SUPER STICKY SURFACES: Controversy on Campus

By Lisa Markslag

Super Sticky Surfaces (SSS): ‘the campus classic’. The on-campus theatrical sitcom that satirises everyday life at University College Utrecht pulls piles of people into the auditorium every one or two months to make fun of the audience while it gets drunk. Being the writer/director, I decided I wanted to learn more about our show – more specifically about the opinions people don’t dare to share with me in real life.

People are fickle and humour is incredibly subjective.

SSS is controversial. This manifests itself through putting (perceived) racial insensitivity, sex(ism), and the best campus gossip on stage. In short, it entails staying far away from being politically correct.

One of our most controversial episodes contained a Syrian refugee and an incredibly stereotypical Slovenian driver. After the performance, Ahmed (a friend) introduced me to his friends who also attended the performance and who turned out to be Syrian refugees themselves. They enjoyed the show and the humour around the refugee-character, which proves that the interpretation of a story or character really depends on the  person.

I did a survey on the popularity of SSS and only one person was especially upset about the first episode he/she saw. In this episode, we put a deaf character and a “no means yes”-joke (“no doesn’t mean yes, it means maybe, depending on the price”).

She stated: “We have a similar show at my home university but the SSS jokes would never fly back home. I get what you were going for, but I think it was unsophisticated and it left a poor impression.”

Though there are of course opinions on our rushed scriptwriting and lack of professionalism, most debated is our offensiveness. Even some comments that initially praised SSS in the survey ended with phrases like: “sometimes a bit too wrong,” “too stereotypical,” and “extremely inappropriate.” Other comments, on the other hand, praised the political incorrectness: “SSS criticises everybody, which is necessary at UCU,” “hilariously controversial” and “painful (though funny).”

From a short interview with my fellow writer/director, Koen van Wijk, I got his thoughts on the controversy and his attitude towards it:

“You seem to have an attitude of ‘not caring’. In which way do you think this could be a good or a bad thing?”

“Not caring about what?”

“Not caring about what people think.”

“Well, I do care, but in the sense that I find it important that people think what I write is funny. I don’t care about people disliking my jokes out of principle, and I think this is a good attitude to have. Self-censorship is per definition detrimental to writing… anything.” I agreed, but also thought this was not entirely true: we do censor ourselves – sometimes even during rehearsals with the actors there.

“Okay,” I continued, “so, in which sense do you think this attitude could be bad for Super Sticky?”

“Hm. On this campus, we do not have the luxury of writing in extremes… The limited size of our maximum audience inherently limits us to a more mainstream sense of humour.”

This thought proved our censorship and was also evident in the surveys. Some people found our humour too extreme. Others, in response to individual (least favourite) episodes of the show, wrote for example: “basic,” “repeating jokes” and “some of the jokes were straight up flat.”

The main question is: do we want to get more or less extreme? In another episode we did last year, we included the (real) story of a girl who had falsely filed for sexual harassment, which banned the blamed student from campus. It was massive campus gossip and a lot of extra blame was put on the innocent student, so we decided to tell the real story on stage and use a Star Wars-format. People went crazy about this show: they were either freaking out because they thought it was brilliant or because they thought it was inappropriate.

So, where is SSS on the scale of controversy? Is it too much or too little? The truth is, we cannot really know.

The limited size of our maximum audience inherently limits us to a more mainstream sense of humour.

Most of the episodes that were picked as favourites were also picked as least favourites. Episodes that we thought would be received horribly have gotten more praise than episodes that we actually thought of as “well-written.”

We might be digging our own graves without even noticing it because a fraction of the audience loved it and told us, while the rest of campus decided to stay away forever.

The only things we can be certain about are that people are fickle and that humour is incredibly subjective.

As SSS, we will just keep doing what we are are doing as long as people keep coming, regardless of what the audience thinks. In the end we are here to cause controversy, no matter to what degree.

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