A Defense Of Offensive Comedy

"Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand." - Mark Twain, the funniest 'inappropriate' man in history
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"Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand." - Mark Twain, the funniest 'inappropriate' man in history
SNL_1625_05_Lincoln

Update: This piece was originally headlined "Bill Maher’s Dead Kid In a Hot Car Joke Was Funny, So Get Over It." It was headlined this because the Powers That Be believed it would get more clicks than "A Defense of Offensive Comedy," but as I A) don't believe the Maher joke was funny and never argue that it is and B) want this to be read as a look at that style of comedy as a whole, not about whether one specific joke was funny or not, I'm changing it back. Sorry Powers That Be.


On Friday, The Daily Banter’s Tommy Christopher wrote a quick piece chastising Bill Maher for making a joke that Congress was acting like children and that someone should leave them in a hot car -- a reference to that story that you’ve already forgotten about with the two parents who tried to kill their kid by making it look like they accidentally left him in a car. Tommy deemed the joke "too hard, too soon" and asserted that Maher should "should use his influence [as a political pundit] a little more wisely."

Which I guess means no dead baby jokes?

Because that's all this was; one that now joins the ranks of the endless libraries of "dead baby" jokes online — some of which are actually pretty funny as long as you are intelligent enough to get over the supposed emotional hurdle that it’s wrong to joke about a dead baby because there are people who know babies who know babies who have died or something. It’s a crass form of humor, sure, but it’s more absurdist than anything. (And let's not forget that time Jon Stewart made that "wildly offensive" Lindbergh baby joke, if we're on the subject of political pundits and dead babies.)

Or is Maher just in the wrong because we all know he was referencing a specific, real-world case? That tragedy porn story that tricked a handful of people into thinking this is the only time parents have ever tried to kill their child by giving one instance of it a face and a name? If that’s the case, then this is just an empathetic over-reaction caused by too many viral Salon articles and Pixar making everything anthropomorphic these days (that little Pixar Light is just so god damn cute). I think Jeff Winger explains the phenomenon well:


But it's Carol Burnett that's credited with the real formula for comedy:

Comedy = Tragedy + Time

It’s as simple as that. We can cackle laughing at Louis C.K. mocking Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and no one’s going to ruin the punchline with that I-can’t-let-myself-laugh-so-this-is-how-I-process-this “awww” sound because let’s face it, there’s a national statute of limitations on some things not being joked about, but one of the random side-repercussions of social media and the 24-hour news cycle and ADHD and probably Mountain Dew is that the time needed for a tragedy to seem comedic has shrunk to an infinitesimal level. Twitter has given those whose love of the “inappropriate” borders on sociopathic a way to exercise their dark-humored funny bone, uniting under a common hashtag. And those that decry their offense to such "inappropriateness" publicly — like Tommy did with the Bill Maher joke —  just fuel a separation between those that believe they “get it” and those unwilling to let others have it.

Besides, what’s the endgame to poo-pooing a joke that you as an individual don't like?

“Offensive" comedy is nothing new (see: George Carlin’s “Religion Is Bullshit” or Bill Hicks’ anything) and there have been people not liking things that others have joked about since someone first put a microphone in front of a brick wall, but in the Wild West of the Internet Age and niche media, that style of comedy is now able to be shed the "moralistic" restrictions burying it under censor bars and high-pitched bleeps. Whether it be on Comedy Central or HBO or Netflix or a web series with zero censorship whatsoever, the jokes are going to find a way to be made.

And if that’s the case, that means it’s then the individual viewer's choice to watch or not, or laugh or not, or write an “I’m offended” post/comment/essay or not — and all viewpoints should be respected (but not necessarily honored) and all that good stuff — but in the end doesn’t it seem like the people laughing last in all this are the people that laughed first?

And I’m sorry if things got a little heated near the end there.

Maybe I should roll down a window...

Image credit: HBO