April 26, 2015

Should comedy have boundaries?

Richard KlagsbrunRebel Blogger

(WARNING: Mature Language)

The other day, my friend Roy Eappen sent out a tweet, or more precisely a retweet, saying, "Man Killed His Pregnant Girlfriend and Her Unborn Twins When She Refused an Abortion."   

My first instinct was to retweet it myself with the appendage, "proving there's more than one way to skin a cat."  However, showing uncharacteristic restraint, I decided not to incur an onslaught of online opprobrium. But the temptation became so strong I felt the need to close the twitter window on my computer until it passed.

Admittedly, I'm pro-abortion rights, and can sympathize with the idea of not wanting to pay child support for two unwanted kids for two decades. Even so, you'd imagine that it would be obvious that any reasonable person, or even I, oppose murder and would have been making a joke. Furthermore, I'm an animal lover, and am unequivocally opposed to the actual skinning of cats.

So why didn't I fulfill the urge to send out my little morbid witticism of questionable taste?

Because people can't take a fucking joke anymore.

We live in times where it seems that every moron with Internet access spends all their waking hours scouring electronic media for something at which they can find an excuse to take offense. Then, they'll try to shut it down, by either a petition or some other form of social media campaign. If successful at censorship, they get to shout about their "victory" and feel a sense of power they could never otherwise achieve from, oh, say, creating something or doing something productive.

However, the biggest culprits in this trend aren't the insufferable Internet shitheads who get pleasure from shutting down free speech. It's the media companies, the academic departments, the politicians, and the rest who surrender like an Italian infantry unit at the first sign of trouble.

The appropriate, rational response to an impasse where someone wants to deny another their free speech rights because of a perceived offense is to say, "go fuck yourself." Or alternately to say, "you have every right to choose not to attend or not to listen to things you find offensive, you can insult the person whose opinion you dislike, but you don't have the right to dictate what others can choose to hear."

Which isn't to say offensive comedy can't be problematic. But in those instances, the marketplace of ideas and commerce should be allowed to take their natural course.

It's time we stopped letting sanctimonious would-be censors who troll the Internet dictate to the world what is acceptable humor. There's only one real test for a joke, and that's whether or not it gets a laugh.

The recent example of Trevor Noah comes to mind. The prospective heir to Jon Stewart's throne at The Daily Show got in hot water for a series of old tweets that were insulting to women and Jews.

Trevor Noah's crime was that his jokes about Jews and women weren't remotely funny. Sure, it's a matter of taste. But the problem when a comedian keeps making the same type of unfunny joke over and over, is that it can lead the casual observer to the natural conclusion that it's not actually a joke, and the joker is just an asshole.

A case in point is the fascist, French, alleged "comedian" Dieudonne M'bala M'bala. The guy hasn't said anything even mildly amusing on purpose in decades.  M'Bala M'bala's Holocaust "jokes," along with his sincere promotions of anti-Semitic Holocaust deniers, make it abundantly clear he really does hate Jews.  

Not that you can't make a living from that. M'bala M'bala has a big following among Jew-hating fascists and Islamists; not demographics generally considered to be major aficionados of comedy, but their francs count as money just like anyone else's.

Balance can be difficult, since comedy, like any other form of social satire, often needs to offend some people to work properly. Unfortunately, the politically correct, intellectually inhibiting climate we have has made contemporary comedy a challenging task.

Part of the dilemma is that identifying satire and parody has become nearly impossible.

We get to witness absurdities from requests for feminist jazz hands, because clapping could be "triggering," to a grievance filed by a transsexual upset that she was referred to with the pronoun "Ms" instead of "Mx,"  to UC Santa Barbara apologizing for serving tacos during a science fiction party because it might offend illegal aliens from Mexico. We live in times, thanks to regressive leftists, where there's frequently no discernible difference between parody and reality

That became hilariously apparent a few days ago when the brilliant twitter satirist Godfrey Elfwick was taken as a serious "progressive," by the BBC. On a BBC radio show, the hosts had no doubt of Elfwick's sincerity when he satirically described Star Wars as racist and sexist because Darth Vader was a "racial stereotype" who listened to rap music, and that "the one main female character ended up chained to a horny space slug."

Yes, we do live in strangely ultra-sensitive times.

You can show Jesus, Moses, Ganesha, and Buddha in a graphic orgy and no one cares, but all you have to do now is draw one little cartoon of Mohammed having sex with a goat and the next thing you know, some enraged Islamic mob is trying to behead you. And the left is siding with the Islamists because the mobs of maniacs trying to murder peaceful satirists are an otherized minority, making them automatic victims, regardless of their behavior. We've gone from living in times where the political left wants gun control to where they want comic control. Remember folks, cartoons don't kill; people do. And if Islam causes enough damage to the prefrontal cortex so that a cartoon can stimulate great masses of its adherents into uncontrollable rage, maybe it's finally time to make it illegal. Or at least require an Islam license, since evidently, without proper training it can be lethal.

Perhaps the only way out of all this is to utilize the rule described by Alan Alda's character in Woody Allen's masterpiece, Crimes and Misdemeanors.  "Comedy equals tragedy plus time" may well be the rule to live by. Something that's a tragedy today can be the subject of a joke later on. 

There may be a corollary to that rule involving applying common sense and picking an appropriate setting for a joke. For example, a crack about a pregnant murder victim would be a pretty serious breach of etiquette at the woman's funeral service. But among friends at a coffee shop or bar...well...sure, it's still in awful taste, but based on a trial among a small sample audience, it appears it does get a laugh... even if it's combined with a groan.

The Allen Rule with the Klagsbrun Corollary. That could be the guideline for the future of humor. 

If you don't believe me, you can try it for yourself. The next time I write something you find offensive, just take a deep breath, hold it and slowly count to 240,380.  By the time you're done, I'm sure whatever I wrote won't trouble you in the least anymore. 

(Photo: Erin Nekervis, Creative Commons license)


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commented 2015-05-11 15:28:48 -0400
Well said! “surrender like an Italian infantry unit at the first sign of trouble” ROFLMAO – reminds me of this joke:
During one of the many wars that the French and the British fought and the French usually lost, the French just happened to capture a British Major. An officer brought the Major to the French general for interrogation. The French general began ridiculing the Major for wearing “that stupid red tunic.” The French general said, “Why do you wear that red uniform, it makes it easy for us to shoot you.” The British major replied, “If I do get wounded, the blood will not show, and my soldiers will not get scared.” The French general said, “That is a very good idea,” The Frenchy turned to his orderly and said, “From now on all French officers will wear brown pants.”
commented 2015-05-05 12:02:13 -0400
First ban politician lie speech, see how that works and then CBC news see how that works, Comedy has to remain free.
commented 2015-05-05 09:54:01 -0400
If anyone cares to read a more in-depth analysis of comedy boundaries, I highly recommend The Naked Jape by Jimmy Carr and Lucy Greeves (http://www.amazon.ca/Naked-Jape-Jimmy-Carr/dp/0141025158). But yes, essentially, Richard has hit the nail on the head – everyone on the Internet is a special little snowflake with tremendously thin skin.
commented 2015-04-28 19:09:53 -0400
OK I do have a few thoughts on this issue. As much as I do agree with much of what Richard says. People do cry and complain about every trivial thing on the internet there is still a few scenarios I’m not comfortable with. Would it be OK to instruct someone to injure or kill someone else and dismiss it by claiming I was only joking? If you were accused of a crime you could always sue for slander and defamation but somehow you can make those same accusations in a funny cartoon or comedy bit and it is acceptable? So humor can be used to tell the lie you dare not speak solemnly.
commented 2015-04-28 08:00:48 -0400
I should include the qualifier that it(comedy) hurts to varying degrees.
commented 2015-04-28 07:57:01 -0400
It isn’t comedic unless it hurts. 99.9 percent of all comedy is based of the condition that it hurts some person,place,thing,aspect of life,cultural condition etc.
commented 2015-04-28 07:22:03 -0400
I agree with the sentiment of this blog and the author makes some great points but I think the use of profanity was unnecessary. And I’m not that sensitive, nor am I above using profanity on a regular basis. The blog reminds me of the comedian that has to use profanity to get a laugh. Bill Cosby and Jerry Seinfeld are outstanding comedians and both are not above using profanity in their stand-up, but it’s a rare occasion. They are sophisticated enough to know that profanity does not equal humor; it merely accentuates a strong bit with a larger crescendo of laughter.
commented 2015-04-28 02:14:47 -0400
…. I’m pro-abortion but I’m an animal lover – unequivocally opposed to the actual skinning of cats ….

Talk about taking a Neo-Darwinist-School/Eugenicist fucking joke.

No trouble with the slaughter of millions of unborn babies but squeamish about animals.

And living proof the psychosis, Fascissocialism, in its every form and by its every other name, descends from a Malignant-Envy-driven self, own-culture and invariably and inevitably and as in your case, own-species-loathing, that elevates cats above Human babies.

For Hitler it was his dogs. But then, Hitler had a ball.

HaHaHaHa HaHaHaHa HaHaHaHa HaHaHaHa HaHaHaHa!
commented 2015-04-27 22:17:13 -0400
Common sense. Common decency. Commonality of purpose. The Common cause. comedy uses every trick and every visual in order to make us laugh, whether it is an embarrassed, shocked laugh or a beer hall, gut busting roar. I personally do not enjoy the murder of unborn children. I might not laugh at that. I probably won’t snipe anyone for doing that type of comedy, but that’s just it. Comedy is comedy when someone laughs. So, I say: let ’er R.I.P.! …and her two unborn children as well.
commented 2015-04-27 17:41:32 -0400
How have I missed this guy? This was insightful, sagacious AND funny. I don’t get to cash in that trifecta often.
To me it seems being offended by comedy is the opposite side of the tolerance coin. Tolerance used to mean that while you disagreed with the other party you maintained their right to express it. Chuck Colson stated that all views would be equally heard but not all views would be given equal value. However, the common acceptance of the definition of tolerance today may be incompatible with the concept of freedom of speech since today you cannot tolerate an opinion and disagree with them at the same time; since tolerance now means acceptance.
Once author stated that tolerance today has a positive meaning but it really shouldn’t: “Thank-you for the dinner you prepared last night – it was tolerable” is not a compliment; it’s an insult. But being tolerant (using the current definition) is what we seem to be about with no other options in polite society. It was a real pleasure to see Klagsbrun skewer that misunderstanding. Who says the Germans aren’t funny?
commented 2015-04-27 17:04:30 -0400
brilliant. richard klagsbrun is the paul koidis jr. of his generation.
commented 2015-04-27 15:28:08 -0400
Well written, witty, entertaining.

Also right. That is, I agree.

I have been censored far too often on almost all media for what others find offensive – i.e., for what others disagree with. It is not only comedy that is censored but any dissenting opinion whatsoever. Surely that is an injustice as offence is purely in the eye of the offended. Unless the offence is inciting hatred or murder or blacklisting – that gets old. But generally, I agree, let the market decide. And if the offended don’t like the views of those who offend them, don’t consume them. Easy peasy.

But comedy gets misunderstood far, far too often. So often it invites disdain toward the offended.

Sometimes I think it is the online media that is partly to account for the offence taking. You know, not being able to see gesture and to hear tone. Or that taking offence is so much easier from behind the protection of the anonymous web.

I’ve adapted. I intentionally use the most officious, excessive screed to chastise the offended for their offence. I don’t know how they miss that it’s all dramatic pretense but even when I punctuate with the comedy-for-dhimmis smiley face icon, most still do. I don’t care because it’s fun. I don’t take seriously the hatred spewed my way and I expect others to be as callously impersonal in their posturing as I am.

I mean no offence with my views and humour and I don’t care if it offends as it invariably does. I am not going to amend my views to appease intimidation.
commented 2015-04-27 13:46:08 -0400
‘But the problem when a comedian keeps making the same type of unfunny joke over and over, is that it can lead the casual observer to the natural conclusion that it’s not actually a joke, and the joker is just an asshole.’ This made me think of a certain performance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner!