Usually when I write a commentary, I have a pretty definitive opinion or particular stance on a topic. I attempt to convey that position and offer reasons for my views. Today, however, I am merely expressing an internal conundrum as I try to reconcile a duality in my beliefs.

I am a huge fan of comedy, specifically standup comedy. Some of my favorite performers are also some of the most “offensive” or “inappropriate” artists. Lisa LampenelliDaniel ToshChelsea HandlerSarah SilvermanKathy Griffin – the list goes on. It started many years ago when I was a child and would sneak into our den and listen to my parents’ comedy albums featuring Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor and George Carlin. Many of the comedians I enjoy often use humor which some might consider racist, sexist or homophobic. And these are the jokes that typically get the most laughs.

If you know me, you know that I despise racism, sexism and homophobia. I am loud about my beliefs for equality and always have been. In 11th grade, I was sent to the principal’s office for arguing (MAY have used an expletive…oops) with a history teacher when he announced to the class that being gay was wrong and a choice. I have no problem defending what I believe.

I have tickets to see Daniel Tosh in April. There is no doubt in my mind that there will be A LOT of gasp-inducing jokes about slutty, fat women or black gang members. There is also little doubt that I will leave there with side stitches. So how do I reconcile my moral side with my humor side?

I think a lot of it has to do with intention, delivery and the comedians themselves.

When a performer is telling jokes he or she is doing so not out of malice, anger or fear. They are bringing to light topics which most people feel uncomfortable speaking about. They are showing us the ridiculousness of our own ignorances and prejudices. They are playing a character and do not truly believe the things they are saying. If your drunk neighbor is ranting on with similar words in his garage after looking over his shoulder…that displays a different intent.

Many of these comedians have long ago cultivated a persona – a caricature if you will. They use this persona on stage to bring up subject matter that most of us are taught from which to stay far, far away. They may bring up the most popular generalizations or things people think but never say or topics so far out there that they shock the audience with the “No way!!” effect.

I think another aspect important to consider is the idea of ‘equal opportunity offenders.’ Meaning, the comedian doesn’t ONLY make fun of gay people or Mexicans. They make fun of EVERYONE. No one group should leave feeling singled out or left out. From dumb blondes to Irish red heads – every offendable base is usually covered when a successful comedian of this kind performs.

And the most important thing – it has to be funny. You can recognize when a joke is made out of hate. And if you are not a funny comedian, you should probably shut it. This is why some celebrities get in trouble. They are not funny, they are not comedians and they picked on one particular group of people. So Michael Richards’ rant about black people was just that – a rant. Not a comedy routine.

I guess I have always been such a fan of comedy and humor that I could never really pick a topic in which I would consider always and completely off limits. The right time, the right audience, the right performer, the right context…if everything falls into place, I don’t think there is anything that cannot be made into something funny at some point. At least I don’t exclude it from possibility.

So, while I am laughing at these jokes – many times through a hand covered mouth– I cannot help but wonder, “Should I be laughing at this?” “Am I a racist?” But right or wrong, I usually answer myself with, “Relax. It’s funny. Now, where’s my wine and Milk Duds?”

What makes you laugh? What do you think should be off limits? Who are some of your favorite comedians?

(Note: links provided aren’t favorites of mine, but it was very difficult to find examples of the humor I am describing and at the same time does not contain copious amounts of swearing)

Original story HERE


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