Comedians: nobody is telling us what we can and can’t talk about in our acts (for the sake of my thoughts I’ll say “nobody” because anybody who does is just flat out wrong). They’re simply saying to think about what we are talking about and realize what we are actually saying when we open up our mouths. Instead of getting defensive and immediately throwing up a wall that makes us look like entitled, whiny, babies why don’t we listen to something and think about it. After all, we are comedians: we should be listening to all sorts of points of view, so we can make fun of ones we don’t agree with by poking holes in their beliefs with our “comedy-logic” (you know, the stuff that makes sense and is funny on stage but when analyzed further makes you say “wait a minute” – thanks, Brendan Kennedy, for this term).
If the whole thing comes down to defending “freedom of speech” and how powerful it is – then you have to Uncle Ben that shit and realize that with that power comes responsibility. That means we have to take responsibility for what we say and realize that our words do have power to effect how people feel. That’s one of the great things about comedy, right? Standing in front of a room full of strangers and being able to change the way they feel with our words. Why would we want to use that wonderful power to make people who have done nothing wrong feel bad?
I’m not saying don’t make anyone feel bad. If there are shitty people out there doing shitty things and thinking shitty thoughts then by all means try your best to make everyone in the room laugh so fucking hard at their way of life that they have to at least somewhere in their minds consider a change. If you preach at someone and tell them what they can’t do their instinct is to get defensive and dig in harder, but if you can make everyone laugh at how stupid and wrong they are then you’ve done something for change.
Some comedians say that’s what they are trying to do. Their jokes about rape and other dark subjects are pointing out a problem in society and providing commentary to try to make a change for the better. For some jokes, this is certainly true, and that is exactly why there are no “untouchable” subjects when it comes to comedy. But if a comedian truly thinks this is what they are doing and wants to use their power of free speech for good – then when somebody says “hey buddy, that’s not what you’re doing” they should listen and maybe think a little harder about how they are trying to get their message across.
Yes, some people are overly sensitive about everything. Yes, people have the freedom to not listen if they don’t like what’s being said. That’s not what this is about. This is about a larger problem. It’s about real violence that happens to real people and comedians making the victims the target of a joke. Nobody’s saying you can’t– do that – they’re saying that if you do it you’re a shitty bully. And shitty bullies should be told that they are shitty bullies.
We can say anything we want on stage. That means if you choose to say awful things after you’ve been told repeatedly exactly why it’s awful then you are making the choice to be awful when you can choose to be anything. Yuck.
I think this is a perfect situation to fight fire with fire. Where the best way to get the message across would be to satirize a flawed way of thinking. At the very least it could point out hypocrisy of some comedians about “being able to take a joke”.
We are comedians and writers. That means if we want to be good we should take in as much information and as many points of view as we can, not close ourselves off to knowledge and ideas. We shouldn’t jump to get defensive or make accusations – but think before we use our powerful words. We should be open-minded, understand when something is cloaked in layers of irony (and how to deliver something as such), and be able to see something from a point-of-view we don’t agree with. All of these things not only make us better at our craft, but better people in general. Yes, they may be hard but if being great were easy it wouldn’t mean anything to be great.