Hi. Welcome to Dumb Stuff.
I’m Tommy and this is what I think about stuff that’s mostly dumb.
Today…all the rage over comedy.
Go ahead. Pour yourself a fresh one, grab a bowl of pretzels and get settled in. This nut takes a hot minute to crack, but I’ll try to get at it as simply as possible.
Lately, there seems to a lot of uproar over the things we hear from comedians and their related comedy.
Over the course of human history, leagues of comedians have been labeled offensive. Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Sam Kinison, Sarah Silverman, Joan Rivers, Ricky Gervais and more have all been labeled offensive or worse at one time or another. As some would have you believe, they are dangerous to all that is good and holy in our delicate society. While that is some serious bullshit, the ultimate point is that offensive comedy is nothing new. Technically speaking, neither is our love/hate relationship with offensive material. While a lot of it seems like bravado, we seem very easy to offend. But, come on…really? I can think of about a hundred things that upset me way more than the comedy stylings of the offensive.
Now, I want to be extra careful about saying what is offensive, because ultimately, the definition of offensive is subjective.
I don’t know a good definition of comedy off the top of my head. I can’t tell you, from a textbook point of view, what the value of comedy is to our society, but I’m pretty sure we need it.
Comedy is a reflection of who we are in our moment in time, presented to us in often disruptive, outrageous, inflated and absurd ways. It needs to cut through our common sense defenses to get to our more primal selves in order to elicit a response. The desired primary response is laughter and levity. The secondary desired response is some level of awareness, a chance to reflect on who we are or what the message is and why certain things are funny to us.
While we may think the times we live in are the very darkest and most troubling, so did our fathers and our father’s fathers and so on. Everyone lives through the worst of times depending on how they see it. Through all that struggle, there is a human need and desire to laugh, if for no other reason than to forget for a moment about how freakin’ miserable things are and the need to just blow some steam.
As times change, our sensitivities change. What we laughed at years ago, may be unacceptable material today and that is OK. There is plenty out there to make fun of. It’s a live and learn thing. The challenge we face now is that virtually everyone in the world has access to everyone else in the world and we all have the ability to label something we experience as “offensive” – based on our own biases – and can propagate that belief, incite rage and all kinds of things – globally – in an instant.
So what’s offensive? I laugh at a lot of stuff because funny is funny and I’m not that easily offended by comedy because I believe I understand the intent.
My friend Jeggs says everything – e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g – is funny, all the time…until it isn’t. I think I understand that, but it’s probably more complex than I imagine.
What we sometimes get caught up on, is the difference between the comedic message and the messenger. That, and this herd-level, bandwagon mentality where we demand instant “justice” for things that upset us without really doing the work to define intent.
Like I said, comedy is supposed to make us see how ridiculous we can be. Our common understanding of how silly we are as a species is what makes comedy work. So the message of comedy – the content – is the social commentary, the mirror we hold before ourselves so that we may better understand our shortcomings and learn not to take ourselves so seriously as we try to work through them.
Comedians, and their associated vehicles, like TV sitcoms or a live performances, are the delivery systems for that social commentary.
Let me be clear that I’m not advocating or approving hateful, inflammatory material that has the intent of shredding the moral fiber of our existence, intentionally causing pain or intentionally causing damage. That is not comedy. And there are plenty of tone-deaf jokes which can be found offensive, or at the least insensitive, and miss the mark on delivery. But while the intent may be to shock, it is rarely to do harm. Comedians feed off laughter. There’s no value in your ire.
Like an actor, or a singer or whatever, there should be a clear delineation between what a person does as a person and what that person does in a profession. I mean, we don’t consider an actor to be a Nazi, or hold them accountable for Nazi beliefs or hate crimes, just because he is cast somewhere in the role of Hitler. It is a representation of information with the intent of getting some kind of awareness into the social consciousness.
We need that. We need different ways to learn about what we do as we trip through our daily lives. We need to know when we are doing something stupid, dangerous, insensitive and needs to be changed and we need to be able to celebrate when we discover we might be doing something right. That is the beauty of art in all its forms, whether it pokes at your delicate sensibilities or not.
Now, if that actor who played Hitler goes home after work and in his own time and space, and in the skin of being regular old John B. Actor, hits the couch to start spewing his personal beliefs which are racist, hateful, divisive, threatening, harmful and more on social media or wherever, there is a problem.
That person can’t hide under the loose protections that comes with being a social commentator because instead of making a point through content, it is a reflection of that being’s personal belief system which they need to be responsible for. They still have the right to say whatever stupid, vile garbage they want. That is the right we get for living here. But they can’t expect that others will not want to respond in some way or that there could not be repercussions, like being called out on it or being fired from the company or group that they may represent or be associated with.
It is definitely a very fine line and the shades of gray that shift between dark and light can turn on an instant depending on who seems to be defining what is offensive in that moment. Generally, if you give it a moment, it will change.
Correction is good. We make course corrections in our lives every day, probably subconsciously, to make sure we continue going in what we perceive to be the right direction. But waging an all out assault on the notion that making fun or providing social insights through comedy with a coating of laughter to soothe the delivery are dangerous waters to tread.
Ultimately, comedy is like music. Some of it is offensive. To you. Or me. I have my preferences and you have yours. Who is to say which is correct? If you don’t like it, turn it off. Don’t listen to it. But you can’t make that judgement for everyone. Nor should you.
These are delicate times for everybody. Personally, I want to laugh as much as possible because it gives me hope that we aren’t as far gone as I fear. The moment we start taking ourselves too seriously, we are truly doomed. I hope we figure that out.
Till then, it’s just gonna more of the same old, same old – more dumb stuff.
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