Comedy is extremely difficult. Anyone who denies that fact — just try doing standup. The very idea of doing so makes me want to shut myself up in my room for all eternity.
Comedy has it’s own velocity and melody — it’s not something that just anyone can do. It is entirely possible to be tone-deaf to comedy — to not understand it, or to be unable to hear it’s specific intonations and timbre.
In light of recent events (*cough* the United States presidential election *cough*), comedians are being put down (*cough* by the man this country elected to be president, whose name shall not be mentioned here *cough*).
More than that, it’s almost as though we’re not allowed to make any jokes anymore in our current political climate. Everyone’s so on edge and at odds with one another. Comedians are just trying to find some laughter amongst all this hostility.
When people hear an offensive joke, they’ll usually have one of two reactions:
- They’ll go along with it, writing it off as a “just a joke.” Or,
- They’ll treat is as a calculated, personal attack on them.
Both reactions are problematic, and here’s why:
No joke is “just a joke.” Anyone who is pursuing a career in comedy isn’t doing it “just for laughs.” Because making it in comedy is no laughing matter – it’s extremely difficult. Oftentimes, it involves not feeling very funny at all.
Well-known comedians have a lot of influence. In my opinion – more so than other celebrities. That’s because they reach the largest audience. People share the funny stuff on Facebook and Twitter, because making someone laugh is equal to brightening their entire day. It is an act practically worthy of modern sainthood. It’s why they have Tina Fey selling credit cards, and Amy Schumer trying to get you into Old Navy.
Making someone laugh is an act of shared intimacy. You make someone laugh, you’ve made your way into their heart. It’s how I’ve made friends ever since I was a child. My best friends in the world, are the people who are still laughing at my jokes.
Comedy is a powerful medium. People tend to dismiss it — “just for laughs, etc.” — but notice how they often say something is just for laughs only after they’ve offended someone. No. Comedy is powerful. Words are powerful.
But moving to the other extreme is also dangerous – in other words, you’ll run into problems if you take jokes too seriously.
Audiences tend to judge comedy harder than they would any other form of entertainment. Comedians are dealing with extremely high expectations. Audiences expect to walk out of a show sore from laughing so hard. If that doesn’t happen, they don’t put any value in it.
Some people see comedians trying to make a point, but if it didn’t make them laugh really hard, again, they devalue it. They say, “I see what she was trying to do, but it wasn’t funny, so it wasn’t good.” If comedians like Iliza Shlesinger in her recent Netflix special try to talk about real issues, specifically sexual assault, people sluff it off as too “preachy.” Likewise, if something is offensive, people feel bad for laughing.
I am not condoning offensive or preachy or downright bad comedy. I simply see a pattern that we as a community keep falling into – the pattern where a person tries to say something that’s on their minds in a new and creative way, but what they have to say, or simply how they chose to say it, is attacked by others who have a different opinion. Quickly, their point is lost in a sea of he-said, she-said, and someone is forced to apologize.
Political correctness is important. Respecting others is important. However, lately, this pattern has me worried, because more and more I am seeing a lack of productive discourse. Everyone is so much on the offensive.
And this brings me to my point: it is important to understand that to laugh at something does not necessarily mean you embrace or support what is being said. Often it is just a knee-jerk reaction. We laugh at things that shock and surprise us. We see someone trip or fall down the stairs and our first reaction is usually to laugh — to release the breath we didn’t know we were holding. So even though we know that person could be seriously injured as a result, our initial reaction is to laugh not because we are insensitive or psycho, but because we are shocked. We laugh and then we ask the question, “Are you ok?” And that’s when the real work gets done.
More than anything — more than scary, more than sad or depressing or serious — the world is funny.
Comedians are trying to show us this. And if they say offensive things — it’s not always our job as an audience to frown on them or be offended. It’s our job to take advantage of these open gateways for discussion. It’s our job to first laugh at those ridiculous things that shock us to the core, so we can then move on to fix the problem.