Comedy: just right or too far?

Katie Dugan

There have been times where comedians found themselves in a tough situation for upsetting someone, or a group, with an offensive joke. Comedy legends such a George Carlin, Stephen Colbert and Joan Rivers have felt the sting of public backlash after telling jokes onstage.

So it has been said that a new era of political correctness, combined with social media, is cause to not only steer clear of edgy jokes, but also college campuses. Trevor Noah of The Daily Show blames mob mentality, saying of young audiences “Sometimes people don’t even know why they’re angry, they just jump on the bandwagon — they don’t even do their research,” according to TheWrap.

I agree that recently there has been an increase in hypersensitivity and a growing feeling that comedians can no longer say anything without offending someone. It can be as simple as one joke being taken out of context and quoted on Twitter or Facebook, and the comedian will receive a storm of retaliation from people who are outraged. Social media is the real enemy.

However, I do find it offensive for Noah to think so little of college students by almost outwardly saying that we don’t have minds of our own, aren’t educated, and aren’t mature enough to do the research to form our own opinions. Perhaps the irony of my “sensitivity” plays into Noah’s point.

After Noah took Jon Stewart’s place on The Daily Show in March of 2015, he was attacked on social media because six out of 9,000 tweets he posted were deemed sexist or anti-Semitic. For many comedians, this incident was part of a growing hysterical trend.

The incident meant that comedians were always walking on eggshells when they went to perform on stage. It used to be that comedians could try out an edgy joke on a small crowd and if it didn’t get a good reaction, the joke would never be told again. Now, someone could easily be recording the joke with a smartphone and then post it on social media. This forces comedians, especially those starting out, to be more careful. If a comedian tells the wrong joke at the wrong time, it could be career-ending.

Regardless of the challenges of being a comedian in this technological age, I do not think it is fair to blame college students for censoring comedy. It’s been said that this generation is too sensitive and politically correct, but is that really such a terrible thing?

Many millennials are working tirelessly to make all people feel included and valid. Why is an entire generation being stigmatized for trying to make the world a better place? Attacking millennials for not laughing at offensive jokes is both hurtful and a poor way to gain an audience.

It quite possibly could be the quality of the comedian that is the problem, not the “sensitive” viewers.

As a fan of comedy who watches Saturday Night Live and stand-up specials on Netflix, a large part of me believes that the nature of stand-up comedy should mean that nothing is off-limits.

For example, if a comedian made a rape joke, they should expect some people to be offended because it is a touchy subject. I’m not saying these types of jokes should not ever be made , but I do believe if they are going to be done, they need to be done correctly.

One of the most important skills in the art of stand-up comedy, which most comedians will tell you, is timing. A good comedian knows the time and place for certain jokes. The key to getting away with jokes about touchy subjects is knowing when to say it and how to deliver it.

But there is a bottom line here. Not everyone is going to be offended by the same things, not everyone is going to laugh at the same things, and no one can decide what is offensive and what is not.