In Defense of the Offensive Joke
I’m pretty far left. My views on politics, economics and social issues tend to be VERY progressive and mostly pragmatic, with a dash of idealism to keep things exciting. I’m the kind of person who champions and defends the underdog, as I happen to be one. “Live and let live” is a cliché that has become my ethos.
That being said, I love fucked up humor. No topic is taboo, no joke too dirty or twisted. After all, it’s humor- and like art, there shouldn’t be censorship or restrictions. One could say that humor IS art.
A lot of folks seem to devalue humor, they think it’s only place is in random knock knock jokes and the occasional roast on Comedy Central. I disagree. Comedy is a potent and clever medium to challenge norms, inform, inspire, form bonds and yes, make you squirt your pants laughing. It can offer catharsis. Exposing things to the light and then having a chuckle over them can be, and has been for me, more therapeutic than any kind of Western medicine. It has been my most valuable coping mechanism with the horrors in this world. If you can’t laugh at it, you can’t live with it, right?
I was wandering the wilds of YouTube recently, and stumbled on an old clip from Politically Incorrect with Bill Mahr. It was an episode on racism and comedy, and featured Sarah Silverman, David Spade, an actress I forget the name of and a representative from an Asian rights group. The main issue was Silvermans use of a joke with the word “chink” in it. The problem is, in the face of all the outrage, when she told the actual joke it got a big laugh. Why, because the audience was made up of horrible, sub- human racists and sociopaths? No, because it was damned funny. Furthermore, the entire joke was based on exposing the casual racism with which we are all familiar with, as most of us have “that” Uncle or Grandma or Neighbor. The offensive word had to be used to illustrate the ignorance still prevalent in many parts of the United States, the bigotry that masquerades as “harmless”. And the gentleman from the Asian rights group completely missed the point. He threw out all context and zeroed in on the offensive word, saying it shouldn’t be used under any circumstances. Certainly I can understand his taking umbrage, but my point is that not all humor is obvious- sometimes it’s nuanced and layered, sometimes you must roll a joke around on your tongue to truly appreciate it’s flavor.
I’m a half black, half Italian transgender man. I’ve done activism work with Black Lives Matter, Food Not Bombs and for transwomen of color. Having your issues straight and enjoying a perverse joke are not mutually exclusive. Sure, there are cracks that are just not funny and meant maliciously. That’s different. Punching down is not cool. But maybe we can all lighten up a bit, hmm? Maybe we can give comedy the respect and freedom it deserves. If we don’t, we run the risk of trampling on the pinnacle of human achievement: expression.
Now excuse me while I go tell another dead baby joke.