People often debate about whether there are some things that one should never joke about. I think comedy should be the one arena where anything goes.
Comedy has always been the place where boundaries are stretched and rules are broken. It’s the one place where people can get away with saying things that they can’t normally say in any other situation. It’s cathartic.
If we place any limits on comedy, then we do ourselves a disservice, because comedy is the place where one can explore all the darkest reaches of our psyches, and give them expression in a way that is harmless. It’s a way to let out that which we fear.
Comedy is like a laboratory where we can test ideas and there are two responses: laughter or silence. There really should be no other results.
Those who take it upon themselves to tell comics to apologize for any joke are expressing an extreme form of self-centeredness and self-righteousness. For one, they assume to speak for everyone, and there is no case in which zero people find a joke funny, so they obviously don’t speak for everyone. Secondly, asking someone to apologize for a fictional statement is like asking George R.R. Martin to apologize for killing off your favorite character. It’s his material, not yours.
Being offended does not entitle anyone to anything. To use one’s offense in a manipulative way by trying to control someone else’s expressions is unconscionable.
Comedy is the place where the best and the worst of humanity can coexist. Sure, some things are in bad taste, but some people like that. And saying some words or laughing at some words literally harms no one.
If you go to a comedy show, it’s a known factor that everything said during the show is not meant to be taken seriously or personally. Ever. Those who do are basically wanting the world to cater to their individual issues. That’s immoral.
If a comic tweets an “offensive” joke, then it’s much like the standup show. They are known to be a comedian and it should be assumed that, unless otherwise specified, whatever they tweet is very likely to be a joke. That’s their job, and when a joke hits their brain, Twitter is a great way to get it out to an audience and test it without having to book a show. Twitter is a godsend for comedy. If you don’t like a certain comic’s material, you can block them.
The comics that are known for being the most offensive are often known for being the nicest people in person. Their real persona wouldn’t wish to harm anyone, but they realize they have a dark side, just like everyone does, but they choose to explore it and deal with it directly rather than hide from it. They embrace taboo, cringe along with us when the thought comes up. they get that thought out, and sometimes it causes people to cringe or wince, as it should, because it’s dark stuff. But exploring that through comedy is probably the healthiest way to do so. Repressed darkness often comes out in much worse ways.
For those who get “triggered” by mention of certain topics need to keep in mind that life is a minefield for the sensitive, and you either have to learn to deal, or hide inside and stay off the internet.
When I lost my stepfather to cancer, jokes about cancer hurt for a while. Most of them weren’t funny. But some of them got a chuckle out of me despite my pain, because they were well written. Comedy helped me heal from that situation. The sooner I was able to find comedy in misery and tragedy, the sooner I was able to heal and start to move on with my life.
When 9/11 happened, no one really wanted to joke around or get risque for a while. However, Gilbert Gottfried got up and did a horrid version of the classic Aristocrats joke and people laughed. Uncomfortably at first, because they weren’t sure if it was too soon to start laughing yet, but soon the whole place was roaring. He helped people realize that it was okay to laugh. He helped heal New York and the comedy world. Through really offensive and disgusting jokes.
Comics like Anthony Jeselnik, Frankie Boyle and Lisa Lampanelli all cover taboo subjects in their comedy, but are known for being genuinely nice people in person. So, bad jokes don’t come from bad people, and telling bad jokes doesn’t make one a bad person. We know racism is bad, and almost all of Lisa’s jokes are racist, but we know she’s not actually racist. She explores uncomfortable social issues in a way that allows us all to laugh together, regardless of race. This is not somehow inferior to cleaner comedy. It’s just another angle to cover in the crucible of ideas that is comedy.
Comedy is therapeutic, in many ways. For the comic and the audience. Comics get us to think about things in ways that we often wouldn’t consider if someone was trying to be serious. Usually, when people are serious, we tune them out. People want memes and lolcats and don’t want to face serious issues. Comedy is how people who normally don’t think about serious issues can be exposed to ways of thinking about them that they simply wouldn’t otherwise.
Comedy can enlighten as well as offend, and sometimes it does both simultaneously. South Park, for instance, is full of “offensive” material, but they always end up making a point with each episode. Usually good points. Points that people wouldn’t realize through any other medium. For many, it’s the only way they’ll listen. If one can use a rape joke to show how horrible rape is, or a racist joke to show how ridiculous racism is, or a sexist joke to expose the stupidity of sexism, then that’s a good thing.
Comedy is supposed to make us uncomfortable at times. It’s supposed to push our buttons and stretch our boundaries. Even if one finds no merit whatsoever in a joke, it might be the one thing that makes someone laugh who really needs it. Even if it’s a chuckle while cringing. Someone might need that laugh. Let them.
© 2015 William Suphan
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