“Punching Down” in Comedy

Devin Greene
Aug 22, 2017 · 2 min read

From time to time, when a comedian crosses a line, you may hear someone argue that jokes should only “punch up, not down.” They mean to say you should only ridicule or imitate people who are regarded as powerful. Seems legit, right?

The problem is, you can only say a joke “punches down” if you place the subject of that joke below the person telling it. You’re essentially trying to protect someone from offense by arguing they aren’t worthy of it, if they were more privileged and successful, sure, but not now, not in this lowly condition (poor, disabled, black, a woman). If we are all truly equal, and deserve equal treatment, then just saying the term “punching down” is more belittling and offensive then telling a person with one arm to hold their applause, or complaining about how gay men are still men. I make fun of minorities, handicapped people, and LGBTQ, because that’s what I do to people I love. I think it’s hard for a non-comedian to understand that most of us aren’t motivated by the instinct to dominate, or to speak truth to power, that’s for bloggers and reality tv stars and politicians, most comedians just want to laugh at grim reality with you, in some form or another. We want to share experiences, not condemn them or ban them. Obviously there are exceptions, but Dave Chapelle and Tina Fey and whoever’s up next week probably aren’t them.

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Devin Greene

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Youtube.com/DevinGreene. Stand-up Comedian. Documentary Filmmaker. Video Blogger. Animal. Vegetable. Mineral. Friend.