"It's hard to argue with 30 million people on Twitter," the director, best known for "The Hangover" trilogy, said. "You just can't do it, right? So you just go, 'I'm out.'"
As the controversial "Joker" is poised to take the box office by storm, director Todd Phillips says fans can thank "woke culture" for it even existing at all.
The director, best known for raunchy comedies "The Hangover" trilogy, "Old School" and "Road Trip," turned in a starkly different direction when he pitched this dark, anti-superhero film drenched in realism and perhaps too much plausibility. Authorities are reportedly looking into various measures to protect moviegoers over concerns of violence at theaters inspired, at least in part, by the titular character and the film.
But even that is indicative of what Phillips claims drove him out of comedy and into this unexpected direction. "Go try to be funny nowadays with this woke culture," he told Vanity Fair. "There were articles written about why comedies don't work anymore -- I'll tell you why, because all the f--king funny guys are like, 'F--k this shit, because I don't want to offend you.'"
He thinks comedians are finding out, the hard way sometimes, that it's almost impossible to do the job of being funny without offending someone, and in today's connected cancel culture, that can be a career-ending offense.
"It's hard to argue with 30 million people on Twitter," Phillips said. "You just can't do it, right? So you just go, 'I'm out.'"
But for him, "Joker" isn't such a departure as it might seem on camera, as he tries to navigate the changing social landscape. "With all my comedies -- I think that what comedies in general all have in common--is they're irreverent," he explained. "So I go, 'How do I do something irreverent, but f--k comedy? Oh I know, let's take the comic book movie universe and turn it on its head with this.'"
And in some ways the film could be a statement about Phillips frustration with the current "woke culture" and Hollwoood's tendency to capitulate to the offended masses. After all, Joaquin Phoenix's titular lead is driven into his maniacal rage because he finds his brand of humor isn't connecting with audiences and no one finds him funny.
Phillips projects are no stranger to controversy, as he was criticized for the crass "bro humor" of his earlier comedy films. Nowadays, many might argue that his films would never even get greenlit, as "bro humor" can often be misogynistic, sexually-obsessed, homophobic, racially insensitive and juvenile.
And yet, ironically enough, even as Phillips fled his comedy roots for fear of offending "woke culture," he may just have created his most controversial film yet in pushing back against it. "Joker" is the story of a man who is able to rationalize and justify his personal homicidal crusade, which is an uncomfortable premise in a climate struggling under regular mass shootings and the political and social upheaval of what to do about them.
Alread the film has come under fire from families of the victims killed at the Aurora movie theater shooting, which occurred during the screening of a Batman film, as well as social media outcry that "Joker" is sensationalizing and glamorizing and attempting to elicit sympathy for a man who is effectively a mass shooter.
Warner Brothers was quick to responds to these concerns, releasing a statement that said, "It is not the intention of the film, the filmmakers or the studio to hold this character up as a hero." The film will not, however, be screen in Aurora, out of sensitivity to the victims and their families of the 2012 "Dark Knight Rises" shooting.
Still others fear that "Joker" will actually incite or inspire further violence, with many theaters banning masks or face paint at screenings, and the NYPD announcing that they would be sending undercover officers to screenings in the Big Apple, as well as a more visible police presence in an effort to deter possible violence.
And yet, a spokesperson for the NYPD also told Deadline, "There are no specific or credible threats at this time."
At the same time, there was military intel regarding "disturbing and very specific chatter in the dark web" suggesting possible violence at one or more screenings that authorities are taking seriously.
"We're making a movie about a fictional character in a fictional world, ultimately, and your hope is that people take it for what it is," Phillips said, arguing that it should be possible to separate art from reality, and that art should be allowed to also reflect that reality
"You can't blame movies for a world that is so f--ked up that anything can trigger it," he argued. "That's kind of what the movie is about. It's not a call to action. If anything it's a call to self-reflection to society."