Comedy In The Age of Outrage and Offence : When Do Jokes Go Too Far?

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Have we become hypersensitive towards stand up comedy?

When does a joke cross the line?

Does comedy need to change in order to accommodate the feelings of others?

My video response below:

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Comedy in film and stand-up comedy has come under fire in recent times. The age of outrage, offence and hypersensitivity has targeted these mediums. Comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock refuse to play at colleges now due to the delicate sensibilities of students. This has got me thinking about whether there are limits to this medium and what those limits are.

Comedy in film has changed. Childhood films were filled with irreverent humor.  Mel Brook’s Blazing Saddles would not be accepted today. The film jokes about race, rape, ethnic stereotypes, women, bestiality, and black fetishism.

In Annie Hall, Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) tells Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) that “his grandmother never gave gifts because she was too busy being raped by Cossacks”.

I have never found this humor offensive. It’s funny because it was clever and innovative.  I  believe  in finding the comedy in tragedy or controversy. It’s not an easy to do. But a skilled comedic writer can make it work.

Dave Chappelle was called a homophobe and transphobe for jokes he made on his recent Netflix special. He joked about transgender women including Caitlyn Jenner. Chappelle poked fun at the LGBTIQ acronym.  He played on gay male stereotypes by  imitating “gay CPR”. Limp wristed fanning followed by purse lipped breathing.

There was nothing offensive to it. He’s utilising stereotypes in his work. Are stereotypes a fabrication? They may not be the entire picture but they are not false. The majority of comedy is the satire and ridicule of  individuals and groups. Apparently, we need to get better at comedy by not setting others up for ridicule.

The art of comedy is mostly ridicule and satire of others. The  majority of individuals targeted are public figures. That’s the price one pays for fame.  I have no issue with comedy created about specific societal groups either. Everyone cops it at some point. Seems fair to me.

The use of stereotypes in comedy is not funny when used poorly. A constant barrage of stereotyping of the one group it gets tiring. I completely understand that.Stereotypes are used because they actually exist! They don’t represent the full spectrum of a group but they are a part of it.

The stereotypical element of a group are the most ripe for comedic license. There’s no harm in playing on those stereotypes through well structured comedy.Many comedians believe CONTEXT is the most important element in all of this.

Lenny Bruce’s famous New York routine on racist language was an attempt to disempower the racist language. It was daring and relevant in the 60s. Thoughts?

The late George Carlin made a point about context in this famous scene from one of his shows. He argues that words are meaningless in essence. It’s about the context of a word.

Richard Pryor used the word ‘nigger’ earlier in his career but renounced it in the late 70s. He omitted it from his comedy routines.

Eddie Murphy’s famous Delirious concert contained a routine making jokes about gay people.  The routine has come under fire in recent times for homophobia. He consistently refereed to gay men as faggots and made jokes about people with AIDS. He has since apologized and disavowed the content.

Louis CK seems to follow the Carlin ideology. He says you should be able to use taboo language like nigger, faggot and cunt. For example, you should be able to say faggot to describe someone as in idiot but not in a derogatory way towards a gay person because of their sexuality.

Bruce and Carlin have made the best points. I like the process of deconstructing words in order to disempower racism. I also like the idea of context playing a big part when it comes to the effect of a word.

I’m not offended by these nigger and faggot jokes and that’s because I am neither black or gay. However,  I would never make public statements or jokes using nigger or faggot because I can’t justify it.

The Chappelle jokes were harmless and  funny. The Murphy skit surprised me. I was neither offended or amused. It wasn’t funny. It lacked innovation and substance. The comedy was childish and immature. It reminded me of what a 14 year old would say in a school yard. Murphy was only 19 at the time, maybe that had something to do it’s poor quality.

Gay rumours have plagued Murphy for decades. If the rumors are true does it make his gay jokes less severe? If he is gay, does have the right to say faggot in stand up comedy?

It worked for Carlin and Bruce. It didn’t work for Murphy. Context, subtext, and creative innovation is what will get a comedian over the line of not being of offensive.

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