13 June 2015

Can Comedy Even Be Funny Anymore?

"It's always funny until someone gets hurt. Then it's just hilarious." - Bill Hicks

Groucho Marx, George Carlin, Bill Hicks and Lenny Bruce are spinning in their graves. These guys knew from jokes. Their targets were anyone and everyone and they not only made you laugh but helped you think. They said what was on their minds -- and such wonderful minds -- and didn't worry if it hurt anyone's sensibilities. In fact, they kind of hoped it would. They'd have a rough go of it today as our culture in some ways is sliding backwards.

Some of my friends on the left -- actually they're no friends of mine -- are ripping into Jerry Seinfeld for saying he's been warned by other comics to stay away from doing shows at college campuses because the college climate has become to "sensitive" for comics. These days most anything can be taken as politically incorrect or offensive or certainly both. It seems the one complaint conservatives get correct about the left is that there is a tendency among liberals to make so much speech not free to speak. It was the left that started the free speech movement on campuses and now it's the left that's killing it.

What's interesting is how people have attacked Seinfeld. Actually what's interesting is that they have attacked him at all rather than engaging in a discussion. One female comedian wrote a popular tweet about how the bigger issue is that he's not funny anymore. Let's assume for a second he isn't. What the hell does that have to do with his expressing his concern about college campuses? Nothing. It's just an ad hominem attack. This same person assails those complainers for being white middle class men who want to maintain their privileged position. Interesting considering that one of the comics who warned Seinfeld was that noted non white person Chris Rock.

It's great that we live in a world in which it is no longer acceptable to make derogatory jokes about Black people. Jokes about people which physical and mental infirmities are finally off limits. No one jokes -- or should -- about rape or molestation. There are finally limits. But we also live in a culture in which one cry of "I'm offended" translates into "it was offensive." There is a difference. Also in our culture there are far too many strictures on humor. The pendulum has swung too far. Satire is dying. It's time we became very careful about who and what we censure for what they say.

Comedy shouldn't be watered down. It should raw, real and come from the heart. It should speak to a truth, at least the truth of that comedian. And if you don't like it, move on. You can't like and approve of 100% of what anyone says. Hell, I disagree with myself all the time.

If a comic does a 60 minute act and during one minute of it there is a joke that offends 20% of the audience all you'll hear about the next day is that one  joke. If 100% of people don't approve of 100% of what you say, you get slammed.

I refer you to this article in which ten famous comedians bemoan the manner in which political correctness is killing comedy.

I now quote the great Dick Cavett from a column of his dated April 15, 2011:

I’ve never quite understood why this word — “offended” — is so horrifying. What doesn’t offend somebody? And who wants to see, read or write anything that is simon-pure in its inability to offend those dreaded “someones”?

“What could be more offensive than an offense-free show?” I sincerely inquired of the network suit.

That was considered offensive.

Anyone working in the media can tell you that there seems to be an always-ready-to-explode segment of the populace for whom offense is a fate worse than anything imaginable. You’d think offense is one of the most calamitous things that could happen to a human being; right up there with the loss of a limb, or just missing a parking space.

What is our obligation to the offendees? To help them limit their suffering by avoiding all offense? With what advice?

You could stay in the house, watch no TV, read nothing of any kind including potentially upsetting snail mail or e-mail, and you just might manage to glide through an offense-free day. No surly neighbor, no near-misses by unpunished, demented, sidewalk-riding cyclists, no cab driver letting other cabs in ahead of yours while distractedly nattering on his phone in no known language. Stay cocooned and you will risk no insults from rude waiters, no pain from gruff clerks, no snarls from any employees of United Airlines.

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