Should comedians be politically correct?
- ‘Political correctness’ is language “intended to give the least amount of offense, especially when describing groups identified by external markers such as race, gender, culture, or sexual orientation.”
- The term originated in 1917 following the Russian Revolution amongst Marxist-Leninist groups who wanted people to adhere “to the policies and principles of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.” PC ideas took hold in America between the 1970-1980s primarily on the political Left.
- A 2017 Cato poll recorded that 71% of Americans believed “political correctness has silenced important discussions our society needs to have” with 58% believing the “political climate prevents them from sharing their own political beliefs.”
- A 2021 Pew Research study found that around 60% of Democrats “say people should be careful what they say to avoid offending others, while only 17% of Republicans” agree.
- LA Times reported in 2017 about seven entertainers who say “PC culture” harms comedy. They were Mel Brooks, Jerry Seinfeld, Gilbert Gottfried, Dennis Miller, Daniel Lawrence Whitney (aka Larry the Cable Guy), Chris Rock, and John Cleese.
- Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby said to Esquire magazine in 2019 that “Comedy no longer exists in a vacuum. To be relevant, you have to speak with your audience. You don’t get to just tell them how it is. Having said that, I'm not into censorship either. There's a difference between demanding a culture of respect and censorship.”
While edgy and provocative comedy seems to be the order of the day and though talking about sensitive topics is applauded, they are borderline unacceptable. Some matters are too important to be mocked. Distasteful disparagement humor promotes violence, cruelty, and anti-social behavior.
This sort of humor often reveals hidden prejudices, making it difficult for the targeted victims to speak up for fear of being labeled 'overly sensitive.'
Offensive humor does have wider implications. Demeaning political correctness as merely encouraging censorship or threatening liberty and free speech misses the point; There's more at stake here. 'Prejudiced norm theory' reveals that 'disparagement humor uniquely affects tolerance of discrimination against members of groups targeted by the humor.' Another study even found that exposure to sexist humor can decrease male sensitivity to rape.
Society must progress to where audiences no longer find it funny or acceptable for comedians to make tasteless jokes about homosexuality, race, or gender. Comedy has great power and potential to be used as a medium to promote more tolerant thoughts and ideas, and political correctness is needed to protect weaker groups. This doesn't mean all topics are forbidden, as comedy can still address topics as long as it's presented the right way.
With these groups already subject to discrimination by society, it is necessary to provide the right context to maintain the proper balance of power. Asian comedians can poke fun at Asians, etc.
Most comedians who complain about being muzzled by PC culture are perhaps too lazy or untalented to approach comedy more cleverly without using certain groups as punching bags. Everyone should feel safe to watch a comedy show without fearing being the punchline of a hurtful joke.
There is no requirement for all comedians to be politically correct. Often, not being politically correct is what makes comedians so valuable to the defining spirit of society. Since the time of kings, comedians have spoken truth to power. This form of blunt ridicule helps prevent a totalitarian regime by poking holes into the idea of a ‘perfect’ ruling class.
Humor helps us cope with fear and angst. Comedians have the unique ability to reflect on society’s troubles without cynicism, which is a society-wide coping mechanism. We often shy away from uncomfortable truths or fail to grasp the nuance of a problematic situation. It is the comedian’s job to discuss ideas or observations from which others flee. They have the unique ability to “take something awful and make it silly.” It allows us to move forward and grow, even if that may be uncomfortable at times.
To effectively tackle complex topics and distill them down for humorous consumption, they need to speak freely. To have free minds and a free society, we need free speech, even if it can be uncomfortable sometimes. Of course, this is not to say that all jokes are funny. Those that propagate hate or cause injury to others should not be tolerated.
Humor is subjective, and there will always be some who don’t like a particular joke. However, there is no way to appeal to everybody and still bring about progress in the face of controversy. Often, those most upset by humor have the most to gain from its message because, at one point or another, we all need the same ego check as the kings of old.