Comedy is the best medicine for anybody feeling down. Laughter evokes a release of our pent-up emotions whether it’s anger, sadness or anxiety. However, there is a thin line of what makes somebody laugh, and with today’s comedy trying to shock audiences, many take offense and argue comedians go way too far.
But comedians have pushed society’s cultural buttons for decades. In 1966, Lenny Bruce was arrested after a stand-up performance for saying nine inappropriate words. I will not repeat them, however — the bit is available online.
A few years later, George Carlin delivered a monologue titled “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” The list included all but two of the words Bruce recited.
At the time, abrasive words were not to be spoken, especially not over the radio waves or TV. Obscenity was something our nation wasn’t ready for, especially certain acts like when The Doors’ frontman Jim Morrison was arrested on stage for exposing himself during a show in Miami.
Today, humor is most effective when it shocks us. It’s called shock comedy, and its goal is to offend and piss us off — and it seems to be working.
Last week, Artie Lange of the Howard Stern Show notoriety tweeted about having a sexual fantasy with ESPN broadcaster Cari Champion, in which he was Thomas Jefferson and Champion was his slave.
When I read this news, I was not the least bit surprised. Lange has a reputation for offending every single person, not just minorities. Welcome to the Howard Stern Show.
Lange responded to the incident online, saying, “I thought it would be funny to tweet JOKES about that observation (that she was black). A decision which might be the end of modern comedy. I tweeted jokes that in the past I would’ve said … privately in my home among friends. I know black women who could join me and handle it.”
But Lange isn’t the only one who has pushed the boundaries of comedy. On last week’s episode of Saturday Night Live, Chris Rock delivered his opening monologue riddled with references to Sept. 11 and the Boston Marathon bombing.
“I am never going in the Freedom Tower,” Rock said. “I don’t care if Scarlett Johannson is butt-naked on the 89th floor in a plate of ribs. I’m not going in there.”
He did provide an exception, however. The Freedom Tower must have a “ducking feature.”
Some said Rock went too far. But others supported Rock, including cast member Pete Davidson, whose father was a firefighter who died during the Sept. 11 attacks.
“Chris Rocks monologue was brilliant!! I’m not offended at all. Funny is funny!!” Davidson tweeted.
Where some see offense, others see humor. We’ve become a generation where sensitivity triumphs over spunk. These comedians use serious topics in their material to allow us to cope and heal our wounds inflicted by the past.
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “For in laughter all evil is present, but sanctified and absolved through its own happiness.” Shock humor disgusts some people. But it’s also an art form, so people must learn to deal with it. And the common TV viewer won’t have a choice.
As of this week, Comedy Central shows are now allowed to use the word “pussy,” thanks to Amy Schumer’s provocative show, “Inside Amy Schumer.”
My mom used to kick me out of the living room whenever a George Carlin special was on HBO. His raunchy language and subject material were something my young and fragile ears could not hear.
However, with most of Carlin’s seven words now uncensored on TV, his iconic bit comes across as less of a shock — it’s normal.
Email Chris Burek at firstname.lastname@example.org.