For the past decade comedy has undergone a rather awkward phase. With social justice finally becoming a wide-spread and paramount cause for many, comedy too has had to adapt to this. Well, it’s not, but it should.
Firstly some background on my own personal views to give some context as to where my opinion on comedy lies. I would consider myself left-wing libertarian, I firmly support social justice/feminism/egalitarianism, the concept of race actually annoys me but I feel forced to acknowledge it due to the times we still live in, plus I am pro-political correctness. However, I strongly believe in freedom of speech and expression and criticism. The saying, “I may not agree with what you are saying but I would fight for your right to say it” (may have paraphrased a bit) sums it up perfectly. Political correctness and freedom of speech has always been viewed as opposites, that you can only stand for one and not the other, but frankly that is massively untrue. When it comes to racist/sexist/homophobic/anti-Semitic/islamophobic attitudes, my approach is always criticism, satire, and ridicule. I believe that anyone who has those attitudes needs re-educating, but I do not believe that criminalising someone for them is the way forward.
So how does this all tie into comedy?
Well, all you need to do is look at the most popular comedy acts and shows. Jeff Dunham and Family Guy are the two best examples as they are massively popular in the US. Comedy for a long while has been dominated by something that really I can’t consider comedy: stereotypes. I can’t fathom how simply stating a stereotype – whether it is racist or whatever – can be considered funny, there is no joke, it is the lowest form of comedy that there is – and even calling it comedy is a stretch. This may sound like I’m saying you cannot bring subjects like that into comedy, but that is not what I am saying. I just cannot understand how comedians like Jeff Dunham, and shows like Family Guy, get so much praise for simply stating a racial stereotype. Where is the creativity?
But it’s not just the laziness of stereotypes that annoys me. Of course, stereotypes and generalisations themselves annoy me. And since they are still extremely rife in comedy, it still shows the disconnect between media and reality.
So can stereotypes be used at all, inoffensively but also successfully in comedy? Of course they can. Consider Always Sunny in Philadelphia. In season 6 episode 9; Mac, Dennis and Frank discuss black face. Frank makes the absurd comment that “you gotta make the lips look funny” when pulling off black face. So let’s deconstruct this line and see why it’s actually funny. Is it funny because it plays up the racial stereotype that black people have big lips? Of course not, it’s funny because of the absurdity from Danny DeVito’s character, Frank, who is a massive (not literally of course) racist. The narrow mindedness and belief that someone would actually think that is what’s funny, not the racist remark itself. This is called satire and it’s something that many liberals tend to forget. It’s not offensive or racist, instead it’s making a mockery of racists.
Now compare this with family guy where most of the jokes are that they are racial stereotypes. I don’t get it… is stereotyping funny?
So in reference to the title, how does popular comedy nowadays contribute to the longevity of racism? It’s rather simple, the more and more people are exposed to stereotypes as humour; they do it themselves. They think that by stating a stereotype they are being funny, making a joke, when they’re not. Stereotypes are not harmless, generalisations are also not harmless, so stop thinking they are. It’s not “political correctness gone mad” when someone calls you a fucking intolerant idiot because you said that Mexicans are lazy or Asians are good at math.
I’ll finish up by being real passive. This is of course my opinion, I’m not saying that Family Guy should be banned or that Jeff Dunham thrown in jail. They can do whatever the hell they want and they can say what they want, it’s their right to. But it’s also my right to call them out and call them what I think they are: unimaginative pieces of crap whose humour is scraping the bottom of the non-existent barrel.