Have Our Comedic Tastes Changed?

Written by Chris Baxter
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There is a lot of talk on social media about not being able to be funny anymore without offending anyone

While this is usually an excuse used by people whose comedy is just prejudice and insults rolled up with a punchline, is there any truth to this? Has comedy been censored? Or has a kinder way of comedy just shown us who the real comedians are? Are comedians allowed to be funny anymore?

Fleabag recently won a spate of awards at the US Emmys, which is a coup for a British TV series, whose humour might not be as recognisable to American ears. The self-deprecating and deep levels plumbed by Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s series helped its funnier moments resonate with viewers. The success of her flagship series – and the fact she penned the scripts for Killing Eve and is working on Bond 25 – helped Waller-Bridge gain a $20 million contract with Amazon.

Bridesmaids (2009) is considered one of the funniest films in the past decade, while Mean Girls (2004) is quoted constantly throughout the year, and both elicit laughs without being unnecessarily offensive. Family Guy recently stated that they would be moving away from certain jokes as they realise that they aren’t actually funny, just pull punches at people that might be marginalised anyway. Comedy is merely going through necessary societal changes. If a comedian can’t exist and be funny in an age where they are being advised to avoid being too offensive, then they probably won’t make it as a comedian.

Not all ‘old-fashioned’ comedy was offensive, either. Leslie Nielsen’s spoofs – from Airplane to The Naked Gun – focused more on observational humour and characters’ ignorance in misinterpreting what was happening or being said to them - a comedic technique penned into the maintream by Shakespeare; classic dramatic irony never fails to cipher a few laughs. As the Jackpot King slots game of The Naked Gun shows, the satirical parody comedy is still attractive to modern audiences, as it pulls on iconic characters and motofs from the classic film to appeal to audiences. The nature of the comedy for The Naked Gun comes from a zany and slapstick place and doesn’t resort to tired stereotypes to elicit cheap laughs – it has plenty of other ways of eliciting cheap laughs. This is reminiscent of the original comedy skits of Lucille Ball, Charlie Chaplin, and Laurel and Hardy. The comedy was always at the characters' expense or developed through layered humorous situations, not cheap-laugh stereotyped one-liners.

In the famous Ricky Gervais tweet, which he seems to reword and post frequently, summarises: you can still be funny and say what you want, there is no censorship. In a way, he is correct. Comedy is about pushing boundaries. But, when people of places of privilege sit and reel off offensive jokes in a diatribe where the only humour comes from prejudiced buzzwords, maybe its time to turn on their inner censor. Comedy is thriving in the UK and USA in 2019, especially given how social media allows comedians to go viral – such as Nick Lehmann, whose funny online videos actually earned him a TV series. While TikTok-famous 'Kombucha girl' Brittany Broski managed to leverage her fame into brand endorsements and monetized partnerships, as well as receiving international renown as her tweet from Texas A&M University shows.

Comedy is in no way being overly censored or monitored – it is evolving and is just pushing comedians to make jokes that are actually funny.

Read 2445 times Last modified on Wednesday, 16 October 2019 09:02
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Chris Baxter

Chris Baxter

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