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