Comedic Relief: The Power Behind Comedy

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Mar 7, 2017 · 4 min read

The use of comedy has gained a reputation over the years as an insincere, and almost insensitive response to controversial topics in the public sphere. Comedy tends to take the situations or issues that people feel most uncomfortable or emotional about, and manipulate these scenarios into something laughable. However, it seems more often than not, especially most recently, the usage of comedy has become something that offends, rather than entertain. A prime example of this cause and effect scenario would be the way Mr. President, Donald Trump, handles the way in which he is represented in the comedic platform.

This just goes to show the power that comedy has that is often overlooked and discouraged in the current media. If our own president elect is so offended by a comedic portrayal of himself, it just further implies the influence that comedy could have on any individual. All of us have told a joke, or laughed at one for that matter, that would be considered offensive to some third-party, whether it be culture, politic, or gender related. Yet who, and what, for that matter, draws the thin line between what’s funny, and whats considered “going too far?”

The fact of the matter is that comedy is very political. Everything about comedy — from the delivery of the joke, to who is saying it, and to whom is referenced, is a very decisive thought out procedure. What’s the difference between a white male telling a racist joke to a white audience? What’s difference when a white male tells a racist joke to a ethnically diverse audience? The power dynamic is forever shifting, and it is intriguing to think about how this dynamic varies and plays out across gender, class, and race.

The underlying issue regarding the way in which comedy offends a particular audience comes down to victimization. It appears as thought every form of comedy, across every audience, consists of an endless cycle of victimization. If a comedian from a particular ethnic and political background makes a joke about a particular group outside his/her demographic, it is quite clear to see how the aforementioned group would feel personally victimized by said comedian. Therefore the most appropriate response would be to feel offended, and one can rightfully see why. Yet, the alternate response would be to laugh, for part of poking fun of the issue relies on shining light on a certain aspect or truth which is usually not spoken about. This latter response then falls under the category of self-victimization; the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!” mentality. Which would thus evoke a negative response from the offended third party, causing the cycle to continue, and all parties involved feel victimized.

This all seems to be linked with the desire to fit “the norm.” In today’s modern age, we spend too much time and effort labeling each other (and ourselves for that matter), and forming such separate and distinct divisions between different groups, that what is considered “normal” is almost obsolete. Perhaps that is where a majority of the power in comedy lies, and the struggle of understanding this power dynamic lies in the enslavement of third-party ideas, concepts, and beliefs that are often represented as divergent from the white, heterosexual, male dominated “norm” our media is desperately trying to uphold. The power behind comedy really lies in the controlling aspect of it. The comedian controls what the joke pertains, who it is directed at, and when and where it is told, along with who it is told to; which brings up the issue of who can say certain things and who can’t.

However, I feel as though comedy can really be implemented as a powerful tool with regards to controversial issues. It has been made clear that comedy does wonders when it comes to offending people, and perhaps that’s because comedy tends to bring issues no one wants to talk about, and presents them directly into the spotlight, whether you like it or not. Its hard for people to ignore, and the only way in which someone can deal with that which they would rather not speak about is to be offended.

Therefore, can comedy be viewed as parrhesiastic speech? I believe it could. More and more often in today’s society, we are witnessing comedy as a form of coping mechanism. The utilization of comedy as a coping mechanism is a brilliant way to combat and cope with the inherent power, or dominant figure. The method of comedic relief has been used over centuries, and is pointed out in Andrea Canaan’s “Brownness”, which explains how the African American minority would make jokes in reference to the white with each other, and how they even made fun of each other. In a way, they took back power in making fun of themselves, because they were able to control it, instead of dealing with the reality of their forced way of life.

Comedy, in essence, allows an individual to say what they otherwise couldn’t, in a very creative and abstract platform. The whole purpose of speaking parrhesiastically relies on speaking out on your own truth, which usually falls under the category of that which is unsaid in the mainstream media. Comedy highlights the silences surrounding parrhesia, which makes it all the more controversial, for it focuses on what is not said. Ask any individual what they regret most in life, and most people will talk about what they haven’t said, not what they did say. Comedy is an excellent form of parrhesiastic speech, for it allows the silenced to have a voice.

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