate and world issues; our recent elections prove this. Almost everyone — from family, friends and enemies to celebrities and other social influencers — now offers their two cents’ worth on the matter, posting their thoughts online, and sharing a link or two from one of these shows. In some ways, many now see it as a badge of honor to wear their political beliefs on their sleeves.
While talking politics has now become as popular as discussing the latest Beyoncé album, the same cannot be said for our discussions on sex. All over the world, it is still the one issue that many consider taboo. Almost any and all topics concerning sex are still spoken about in hushed tones or behind closed doors, and it rarely gets an airing in mainstream media. Be it health issues (such as AIDS), reproductive rights, or sexual orientation, the fact that progress on sex talk moves at a snail’s pace is largely due to the fact that there aren’t a lot of safe, public venues for such a discussion. And without discussion how can we expect education let alone acceptance? And especially here in our country, one of the most religious nations in the world, most of the talk concerning sex still centers on the Bible more than it does scientific research. It’s disconcerting, to say the least, and truly backwards in this day and age.
One area where sex talk has been welcome, though, is comedy. Comedy knows no taboos. It is one of the rare places where nothing is off-limits. But for most of its history most comedians (often male) have treated sex either as this mythical coming-of-age quest or as a scene from the most gruesome horror movie ever. Rarely has sex been discussed as casually or as frankly as airplane food. Thankfully, sex has become less of a male-oriented topic in the world of comedy due in no small part to women like Joan Rivers, Sarah Silverman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer and, most recently, Nikki Glaser, who unapologetically and hilariously wears the notorious label of “perv” proudly on her new show Not Safe with Nikki Glaser.
“I was obsessed with sex because I wasn’t having it,” said Nikki Glaser in an interview for Vanity Fair. Now one of the premiere comics in America, Glaser admits that she was a prude back in her younger days and owes much of her “filthy candor and fearlessness” to being a late bloomer. (She lost her virginity at the age of 21.)
Mostly known in the world of standup comedy, Glaser has had a previous show under her belt, but with little success. In recent years, she’s been seen onscreen in both of Schumer’s projects (Inside Amy Schumer and Trainwreck) as well as being a frequent guest on the comedy game show @midnight. With Not Safe, however, the comedienne’s astute take on sex given during her standup finally translates onscreen. As both the host and creative head of Not Safe, Glaser finally does what she does best: making sex both honest and ridiculously hilarious.
About 10 episodes in, Glaser has already tackled typically taboo topics such as squirting, pegging, and foot fetishes. In the hands of a lesser talent, these could fall into juvenile slapstick humor but with Glaser, sex becomes a common and shared experience instead of something to be ashamed of and kept private. Much of its success is owed to the understanding that sex is fair game. It is treated the same way as any hobby or interest and the show serves as a place for enthusiasts to know more about that world and its culture. In a way, her show has become that water-cooler place for people to openly discuss sex. Thanks to its carefree nature, sex becomes demystified and actual opinions and questions arise. But as great as that is, Not Safe is more than just several minutes of talking heads talking head. Glaser effortlessly and successfully moves her show from casual conversations to Tinder social experiments, to giving her actual parents lie detector tests and asking them about their sexual habits. Yes, it still very much follows certain talk show tropes, but she makes the most of her multi-platform show to various degrees of consequences. (Google “Nikki Glaser polygraph test” for reference.)
In some ways what political comedians such as Jon Stewart and Samantha Bee have done is to make politics accessible to the common man. Too often the issues get bogged down and tangled up, and it’s hard to understand what exactly people are arguing about. The Daily Show and other shows like it have done much to bring something generally seen as taboo into our everyday conversations. And though it just started a couple of months ago, the same can be said for Not Safe with Nikki Glaser. The show and Glaser herself have done a lot to push sex into the open, not only making it an accessible topic but also debunking some of the issues that have led to sexual misconceptions.
In the same interview with Vanity Fair, Glaser said she “wants to educate younger girls so they’re not so freaked out, don’t feel that they owe sex to anyone or need a boyfriend as a stamp of approval, and don’t think their bodies are gross because they’ve never heard what sex really is.” It’s something so obvious, but so rarely heard because for so long sex has been kept under wraps, always kept hidden from the dinner table. But with society shifting more and more each day, it is next to idiotic to stay silent anymore. Thankfully, one of the best standups is speaking up. And she’s funny as hell.