Comedy is subjective. What’s funny to someone may or may not be funny to someone else. That being said, one would think a person could hear a joke and if it wasn’t funny, move on and wait for the next one. That’s not at all what happens in 2017. If a comedian is performing their set and a single joke is deemed offensive, the set is ruined and the career of that comedian may as well be over. While it’s slightly understandable that comedians have a higher sense of understanding when it comes to pushing boundaries with their performances, audiences today are entirely too sensitive and this widespread comedic illiteracy could be ruining comedy as a whole.
One of the worst things a comedian can experience is not getting a joke to land. In theory, the joke they planned and rehearsed was hilarious, but no one got it. No one understood. The performer didn’t “go too far.” They just weren’t relatable enough. This kind of comedic illiteracy is acceptable. But when a comic does, in fact, cross what the majority of an audience believes is “the line,” it can get ugly. At that point, the crowded becomes illiterate in the sense that they don’t understand that it was just a joke. This kind of illiteracy can be extremely frustrating for both the laugher and the laughee. It’s especially frustrating when you consider how, for lack of a better word, selfish this kind of sensitivity can be in a comedy club. Lenore Skenazy said it best when she wrote “When my idea of cruel is your idea of hilarious, my super-sensitivity automatically wins. I get to declare not just that the comic isn't funny, but that he is a bad person and needs to be punished.” Skenazy intends to put the reader into the mind of someone yelling about why whatever joke was said wasn’t funny and does a pretty good job of explaining the lack of consideration for the comic and anyone in the audience enjoying the piece.
It makes sense to be taken aback when you hear something that wouldn’t, couldn’t, or shouldn’t be said in a public setting. Something racist, something sexist, or some other kind of “ist,” etc. But never should you get up in the middle of the set and start booing and screaming your opinion of the material. Especially since you for some reason don’t understand that you came to hear comedy and that what your hearing may even be topical. A question that never gets answered when comedians come under fire for testing the limit is “Why is comedy the only form of the arts where people think they have to agree with, or approve the content,” a question comedian Jim Norton has very eloquently pondered aloud. Norton and many other comedians often ask this question because when a book gets “edgy” or when a painting is graphic, no one bats an eye. The object is either praised or given respectful criticism. Comedy gets no such treatment. Comedy is held at some higher standard and to many not even considered an art.
But the issue is more than fair criticism of this kind of art. This kind of comedic illiteracy is bigger than someone not understanding what a joke is or why they even came to hear it. The question that we should ask ourselves before this gets out of hand is: at what point does this become an attack on free speech? And maybe we should even ask, what role do offensive jokes play in bringing to light issues that are commonly avoided. A comedian should be some who plays “an important function in society by holding up a mirror and forcing us to confront realities that we would often prefer to ignore,” according to Roger Cohen and Ryan Richards of Humanity in Action. It makes sense to use comedy in this way. If you look at America today, you see more and more people getting informed from comedy programs as opposed to traditional news. If we can’t use comedy to bring to light real issues and laugh about them too, then why do we even need comedy?
This ever growing divide between the crowd and the standup comic very well may continue to grow. The issue of oversensitivity to jokes and comically illiterate audiences has ultimate changed the comedy and has done so for the worst. Comedians even have started to avoid performing on college campuses for Christ’s sake! It’s our responsibility to fight for free speech, ensure knowledge can spread in a comedic way, and find a way to desensitize our audiences. So much more is at stake than a few careers and some butthurt audiences.
- Skenazy, Lenore. “Who Decides What's Funny?,” August 4, 2016. www.creators.com/read/lenore-skenazy/08/16/who-decides-whats-funny.
- Cohen, Roger, and Ryan Richards. “When the Truth Hurts, Tell a Joke: Why America Needs Its Comedians.” Humanity In Action, 2006. www.humanityinaction.org/knowledgebase/174-when-the-truth-hurts-tell-a-joke-why-america-needs-its-comedians.
Sophomore year was already the hardest, most frustrating year of school I ever had to endure. Beginning the year a relative unknown to my stream and going through the year with strong acrimony for the unnecessary subject matter in every course had both been difficult enough. But imagine going through all that and then having to struggle to do something you’re actually passionate about. That creates an almost unimaginable anger. But I managed to put the animosity I felt for the courses and my ill will about not being a prominent figure in Iron Stream to the side because today was the day I’d meet with Mr. Gerwer… for the fourth time.
I had to begin to advance my agenda somehow. This was my moment to speak up and not let my idea go, nor let my anger go either. Letting go any frustration would be a complete disaster and had to be avoided at all costs. School was over and I walked out of class. Then, down the steps. Then, to stop on the second floor. Mr. Gerwer would always stand outside of Mr. Lehmann’s office to say goodbye to students. I struggled toward him. Something didn’t want me to say anything. But something more identifiable (seemingly my inner annoyance) needed me to talk to him.
“Hey, Mr. Gerwer,” I tried to say confidently.
“Hey, Kwan. What’s up?” he replied.
“I wanted to speak with you quickly about student government.”
The look on his face changed almost immediately. It went from one of genuine happiness from saying goodbye to his students, to one of clear annoyance.
“Actually, do you mind moving over here? I’ll be with you in a minute,” he deflected.
I agreed and moved more toward the window to the left of the main office. Gerwer seemingly wanted to continue his waving routine. Him deeming the future of democracy in our school less important than goodbyes struck a chord. As I waited, I thought and thought of what I was going to say. Finally, my thinking would come to a halt as fewer and fewer students began to walk by.
“Alright,” Gerwer sighed. “What’s up?”
“I wanted to ask you for another opportunity to speak about student government.”
“I actually think we’ve had plenty of opportunity to speak,” he replied.
“I’d have to disagree with you. I don’t believe we’ve ever had a thorough conversation.”
“Well, I do,” he said with a bit of laughter.
“All I’m asking is that you meet with my one more time. Let me share with you why this can work.”
“There’s no point,” he said, this time with more pronounced laughter. “You’ve had plenty of chances,” Gerwer continued.
“No I haven’t. I met with you once and I’ve met with the history department three times. Never have we had the opportunity to actually debate why this is necessary,” I asserted.
At this point, we both showed clear frustration.
“Look, it’s not gonna happen. We’ve talked about it. There’s no need to go any further.”
“I haven’t talked to anyone! Why can’t this work?”
“Staff doesn’t think it’s necessary. I don’t think it’s a good idea,” he huffed.
Everything came crashing down in my mind. I snapped; the one thing I didn’t want to do, nor did I think was going to happen.
“What members of staff? I’d be happy to speak to them too,” I retorted.
“That’s NOT happening.”
“Why not? Because it seems like you’re the only one who has a problem! I mean no disrespect but, it seems a bit selfish to me,” I said with my hands in the air.
There was no turning back now. I decided to call him out. I couldn’t determine whether or not I made a mistake and I didn’t care.
He laughed and said “Alright, I’m done.”
“You’re telling me to give up because of what YOU think. That’s selfish.” I suggested.
“Oh, I’m the selfish one?” he asked as he walked into the office.
I followed and screamed “You’re the selfish one. It’s selfish.”
A few more words were exchanged in clear view of the silent teachers in the room and I decided to storm off. Mr. Gerwer called me back and told me everything was uncalled for and that I crossed a line. He told me to go home.
Anger is interesting. It can come from just about anything or any emotion. Pain, heartbreak, passion-- all of these things can lead to anger under the right circumstances. But passion-- that’s what this speaks to most. To be passionate is to be committed. Commitment to a cause can get anyone to do just about anything. Passion caused my anger to just build and build until I lashed out on whatever was in the way of my goal. My goal was to get a student government at SLA. Mr. Gerwer was now in the way. I had gone into the conversation thinking that letting go all the frustration from the school year, from seating, and from my many efforts to get student government would cause me to lose everything. I ended up doing it anyway and hating myself for it. It was only when I realized that letting go brought forth the truth from me and the person in the way of my goal, that I began to heal and work harder than ever before.
Vivo en el sur de Filadelfia. Mi barrio es bastante gran. Sin embargo, a veces es peligroso. También, he vivido aquí durante 10 años. Creo que de muchas cosas cuando imagino mi barrio. De hecho, creo que de las muchas tiendas e incluso de Broad Street. Me gusta la gente. Por otro lado, a veces no tan agradables. Supongo que odio. Es Inicio aunque. Por eso me gusta. En mi opinión, podría cambiar los parques. Son importantes para la comunidad. Mucha de la gente negra en vivo a mi alrededor y creo que es bueno para nosotros tener cosas así para mantener a nuestros niños ocupados. No muchos acontecimientos ocurren aquí.
Hay un lugar en mi comunidad que creo que sería perfecto para un mural. Es 23 y Jackson. Al lado de un “Dollar General” podría realmente utilizar algunos sprucing up. Es sólo una pared en blanco, tan y creo que la comunidad sería mejor si pintaba un mural allí.
El propósito de mi mural es honrar a una gran parte de la comunidad: Kwan Hopkins. Creo que la comunidad debe tener una figura que es bueno y agradable de ver sobre ellos. Y quiero hacer arte asombroso. Me encantaría ser honrado por la comunidad. Creo que me motivan para hacer y crear y pintar este mural. Yo soy la inspiración máxima. El mural me tendría en el centro y todo lo que gusta a mi alrededor. Algunas de las imágenes que vamos a usar son yo. Situación más probable de una manera positiva y fuerte. Tengo cosas que me encantan a mi alrededor. Cosas como juegos, películas y política. Algunas palabras que utilizaría sería inspiradoras. Palabras como: divertido, potente, vivo, inteligencia, pasión y ganador.
Creo que mi mural totalmente califica como arte público. Lo único que necesitaría sería obtener el permiso del dueño de la tienda. Algo creado por mi para la comunidad de la tolerancia es definitivamente arte público. Contaría la historia de Kwan Hopkins. Las dificultades, los éxitos, los logros. Y creo que mi diseño mejoraría realmente la comunidad. Creo que mostraría a la gente cosas grandes. Lo que la gente podía hacer, lo que podían llegar a ser. Creo sinceramente que mi mural empoderar a las personas.
Su bigote es muy grande
Tienes tal estilo, tal elegancia
Lo siento para la revolución
Es difícil ser Presidente
Pero estoy aquí
Aquí para usted Sr. Presidente
Mi nombre es Kwan,
El hijo de padres
Que trabajan duro
Soy muy cómico
Hijo de Americanos clandestinos
Yo tengo una familia pequeña
Nosotros vivimos en Filadelfia
Filadelfia es mi casa
Tios, padres, y mis abuelitos
Todos de mi familia
Veo los gráficos de videojuegos
Saboreo comida fresca
Toco el pelo de mi gato
Oigo la voz de mi mamá
Huelo pollo frito
El robo de mi patria
Escapo sitios de racismo
Esta es una canción de libertad
Somos productos de Estados Unidos
Hablamos parcialmente Español
La lengua es dificil aprender
No somos Africanos
África está en nosotros
Mi familia y yo somos el mejory la vida es buena