‘Art is Getting Away With It’: Anthony Jeselnik Has An Important Message for Other ‘Edgy’ Comics

The most offensive working comedian explains how edginess isn’t inherently a virtue
‘Art is Getting Away With It’: Anthony Jeselnik Has An Important Message for Other ‘Edgy’ Comics

It’s funny how most of the comics who claim to have been “canceled” over controversial material are, almost always, less than half as funny and one tenth as offensive as Anthony Jeselnik, whose most significant punishment for decades of dark humor was dating Amy Schumer.

For as long as a growing contingent of medium-talent comedians have been complaining that wokeness and hypersensitivity severely limit the list of topics comics are allowed to tackle, Jeselnik has been sprinting past uncrossable lines and getting off (mostly) scott free. Jeselnik’s deadpan delivery and sociopathic punchlines are synonymous with humor’s most offensive edge, and yet, his career has been relatively light in public “cancellations.” Despite exclusively treading territory that many of his contemporaries claim to be “off limits,” Jeselnik continues to be a (somewhat) unproblematic, critically beloved and commercially successful comic because he follows a simple rule passed down to him by Andy Warhol — “Art is getting away with it.”

As certain other comedians with massive social media platforms grapple with the fallout of jokes that fell short of a clean getaway, Jeselnik’s recent appearance on This Past Weekend w/ Theo Von has gone viral for Jeselnik’s explanation of what he thinks the goal of the stand-up medium should be. Jeselnik argued that deliberately stirring up controversy by being equally tactless and tasteless isn’t some unimpeachable artistic ideal — and that’s coming from the guy who, just minutes after the Boston Marathon bombing, tweeted, “There are some lines that just shouldn't be crossed today. Especially the finish line.”


It’s worth noting that Jeselnik hasn’t completely escaped controversy – as he’s addressed in many of his lauded stand-up specials, his short-lived Comedy Central show, The Jeselnik Offensive, landed him in hot water on more than one occasion. After the aforementioned “too soon” tweet about the Boston Marathon bombing, the channel’s executives threatened to end Jeselnik’s show and fire his entire staff if he didn’t take down the post, which he did. Additionally, a sketch in which he celebrated the death of an Australian shark attack victim as a rare win for the fin team earned him death threats and international criticism.

But Jeselnik’s past controversies don’t invalidate his clear stance on the subject of the comic’s right to offend – in fact, they bolster it. Jeselnik has taken more risks than nearly any working comedian when it comes to the content of his material, and more than one failed to pay off. When he couldn’t make people laugh with his boundary-pushing material, he felt the same blowback that he described to Von as a natural part of the process. And, yet, for the few times when Jeselnik cut himself on his own edge, you’ll never catch him crying about cancel culture, wokeness or any of the other excuses so-called “edgy” comedians use when they bomb with bottom-tier, below-the-belt jokes.

If only another controversial comic being talked about on TikTok could learn to take one on the artificial chin.

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