Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

“That IS funny”

< director of a comedy group on campus, I am not infrequently asked for my beliefs on when comedy goes too far or where “the line” is. Admittedly, this question annoys me. The short answer I give is that the line is wherever you want it to be, a response that is essentially reflective of my beliefs but is mostly intended to quash a frustrating discussion that I have had dozens of times before.
I am a believer in the South Park school of thought on this issue: once we allow ourselves to joke about one thing, we must allow ourselves to joke about everything, since it quickly becomes impossible to set a hard, universal line for when comedy goes too far. Such a judgement is too subjective, and people will always find something that they consider offensive. There is no such thing as a perfectly clean and inoffensive joke.

It is common to hear that certain subjects or groups of people are “off limits,” but such broad prohibitions are absurd. There are ways to joke about difficult subjects constructively, and comedy does far more social good than harm. Think of Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, Richard Pryor, and Louis C.K. These comedians are undeniably offensive, but their acts are about so much more than shock and vulgarity. Each jokes about race, class, sexism, drug use, violence, and even rape, and yet they are some of the most admired and accomplished comedians in history. Their success is no coincidence; they understand that laughter is an innate strategy for coping with life’s most horrific, absurd, and terrible aspects. It can be a powerful tool for dealing with things we otherwise could not face; without it, humanity would long ago have lost its collective mind.

The only conclusion to be drawn here is that it is nobody’s place to decide what is and is not funny. What offends me might well be the most hysterical joke you’ve ever heard, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. If an individual feels the need to apologize for a joke that they think went too far, that is laudable. But it is ultimately your own responsibility to draw the comedy line for yourself. Try as you might, you cannot draw it for others.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *