In an interview with Vulture, comedian Chris Rock articulated a sentiment that has since been echoed by a number of comedians.
Rock noted that he no longer performs at colleges because the student population is “too conservative.” He went on to clarify that it’s our “willingness to not offend anyone” that takes the fun out of comedy.
In short, his point is that comedy is being stifled by political correctness.
There’s some merit to this. Comedy thrives in the moral grey area between what’s considered “okay” and “not okay.” Like all artists, comedians need artistic licence. They talk about this all the time — it’s the need to be edgy.
But artistic licence isn’t a free pass to discriminate. Moreover, comedy doesn’t need to hinge on discrimination.
Being politically correct might kill a joke here or there, but what good is a joke when it comes unfairly at one party’s expense? Comedians complain about people being too sensitive, but sometimes, comedians are just being assholes, and they get called out on it.
Take John Cleese, best known for his role in the British comedy troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus. In an interview with Bill Maher, Cleese griped about not being able to make jokes about Muslims. His reasoning: “they’ll kill you.”
To be fair, Cleese made the comment facetiously — as a joke. But what’s the humour in that? What’s funny about propagating horribly untrue Islamophobic sentiments? What’s the humour in generalizing Muslims as radical fundamentalists? Is that worth a cheap laugh?
The problem for comedians isn’t political correctness. The problem is that comedy is really hard and being an asshole simply doesn’t cut it.
Instead of griping about the need to tiptoe around sensitive topics, comedians should look to the clever and hilarious ones among them — like Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert — who are able to play within the boundaries of political correctness, while providing poignant and insightful commentary on politically sensitive topics.
Ultimately, if a joke flops, it’s a failure on the part of comedian. If people are taking offence to a joke instead of laughing along, then the joke isn’t funny. And if the only way you can deliver is by discriminating, or being divisive, that’s on the comedians themselves, not political correctness.