It's not my job to tell people what they should think is funny or what they should be offended by. Over the last few years, however, I've seen a lot of people take up the mantle of GRAND GATEKEEPER OF JOKES and cast blanket statements over comedy as a whole. They often drive home black-or-white points about what kind of comedy is acceptable and what should or shouldn't offend people. With these debates, I find people struggling to fit comedy into a box, something that inherently involves choosing sides. What few people realize, however, is that the issues are way too complicated for that. Here are a few reasons why.
5People Usually Have An Innate Moral Compass
Whenever I see a person write a joke that basically has the punchline of "Haha! Lesser people!" and then I see that same person try to defend those jokes as if they were meant to be anything other than lazy declarations of meanness, it makes me feel like I'm being talked down to. Like I can't see through the joke costumes that awful people put on their insults. "It's just a joke!" "It's just satire!" No. It's not. It's just you being hateful toward people who get treated poorly on a minute-to-minute basis. There's a marked difference between joke-making and trying to get 15-year-old boys to say "OOOOH" when you present your hackneyed bits. If you read only one full paragraph in this thing before skimming through the headings of the other entries on the list, I hope that it was this one.
I believe that people have an innate moral compass, and that the best comedians in the world are the people who can use that compass to deliver thoughtful material on the touchiest of subjects. Comedy shouldn't be limited. That much is true. But I've read too many pieces that make comedians appear as if they're constantly being held back from performing what they REALLY want to say.
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Oh, shut up.
"If these PC folk didn't exist, it would be rape and rape, with a finale that sounds surprisingly like a pun about transsexuals." I don't think that they mean to come off in a light that gives all comedians the visages of bitter goblins, but the argument is usually delivered in such a stark, simple way that you can't help but see the comic as a guy who would be much happier if the world just let him be racist.
With all that said, in this rush to make the headline "Why Mike Birbiglia Should Be Taught A Lesson (Comment Below To Further Skewer Him)," we often forget that comedians use the same fucking process that we do when it comes to presenting ourselves to the world. They aren't people looking for any opportunity to bypass our social standards just so they can scream, "Eat shit, your opinions! It's time to get LAID."
They have the same sense of morality that we do, but they harness it to craft jokes. Sometimes they're going to make mistakes. They shouldn't be immediately written off as assholes because they look at the dark side of human nature sometimes in order to flip it on its head. An asshole is trying to get a rise out of people, because seeing you say, "Wait a minute, you jerk!" thrills them. An asshole is also a person who refuses to see others as multifaceted beings and instead looks at them as avatars to perfectly parrot their own beliefs, only to dismiss them when they don't act "accordingly."
But that doesn't mean that all mistakes should be ignored ...
4Apologizing Isn't As Bad As People Make It Out To Be
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As human people, we fuck up a lot. We're an idiotic combination of organs, supported by dumb-dumb skeletons, coated in the natural equivalent of plastic wrap. Every day that I wake up, I'm surprised when I don't read a newspaper headline that says "A Quarter Of The World's Population Dies After Collectively Forgetting The Last Stair Step." Most of what comes out of our faces is garbage.
Think of how many conversations you've had that went well. Like, actually well. I'm not talking about conversations that ended with both parties feeling satisfied. I'm talking about conversations that contained no screw-ups, no doubling back, no unnecessary pauses, and no accidental stutters.
How many have you managed to get through without doing this?
I can't remember one, and it's not because I'm trying to accentuate the quirks that make me a flawed yet lovable sitcom character.
It's because we're not perfect, and we're going to fumble while trying to handle most of the things that come our way. The same goes for jokes. If you write a lot of them, every once in a while one is going to come out in a way that you didn't necessarily mean for it to. And rather than think about you being a real entity, people are going to demand answers as to why you suddenly became an unlikable monster.
A decent chunk of our culture considers apologizing to be castrating yourself before the offended. As if saying you're sorry negates your whole cause and betrays everything that you stand for as this radical, #motivation warrior.
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I will die for my right to be racist.
Comedy is full of trial-and-error, and it's the moral compass that I mentioned that keeps people from consistently messing up and tweeting slurs every hour. But if you do mess up, there is no shame in swallowing your pride and saying, "Hey. Sorry." When you admit that something you did was wrong, you don't have to reconcile with your own balls. Being friendly trumps aloof disregard every day of the week.
Does everyone need to apologize any time someone has a problem with their material, especially if the person who did the "offending" doesn't actually believe that they did anything wrong? I don't think so. A fake apology from someone always stinks of being fake, as if their parents met them backstage and told them, "You should tell those poor bloggers that you didn't mean it." You have every right to stand up for the jokes you made, even if they weren't received completely positively. And that's because ...