May 6, 2019

ALL COMEDY IS CONSERVATIVE:

Imperfect Comedy in an Age of Perfection (Tanael Joachim, 5/06/19, Quillette)

For as long as there has been comedy, there have been heated debates over what is and is not a legitimate topic for humor. It's a valid question over which reasonable people can disagree. The only problem is that those with the noisiest opinions are often those who know and understand nothing about comedy. And so they worry about jokes "normalizing" or "validating" various reprehensible behaviors and attitudes, and they ask nervous questions like "How far is too far?" What they don't seem to appreciate is that this kind of thing is generally self-regulating. Usually, if there's no laugh, it's too far. Every joke has a single goal: to elicit involuntary laughter. No comedian in his right mind would continue to perform a joke that never gets a laugh. Comedy is a dialogue, and when an audience disapproves, it stops participating.

My heckler need not have worried, for comedy cannot change human nature. Terrible things do not exist in the world because we joke about them; we joke about terrible things because they exist in the world. What you joke about or find funny does not say anything about who you are. (Bill Cosby, I would remind you, was not known for telling rape jokes.)

In an age of performative virtue, people are rewarded with applause and "likes" for telling us how forward thinking, how righteous, and how progressive they are. Comedy, on the other hand, reminds us that we all have a dark side and that we might want to reconsider before casting stones. Each of us is a complex creature capable of entertaining good and bad thoughts. And art has always been the place best suited to exploring the parts of ourselves we must live with, but seldom show.

One of the keys to comedy is that it rubs the human nature we seek to deny in our faces.


Posted by at May 6, 2019 4:00 AM

  

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