In the face of Ferguson, a newly awoken fervor in feminism, and other social and political goings on in this country, I think it’s important to talk about our capacity as human beings to laugh at everything that happens to us and around us. I’d like to take a moment to talk about why comedy is important to us as people and as a society, and why no subject, no matter how offensive or painful you may find it, is off limits to be the subject matter of a joke.
I’d like to begin by inviting a cogent explanation for why certain topics should be taboo. I’ve asked many people, and the response has always ultimately boiled down to certain subjects being offensive. Offense is not a unique attribute to subjects when they’re used in comedy. Political criticism is offensive to those receiving it. If you don’t believe me, just watch one day of Fox News coverage. Discussing racism in its truest forms can be offensive to many members of the white majority….or even racists. If offensiveness of a subject is the metric for what can and cannot be openly discussed, then our conversations would devolve into nothingness, and in fact, they’re beginning to do just that. The discourses prevalent in the public media are evidence of that.
We live in an age in which political correctness is given undue value. Political correctness does nothing to advance our understanding and respect of one another. It just makes us feel like we’re doing something good. If you don’t use the word gay inappropriately but are still slightly homophobic, your language adjustment means nothing. Political correctness is the carpet under which we sweep real issues and feelings. It is the most widely used lubricant for the ever increasing moral masturbation that exists in today’s world. Tolerance and respect are only practiced in their true forms if one understands and accepts another belief system as acceptable. Otherwise, they are no different than the weakest forms of moral relativism.
So what about comedy makes it all inclusive? Comedy is unique and uniquely powerful. Unlike any other form of human discourse, comedy has the ability to expose the social and psychological ailments that plague society because it strikes at a uniquely human experience of humor. No other animal on the planet has the capacity to elevate comedy to the level humans do. No other animal can make fun of itself, or other members of its community, using language. No other animal can cognitively assess the ironic contradictions that typify its existence and communicate them. And yet, we continuously seek to stifle this fundamental part of our being.
Richard Pryor, Tracy Morgan, Eddie Murphy, Dave Chappelle, and Robin Williams are just a few comedians who consistently pushed the envelope of what could be considered comedy. Because they pushed these boundaries, they remain icons not only of comedy but of social attitudes. The remain figures who were unafraid to take a real look at the reality that surrounded them and all the absurdities of that reality. They were, and live on to be, artists who examined racism, mental health, sexuality, and other prevalent issues when others were shying away from having conversations about them.
Nothing is off limits in comedy, nor should it be. This doesn’t mean that you have to find it funny. What you must do, however, is recognize the incredibly powerful and fundamentally human nature of comedy and respect its infinite bounds. Political correctness and limiting humor are destructive forces. They shield us from the pain we must experience to truly understand the terrible things we perpetuate so that something can be done about them. Humor brings us closer to ourselves, and the only reason you would limit that, is if you’re afraid to learn who you really are.