Proposing “the line” for Comedians

Posted By on March 31, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Last week’s announcement of Trevor Noah as Jon Stewart’s successor on the Daily Show has been met with two polarizing responses from the public. On one end, individuals (like me) who are familiar with Noah’s wit, intelligence and humor, are delighted by the announcement and know he will do a good job; and at the other end are the blindsided folk who because they had no idea he even existed, decided to find out “who he is” by looking at a few of his tweets on the internet.

I know we live in a Google-resume society in which we decide within minutes whether people are “good” or “bad” by viewing their online profile, but we must not be so superficial. I agree with Trevor Noah’s tweet in response to the backlash on Twitter:

“To reduce my views to a handful of jokes that didn’t land is not a true reflection of my character, nor my evolution as a comedian.”

While I agree that some of Trevor Noah’s jokes/tweets are distasteful, i.e., the joke in which he says he almost ran over a Jewish kid with his German car. I think we should give him a chance and see how his show goes. And I liked and agree with the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) tweet to Noah, basically warning him to be careful making jokes at the expense of Jewish people, or making anti-Semitic jokes, as was intimated by Noah’s “German car” joke.

I would like to piggyback on the League’s warning to Trevor Noah and to Comedy Central. I think making light of slavery should also be off limits. I made this very point a few months ago when comedian Leslie Jones on Saturday Night Live, performed a horrible skit on slavery. In essence, Ms. Jones suggested that she would have been better off during slavery days under the control of a “master” to get a black man because black men don’t like her. Her skit outraged many people, while others simply dismissed the skit because she is a comedian and therefore, no topic should be off limits…I guess?

I think as a society, we need to put some parameters around topics that are addressed through comedy. This was also referenced in the ADL’s message: “We hope he [Trevor Noah] will not cross the line from legitimate satire into offensiveness with jokes calling up anti-Semitic stereotypes and misogyny.

The problem is that no “line” has ever been drawn when it comes to comedy, and I think one needs to be drawn—NOW! Yes…While I think it is virtually impossible not to offend others, especially in this hypersensitive society where everything is offensive or racist—hence my book. But I still think we can attempt to be respectful to the histories of different groups.

Perhaps “the line” is for all comedians not to choose the darkest incidents in human history like the diabolical systems of slavery and the Holocaust to joke about. Comedian Chris Rock recently made a joke about 911 that brought much discontent. Why? Because thousands of people died on 911. Well didn’t thousands, even millions of people die during slavery and the Holocaust? So why is a joke about 911 not okay but jokes about other occasions where droves of people died okay? Yes, it is too soon for 911, slavery and Holocaust jokes.

We need to be more sensitive.

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