With the recent outcry over South Park’s latest episode in which apparently (I haven’t actually watched it) Steve Irwin attends Satan’s Halloween dress up party with a stingray sticking through him, I’ve been thinking about the nature of comedy. What is comedy, what makes it up, are there places that comedy shouldn’t be taken, are there ways that comedy shouldn’t be tackled, and are there answers to any of these questions?
While comedy is normally funny, it oftentimes gives insights and shows the holes in our society. Comedians such as George Carlin often attack subjects with a certain anger, yet worded and timed so perfectly nobody can help but to laugh (“But [God] loves you. He loves you, and He NEEDS MONEY! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, you talk about a good bullshit story. Ho-ly Shit!“). Meanwhile, Jerry Seinfeld attempts to show you the humor in everyday things (“Have you ever had milk the day after the date? Scares the hell out of you, doesn’t it? The spoon is trembling as it comes out of the bowl. ‘It’s after the day! I’m taking a big chance! I smelled it, you smelled it, what is it supposed to smell like?'”).
Are there places comedy shouldn’t go, and are there ways it shouldn’t be treated? While George Carlin is famous for his 7 Words routine and believes that comedy is about finding where the line is drawn then crossing it, Seinfeld says that while there are no subjects that he will not tackle, there are ways in which he will not tackle them. In Jerry Seinfeld On Comedy, he also calls heavy profanity the “great shortcut” of comedy and as such won’t use it. Are shortcuts be avoided, or should they be used when appropriate? Are they ever appropriate?
While I don’t mind a few choice words here and there to spice up the overall effect as someone like Demetri Martin will do, somebody like Dane Cook just gets annoying. After a few minutes you realize that he’s not actually saying anything funny, but it’s so laced with well-timed profanity that you’re tricked into believing that it actually is. You can only stand so much of that.
Is it the comedian’s job to filter out overly offensive material? Or should it just be saved for the right audience? Most comedy, on some level or another, is offensive to somebody. All comedy makes fun of something or somebody on some level, but are there levels that are too high?
And will I ever stop asking questions without providing answers?