I just recovered from a near-fatal bout of sickness brought on by what I believe to have been over-buttered mac n’ cheese and I’m writing this on a whim, so bear with me.
If you haven’t heard, it recently came to light that a prominent comedian made a joke at the expense of Aboriginal women and amidst the backlash defend it by saying that he never meant to cause offense. Oh, well that makes it better–because, after all, comedy will always be offensive to someone, right?
I appreciate that Noah has taken a step back and decided to stop making the joke–even though he tried to distance himself by blaming culture–and while I do think that everyone should be given a chance to learn and grow, his response to this whole thing is rooted in much deeper problems that have always plagued comedy.
The idea that offensive jokes are okay because comedy has no boundaries (who decided that, by the way?), or that jokes will always be offensive to someone so we shouldn’t care, or that everything is okay because the person “didn’t mean” any harm is complete bullshit. And the problem is that you hear this defensive a lot from comedians, and that’s kind of scary.
Comedy is not sacred. It’s not been handed down to us from God Almighty. It’s not untouchable. There are lines that you don’t cross, whether you want to believe those lines exist or not. And saying, “I didn’t mean to offend anyone” doesn’t solve anything. It’s a cop-out. You don’t have to apologize, you don’t have to reflect on your actions, you just get to brush it off and blame someone or something else.
It’s weird to me. Comedy is supposed to make people happy, isn’t it? You can’t please everyone, sure, but why would you go out of your way to hurt anyone, especially marginalized groups?
I write about governments that have all done (and still do) terrible and disgusting things, so I’m not always nice in my jokes. And many times, a little edge is completely necessary when writing satire. But I’ve always tried to make my characters likable. At the end of the day, I don’t want them to be so stereotypical or so caricatured that some parts of them don’t resonate with those who share their nationality. If, for example, a Japanese fan ever told me that they liked Japan as a character, I’d feel like I’ve truly done something right.
The bottom line is that comedy doesn’t have to be offensive. It really doesn’t. Anyone who pretends that it does is using that as an excuse to be an asshole. See, there’s actually a difference between offensive (regarding race, gender, nationality, etc.) and being unpleasant. Mocking Trump’s Twitter behavior will probably piss off his supporters, but that’s very different from mocking, say, Kim Jong un by throwing in a “squinty eyes” joke. (Yes, it’s still wrong to be racist toward bad people.)
Seriously, kill the idea that comedy has to be edgy, hurtful, and radically insensitive in order to be funny or good. Kill it dead.