6 Times Comedians Apologized For Old Jokes
“A comedian says something that offends people and refuses to apologize? What do I say? F*** ‘em if they can’t take a joke!”
That’s free speech advocate/Original King of Comedy/McDonalds All Day Breakfast spokesperson D.L. Hughley, tweeting out support for Kevin Hart. The comic stepped down from a 2019 Oscar-hosting gig after refusing to apologize for old anti-gay jokes. (Despite having Hughley in his corner, Hart eventually did offer a mea culpa.)
Lots of comics feel like Hughley, that refusing to apologize for offensive jokes is a comedy badge of honor. But for other comics, reassessing old material is a way to keep the party going. Here are six comedians who quipped questionable jokes, then made amends down the line.
Patton OswaltPatton might be ship captain on the U.S.S. Sorry, That Was Lazy and Dumb. He’s apologized for, among other things, the use of the words “gay” and the r-word in older routines, as well as for posing in a New Year’s Eve pic with Dave Chappelle.
He offered sorries again in 2017 after having some fun with the name of Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard (which, to be fair, does lend itself to potentially offensive wordplay). But maybe don’t introduce a 14-year-old to a live audience with “best porn name ever!” He also advised the barely teen to avoid any project called Stranger Thongs.
Patton later took to Twitter to dismiss the bit as “graceless,” offering a public apology to Wolfhard after having done so in private.
In general, Oswalt dismisses attitudes of “real men don’t apologize” as misguided. “It’s way more ‘alpha’ to listen to your critics and say, “S***, you’re right. I f***ed that one up.”
Amy SchumerSchumer made her comedy bones with a persona that could be aptly described as Worst White Woman Ever. “I love playing a monster,” she admits.
But she’s rethought that comic attitude during her recent run of appearances, despite, er, calling it the Whore Tour. Schumer confesses to “seeing the harm in joking around about things that are harmful and taking more responsibility and having it not just be about trying to sneak into this boys’ club.”
That means ditching racist jokes from old routines, such as “I used to date Hispanic guys, but now I prefer consensual.” That bit prompted a Twitter apology: “I played a dumb white girl onstage. Once I realized I had more eyes and ears on me and had an influence I stopped telling jokes like that onstage. I am evolving as an artist. I am taking responsibility and hope I haven’t hurt anyone. I apologize (if) I did.”
Tracy MorganMorgan’s brand is outrageous humor but even he knew he’d gone too far
It didn’t take long for Morgan to ask for forgiveness, releasing this statement to The Hollywood Reporter:
“I want to apologize to my fans and the gay & lesbian community for my choice of words at my recent stand-up act in Nashville. I’m not a hateful person and don’t condone any kind of violence against others. While I am an equal opportunity jokester, and my friends know what is in my heart, even in a comedy club this clearly went too far and was not funny in any context.”
Seth RogenYou know how I know Seth Rogen regrets making “you know how I know you’re gay?” jokes?
The running gag between Rogen and Paul Rudd in The 40-Year-Old Virgin has been haunting him for a while now. “It's something people have been like, ‘It's not fun to be in the theater when people are laughing at that, knowing what they're probably actually laughing at.’ And I don't want anyone to have that experience watching our movies.”
So we can’t laugh at anything anymore? Rogen isn’t buying it, despite knowing that a lot of the jokes in his movies like Superbad and The Pineapple Express aren’t going to stand the test of time. He says he’s willing to own gags that age poorly and evolve with the times. “I think if you actually care, then it's easy. We do not want people to feel bad when they're watching our movies.”
Sarah SilvermanYep, she did it. And by “it,” we mean she appeared in an entire episode of The Sarah Silverman Show in blackface. The sad part, she says, was that kind of audacity won her praise and fame.
“It was like, I'm playing a character, and I know this is wrong, so I can say it. I'm clearly liberal,” she says. “That was such liberal-bubble stuff, where I actually thought it was dealing with racism by using racism.”
Comedy isn’t evergreen, says Silverman, and if you don’t look back at some of your old material in abject terror, you’re doing it wrong. “I don't stand by the blackface sketch. I'm horrified by it, and I can't erase it. I can only be changed by it and move on.”
Unfortunately, Silverman’s misguided routine has been repeated by several contemporary comedians. Similar apologies about doing comedy in blackface have arrived from … sheesh … Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, and Jimmy Kimmel. Seriously, guys?
Weird Al Yankovic“NO,” we hear you screaming. “NO! NOT WEIRD AL TOO!”
But even the polka-playing parodist has comic regrets. The family-friendly comic generally shies away from profanity, sexual material, or anything with a tinge of hate. But, he says, “listening to some of my old material, there are some words and terms that I’ve used that have dated very poorly.”
Specifically: Midget. In the 1980s, says Weird Al, the word wasn’t considered the slur it is today. On a recent tour, Weird Al played the song with the offending term, then stopped the band to explain how language had changed over the years, how it was a term he used then but one that was no longer in his weird vocabulary. And that was that.
“Some comics make it their thing never to apologize for anything,” says Weird Al. “If I feel like I did something that I’m sorry for, of course I’ll apologize. I mean, we all make mistakes and sometimes I did things I shouldn’t have done. And sometimes you have to call yourself out on it.”
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Top image: Netflix