Punchline Mag analysis: Are comedians now destined to apologize forever?

By | July 5, 2011 at 5:21 pm | 9 comments | Opinion | Tags: , , , , ,

George Carlin famously said, “I think it’s the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately.”

Most that read that quote don’t realize there is a horrific dark side to that quote. Often when crossing the line, as a comedian, you can go to a place that is incredibly offensive to people and, most importantly, not funny.

Yet, in 2011, we see this: “@WKamauBell Comedians apologizing is the new black.”

Recent events in the comedy world make it hard to argue against comedian W. Kamau Bell’s sentiment. With Tracy Morgan letting his mouth run unfiltered with violent homophobic remarks, for which he’s apologized profusely. A week ago, Morgan came under fire again, this time for talking about “retarded” people and “cripples” onstage; again, groups have demanded an apology from the man.

The frustrating thing about this is that Morgan was always a beyond-edgy comedian who would say horrible things. The scenario of stabbing his son if he turned out to be gay, however, was well beyond even Morgan’s normal limits. This one judgment error, however, doesn’t mean we should now be on top of every word Morgan says onstage. Enough’s enough.

Shortly after Morgan’s initial offense, comedian Jo Koy used an anti-gay slur onstage in Chicago. He apologized.

Local Canadian comic Guy Earle was fined $15,000 for alleged anti-gay remarks on stage; he’s fighting the ruling now in Canada’s supreme court. Chelsea Handler recently upset thousands of Serbians after some comments she and her comedian panel made on her show Chelsea Lately. Though a Facebook group — nearly 44,000 strong — have called to boycott her until she apologizes, the comedian has remained silent.

You have to wonder if comedy is being scaled back the way professional sports has been with a pile of new rules and restrictions each year. Sure, activist and minority groups are placated just like governing sports organizations avoid lawsuits from players waiting to get injured so they can sue, but how does that affect the entirety of an art form/the sport?

What you get is the sad, nostalgic sentiment that “Well, things sure ain’t the way they used to be.” While defending Morgan, Louis C.K. mentioned that Morgan wasn’t on a pulpit and thus his word shouldn’t be taken so literally. Unfortunately, with the viral nature of the Internet, the sincerity of anything online should be suspect, but too many people don’t understand that. LiterallyUnbelievable.org, a collection of people reacting to The Onion articles as if they’re real, is a perfect example of this. The Onion has been around for years and it’s supposedly well known that they don’t write about actual news, yet several people have no idea that they are joking. All the time.

Does society-at-large need a better sense of humor? Does anyone realize that Lenny Bruce, decades ago, made a joke about blowing up a plane that would be considered edgy by today’s standards? Does r-word.org understand that comedians far and wide will never stop making fun of the recent “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign to end the use of the term “retard” and “retarded” in a casual context?

Or do we need to do comedy with helmets?

additional reporting, Dylan Gadino

About the Author

Jake Kroeger

Jake Kroeger has dedicated his life, for better or probably worse, to comedy. Starting and continually running the Comedy Bureau, a voice for LA comedy, by himself, he also writes and performs stand-up comedy in LA and watches more live comedy than is probably humanly tolerable. He's been a daily contributor to Punchline Magazine, now Laughspin.com because he loves and believes in comedy so much. Said of Kroeger, "...without his dangerously insane, unhealthy work ethic, certain comics would not have any press at all."

  • Dave

    As sad as this state of affairs is, it also shows how important stand up comedy has become to the collective social concisenesses. With all this high profile attention to offensiveness, and the continued spotlight on joke theft, it really does feel like Lenny Bruce’s area, where this medium has become the last form of rebellion. We are now entering a time where stand up is under a microscope and is being seriously viewed as an art form.

  • http://twitter.com/tinybadass Joy

    Distribution modes amplify everything, so just as one throw away tweet could hang you out to dry, one throw away comment you make in a show that someone else tweets can bite you. Even if something got a little press & water cooler chat a few years ago, every article today is syndicated ad infinitum & the “water cooler” is much more dominating these days.

    Also, everyone having video cameras in their pocket is problematic to all performers.

  • bilbo

    fuck political correctness and sensitivity. the whole goddamn world needs to take a chill pill and get a sense of humor.

  • http://www.schuylersmonsterblog.com Rob

    Your points are well-made. I think that in the case of developmental disability humor, however, there’s the idea that the most defenseless among us deserve a pass. When humor is directed from the powerless towards the entirely disenfranchised, is that comedy or is that bullying? It’s a tough line, and perhaps it shouldn’t be off the table. But it’s tricky. In Tracy Morgan’s case, it’s particularly so since he hasn’t been particularly funny about it. Perhaps that’s his real offense.

  • Mark A Roberts

    The controversy is interesting, regarding comedy and where it may or may not be accepted or even appropriate.
    As for the issue in Canada, with the Guy Earle schtic, comedy and entertainment is a non-issue. At least insofar as the actual reality of what happened is concerned.
    Consider for example a hockey player who see’s someone in the stands lightly kiss another person on the cheek, and the hockey player starts yelling and waving his stick at that person. Goes into the stands after that person, yelling profanities and calling them body organs related to the profanities, looms over them menacingly while yelling. Follows that person to the bathroom, more yelling and profanities, taking that persons glasses off of their head and breaking them. Follows that person outside, still yelling…
    WHERE’S THE HOCKEY, er comedy, in all of that?
    The real threat to Free Speech is in someone trying to cover a wrongdoing unrelated to that Freedom, by hiding behind it.
    Bad jokes? Well,…I dunno. I guess its all in the delivery and timing, eh.

  • steve

    Tracey Morgan’s jokes (which weren’t funny but maybe he was still developing them) got more press than any murders. If people are offended… write a joke about Tracey Morgan instead of calling the thought police.

  • Josh Homer

    @Mark – great summation of the Guy Earl thing, except you left out EVERYTHING the woman did; where’s the mention of her aggresively heckling and her other actions which lead to Guy singling them out? It was not an unprovoked attack because he saw 2 lesbians sitting next to each other.

  • Paul

    Comedians should demonstrate comedy with tact or create a character that doesn’t go into hitlerville. People with a lower comedic I.Q. may use this to validate hate mongering like when Jeff Dunham and Larry the cable guy blatantly display xenophobic comments to their audiences who by reputation aren’t the sharpest tools . . .

    Being offended also has a responsibility factor on the “victim”. A person chooses on how they react to a situation. If they don’t use logic than they weren’t thinking and now the offended has cried wolf recklessly.
    We need to toughen up our skins America.

  • Mark A Roberts

    Hi Josh. I left out that the Sworn eye-witness Testimony reflects what I shared here…and that Testimony is documented in the Decision of the Human Rights Commission. Your rendition is the ‘smoke and mirrors’ defense that was presented to the public by Bad Guy over the years before the Hearing. Eye-witnesses, not a He said She said scenerio.
    So nope. No heckling. Just a drunk going after someone the staff were bringing in from the outside patio (which was closing) where the show was a non-issue. The waitresses placed them at the table, and were taking an order when the whole tirade began…and the waitresses testified that it was they who were being spoken to, and not the drunken Thug on the stage.
    Isn’t THAT funny?