By: Thomas Horvath
The world can be pretty tough on everyone, and most people find themselves needing a break. Comedy was created to make light in dark situations. Comedy was a way for people to sit back and laugh at things that were happening around the world. Comedy continued to evolve and became a way for comedians to tell their stories and relate to their audiences. Taking the everyday things people go through and poking fun at it all. Comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Cosby were some of the most successful comedians in this style of comedy, but their style is rare nowadays. Comedian Richard Pryor started off in this style but morphed into making edgier, more offensive jokes. He became wildly popular as people enjoyed the edge he brought to comedy. But with the times changing, most of his material would not be celebrated today. Beloved comedians like Ricky Gervais and Dave Chappelle have been telling types of jokes like his but have been receiving backlash saying that they should be fired and have their specials removed from Netflix. So in today’s day and age, the question is where does comedy stop being okay? Where is the line in the sand of what you can and can’t joke about?
Most would agree that joking about things like waiting in line at the grocery store or any common, non-problematic activity is okay to do. And fewer people, but still a majority, think joking about your own struggles is fine. For instance, a comedian in a wheelchair making light of their situation would be looked at as okay, as we would be laughing with them, not at them. But when you start joking about something that you are not, such as a minority or religion, is where people seem to draw the line. For instance, a white man making fun of Asians would not be tolerated, or a straight man making a transgender joke would not either. People used to mostly take these jokes as being non-serious and would brush them off. But when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on live television, people took that as an okay to attack comedians. Dave Chappelle, a controversial comedian, was rushed on stage at one of his shows. Luckily the rusher was stopped, but if Chappelle were a smaller stand-up comedian, just getting started in some bar, he would probably get beaten up by hecklers for saying something they did not like.
This current response to comedians and jokes that are not liked could be bad for free speech and comedy in general. If you can get assaulted for saying a joke that people didn’t like, where will it stop? The line keeps getting pushed backward, and it seems like nothing will be okay anymore. Dave Chappelle has been doubling down on his jokes for as long as he’s been famous, with him getting in trouble with Comedy Central for using the f-slur in his comedy. Chappelle asked why it was okay for him to use the n-word, but not the f-slur. They replied, “Because you aren’t gay Dave.” to which he replied: “I’m not a n****r either.”
At the end of the day, comedy is subjective and it is up to one’s own interpretation and discretion to enjoy comedy. This topic is very debated and there is no right or wrong opinion on the issue.