Before you get all excited, just know that this blog isn’t about the relatively recent Tosh fueled debates regarding comedy, rape jokes, and feminism. There are other things that people get offended about, so let’s talk about them, okay? Good.
Throughout my entire life, it has been nearly impossible to say anything that is capable of truly offending me, which has made way for countless awkward moments in which I was not sure where the line was during conversations with people who have what they refer to as “morals”. Because I am a comedian, all of my friends are comedians, and I watch about ten hours of live standup each week, I am constantly finding myself laughing at things that the average civilian would find horribly offensive.
Amongst those who I spend most of my time with, there is somewhat of an unspoken understanding that nothing is considered over the line, which is common among groups of comedians. A perfect example of this can be seen by examining the events that transpired after one of Jeffrey Ross’ jokes during the Roseanne Barr roast was cut from the final show for being too offensive. The (admitedly offensive) joke was regarding the Aurora shootings and was the main thing people in the online comedy community were talking about. After the roast aired, and people began to complain about the other jokes that actually made it to the final cut, Ross released a statement saying, "Yes, I crossed a line, and that is what the roasts are about. That's what Roseanne is about -- unapologetic comedy. If I had held back, I would have done her a disservice." I am not condoning the joke in question and I do not blame those who were offended by it, I do however fully support his freedom to make the joke.
Even though Ross’ joke was offensive by virtually any definition, it was not his intention to upset or even to alienate his audience. When it comes to performing material on taboo subjects, it is generally understood that the comedian is not meaning to purposefully offend anyone. By openly talking about something that is usually not acceptable to be discuss in public, we as comedians are essentially taking the power away from the subject. Plus, if it is something that is not discussed openly, then shining a new light on it will evoke the desired emotion out of the audience, which is ultimately laughter. One of the ways that we as humans deal with pain and hardship is to poke fun at the things that bring us sadness. As Stephen Colbert said in one of his few out of character interviews, “You can’t laugh and be scared at the same time.”
In an episode of You Made It Weird, Neal Brennan discusses the criticisms he has received from openly using “The N-Word” (as white people say it) on stage. He says that after one particular show, he was approached by a black couple, in which the female was furious with him for using the word. After talking with her for almost an hour the woman stormed off, which is when the male said to Neal, “I understand that you don’t have any hate in your heart, but she does, that’s why she is so mad.” This perfectly exemplifies how simple jokes on taboo subjects can be misconstrued into being intentionally offensive based on the mindset of the audience. Saying something on stage for the pure purpose of offending someone is not what true comedians do, that is something that is reserved for morning radio DJ’s and racist ventriloquists.
At the end of the day, the brain of a comedian is wired differently than that of someone with "a real job", as my mother calls it. It is our jobs to find connections in everyday situations that the average person may not be able to stumble upon themselves. Sometimes making these connections means exploring topics that we as a culture don't feel comfortable discussing. After all things are considered, comedy is all about laughter. Sure, social change and evolvement would be nice and all, but making a room full of strangers laugh is what it's all about.
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