@Midnight is one of Comedy Central’s biggest hits. It does incredibly well for a show that starts at 11:59:59PM. So it’s not all that surprising that @Midnight’s “How I Get Around” contest wound up being a huge success. Back in May, host Chris Hardwick announced that one lucky viewer would win a brand new Jaguar XE plus enough cash to cover the taxes on the car. To enter, participants had to post a photo or video to Twitter, Instagram or Vine that showed how they currently got around and use the hashtag #HowIGetAroundContest.
After the deadline passed I searched Twitter, Vine and Instagram for posts that included the relevant hashtag. I was amazed by how many entries came up. My plan was to look at them all but I gave up after about 200 submissions. With hundreds of entries spread over three social networks, I figured judging this contest would be a nightmare. But in the end, the producers were able to settle on a winner. On May 27th, Chris Hardwick gave a brand new Jaguar to a a young woman who entered using the twitter handle @Asheriee_.
@Asheriee_ was brought up on stage and Hardwick talked to her for a while. But for some reason, they didn’t show her entry until the commercial break. And when they did show it, it was framed by a bizarre graphic:
To see exactly what Comedy Central aired that night, follow this link and skip ahead to the 19:30 mark. For now, I’ll summarize the version of @Asheriee_’s entry that aired during the show: @Asheriee_ and her brother play rock-paper-scissors to determine who gets to use the family car and who gets to use the family bicycle. @Asheriee wins and she picks the bike because the car is a piece of junk that smells moldy. Cut to the brother as he gets in the car and puts on a face mask. The end.
It felt like a pretty complete entry so the “see the entire winning video” graphic was a big red flag. The rules said that entries were only supposed to be 30 seconds long. The version that aired on @Midnight was about 18 seconds long. Why would the producers bother cutting 12 seconds from the video? I mean, this entry was good enough to win almost $50,000 in prizes. So why not show us the whole thing? Hundreds of people entered this contest. Didn’t they deserve to see the actual video that beat them?
I jumped on twitter and discovered that @Midnight hadn’t even posted the full entry yet. But I did find @Asheriee_’s original submission:
— Asheriee (@Asheriee_) May 13, 2016
So the missing 12 seconds just happened to include a very un-funny joke about gun violence. (I live in the south suburbs of Chicago and unfortunately around here “They Shootin’!” is a common joke-response to fireworks or other loud popping noises.) The missing joke presented me with a mystery; did Comedy Central cut it for time or did they intentionally remove the joke because it was offensive?
Believe it or not, I actually figured out the answer. It looks like the joke was intentionally censored. When @Midnight finally posted the winning entry to Twitter, the missing 12 seconds were back. But this time something else was missing….
— @midnight (@midnight) May 27, 2016
The bang, bang, bang of the car door was still there but an editor removed the line “They shootin!” In fact, the line wasn’t just removed; it was carefully covered with audio from a different part of the video. So an editor cut the line and then selected, copied and pasted a section of background noise to fill in the hole.
I’ve been running this website for 7 years now and I’ve never seen anything like this before. The judges in this contest picked a video that included a joke about gun violence and then multiple people worked together to sanitize that entry for public consumption. And to make things worse, the producers went out of their way to hide this act of censorship. If @Asheriee_ had deleted her original entry, no one would have seen the “real” video that won one of the year’s biggest video contests.
I can understand why the producers (and presumably the sponsors) wanted to remove the “They Shootin!” joke. Even though the this episode aired a few weeks before the tragedy in Orlando, it was still offensive and stupid. It mocks gun violence, it mocks fears of gun violence and it perpetuates negative stereotypes about African Americans and African American neighborhoods. What I don’t understand is why the judges would pick an entry that needed to be censored. Like I said, hundreds of people entered this contest. A lot of contestants broke the rules by including copyrighted music or images but there were easily 50 decent, eligible submissions that could have won. So why did the judges pick a video that they couldn’t even air on TV? Unfortunately that question is rhetorical because I’ve yet to figure out how or why this particular video was selected as the winner.