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Roseanne, Tim Allen, Amy Schumer, Tracy Morgan, & Dave Chapelle have all seen the blow of Political Correctness scandals in comedy. Like Chris Rock and Larry the Cable Guy, Jerry Seinfeld once told Entertainment Weekly in an article affectionately titled “Jerry Seinfeld: College students don't know what the hell they're talking about” that he will no longer play college campuses because the audiences are too PC. “They just want to use these words: "That’s racist;" "That’s sexist;" "That’s prejudiced," he said. “They don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.” Louis CK also received backlash for controversial jokes he used on a Saturday Night Live appearance—and this was before any #metoo scandal. Since then, some in the comedy sector feel that audiences around the globe have become more unable to handle a joke. They wonder if, as a culture, have we become over-serious and hypersensitive to “political incorrectness?”
In order to get a better answer to this question, I asked multiple comedians about their thoughts and how the PC culture is affecting their work.
Christian Finnegan says, “I don't really play colleges anymore, for many of the same reasons Seinfeld won't. But that doesn't mean they're wrong. When I do subject myself to the rather strident scrutiny of a college audience, it helps me identify instances of lazy writing—what am I actually trying to say here? Am I relying on a tired stereotype to get a laugh? Can I do better?[…] It may be aggravating as hell, but who said comedy was supposed to be easy?"
Working Comedian David Yates says, “Although I don’t believe it’s the aim of comedy to hurt people, I do know you can choose not to be offended sometimes. May take effort, but nothing is impossible.” This is also after he tweeted, “I had a ex-girlfriend whose nickname for me was "Sugar Dick". I shouldn't have been surprised when she told me she became diabetic.” :).
Sometimes “Political Correctness” has to do with actual politics: One controversy that has recently hit the entertainment industry is the question "Did ABC Cancel Tim Allen's show (Last Man Standing) because Allen exercised his freedom of speech by not censoring his political beliefs?" ABC was accused of playing politics in canceling Tim Allen's hit show Last Man Standing because of Allen's open portrayal of conservative views. Of course FOX took the opportunity to pick up the show, an unbeatable public relations and business move it appears.
I tried to talk to comedian Chris Roach (one of the fun big guys from the CBS show Kevin Can Wait), but he refused to even comment on anything political because of what his publicist referred to as the "Tim Allen Accident." In fact he wasn’t even able to comment on the issue in general! Talk about being trapped on eggshells.
The challenge has even hit Australian entertainers. Comedian Jim Dailakis says, “Political correctness is kryptonite to a comedian. It seems to have gotten worse over the last 10 years. I would consider myself a comedian who works relatively clean, stays away from politics, religion, and anything that may be deemed offensive because what motivates me to perform is to make people happy and forget about their problems at least for an hour. There's no doubt that I get a lot more work because of it. Sometimes, though, if I am given a list of rules and regulations that are ridiculous to adhere to, I just won't take the gig.”
Comedian Greg Schwem recalls, “I have been confronted after shows at clubs and other venues by people who have taken offense with a SINGLE JOKE (out of a 45-50 minute set) and told me how they were offended. I find this behavior offensive. People have to realize that there is no 'list,' per se, of what is offensive. Tracy Morgan was forced to apologize to the gay community after making a joke about gay people several years ago and yet, if you watch the offending clip, many people in the audience were laughing. So what do we do?”
And that’s a great question, WHAT DO WE DO? As a society? And should we do anything at all?
Teenager Nico Muoio decided enough was enough, and dropped out of his freshman year of college to create a very politically incorrect comedy game he called Freedom of Speech—a game whose goal is to channel his generation's frustrations with "political correctness" and its hindrance of the entertainment they used to enjoy by making saying the "wrong" thing fun. And by doing so, reminding us all not to take life so seriously that entertainment hurts our feelings.
This, of course, is one industry's point of view. Some create opportunity from the challenge, and some are notably upset because PC disrupts their entire business model—but what about the audience's opinion? Do you think we're too PC/not PC enough? Should we lighten up or go deeper?