Political correctness: the kryptonite of comedy

Matthew Hovelsrud, staff writer

Comedy is a part of the human experience and can be beneficial in many ways, from criticizing those in power to coping with tragedies. Unfortunately, a current wave of political correctness is sweeping over it, making only certain jokes acceptable. This is killing comedy’s full potential in favor of not offending anyone. Because of this new wave, many famous comedians no longer perform at colleges due to the hostile responses they get for certain jokes.

Politics has become hyper-partisan, representing a new popular opinion in the United States that revolves around more extreme views. Opinions around the country have followed this trend and formed a new society that demands constant inoffensive language. Political correctness is a term used to refer to language that appears intended to give the least amount of offense when describing groups identified by race, gender, culture, or sexual orientation.

With a new age in society where political correctness is demanded more than ever before, comedy is on the front lines in a battle to retain the ability to make a joke and possibly offend someone.

Comedians across the country are speaking out on the issue. Jerry Seinfeld believes political correctness has put comedy on a self-destructive path. During a 2015 ESPN interview, Seinfeld responded to a question about whether politically correct culture is hurting comedy, saying “yes, yes it is.”

Additionally, comedian Mel Brooks has shared his opinion on how political correctness is killing comedy. In a radio interview, he said, “We have become stupidly politically correct which is the death of comedy. It’s ok not to hurt the feelings of various tribes and groups. However, it’s not good for comedy.”

Although comedy should have the ability to professionally offend a group or person in an effort of laughter, there needs to be a line that cannot be crossed. On Nov. 3, Pete Davidson, an SNL comedian, crossed that line with a joke about Dan Crenshaw’s appearance. Dan Crenshaw is a GOP representative from Texas’s 2nd congressional district. Dan Crenshaw was a former Navy Seal officer that served three tours in Afghanistan. During his third tour, he lost his right eye after a bomb exploded during a mission in Afghanistan, according to the Washington Post. A result of Pete Davidson’s joke was a backlash from many Americans from both sides of the political spectrum. This specific situation is an example of where the line is drawn. Clearly exemplified with the backlash of Davidson’s joke, making fun of a veteran’s war injuries crosses the line of what’s acceptable in comedy. The next problem is defining where the line of offense is drawn. The issue with drawing a specific line is that the area of acceptable offense is constantly changing and there is never a definitive agreement.

Although the line was clear after Davidson’s joke, the line of acceptable comedy is not clear and in current times many comedians no longer know what jokes are acceptable. Comedians’ insight into the issue of what is not acceptable could prove to be a vital step into establishing a clear line that comedians should not cross in the name of comedy. An often overlooked aspect of comedy is that it is a form of art, and many comedians work hard to perfect the art form known as comedy.

The problem recently has been how comedians now risk their careers to make jokes at the expense of another person and possibly offend them. “Just because you take it seriously doesn’t mean I meant it seriously,” comedian Bill Burr said. Some critics may feel that comedians are giving a speech on topics, but in reality, they are just saying things to make people laugh. Now, that is not to say that comedians do not need to be held accountable for what they say, but that in the realm of comedy offense should be expected.

Comedy is an art form that expresses language in the form of jokes in an effort to make people laugh. Many jokes that many people laugh at, may offend someone and that is expected. The beautiful thing about comedy is that no one is required to attend a show, listen to a recording of a comedian, or even care about that comedian. If you personally take offense to a comedian or a joke they made, the best course of action is to not support that comedian and try to ignore them. Ultimately, under the guarantees of free speech afforded by the constitution, to silence comedians would contradict what few like the United States have in regard to free speech laws that empower individual expression. Even speech that is personally offensive in still protected.