On Comedy and Political Correctness



One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

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54 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak says:

    I find the PC is oppressing comics argument really weak. I respect Chris Rock a lot but i haven’t heard his explanation of that. Whatever.

    There have always been all sorts of comics with different styles and topics they like to get into. Even given that, if you are good comic and you can’t find enough material in life to joke about then you aren’t doing it right. There is plenty of material for everybody. Maybe some areas are sensitive. You know what, there have always been sensitive subjects. Lenny Bruce got plenty of crap for touching sensitive subjects. That is life. That is comedy and it has always been that way.

    The other problem is that PC is, at best, a mushy vague and loaded term that suggests a lot but doesn’t prove anything. There are jokes people don’t want to make because what some people call PC is more accurately called being respectful or not wanting to hurt people. The idea of PC elides the entire concept of honestly not wanting to be nasty to people. There used to be lots of comics, foster brooks, dean martin, the Otis character on the Andy Griffith Show, that made a hoot about chronic alcoholics. Well that went out of fashion because people stopped seeing hard core drunks as full of yucks. That isn’t PC, that is fashion changing away from finding alcoholism funny. Oh well, good comics will find a way to be funny.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 in reply to greginak says:

      Back when Tosh made that rape joke, one of the best responses was a rather nasty criticism coupled with a bunch of links to funny rape jokes.

      Because really, offensive can be funny. It just takes skill and understanding. The best comics have that — understand the topic, understand the audience, understand the material. If you’re missing it, if you don’t have the skill? It’s crap at best, insulting and offensive at worst.

      As for PC — honestly, in hindsight? 90% of PC seemed a massive freak-out by entrenched power structures over having to treat women and minorities as equals — like they had to learn not to be massive dicks to the people RIGHT IN THE ROOM. I have watched people who should know better get fired for violating HR policy on harassment (sexual or otherwise) even in the last few years and one of them, afterwards, claimed it was due to ‘PC culture’. No, it was due to him being an unprofessional a**.

      I seriously never got the confusion. Don’t harass a coworker for dates. Don’t tell racist jokes. Act like a professional, for God’s sake. It can’t be that hard, I’ve seen some VERY stupid people who nonetheless managed NOT to send racist or sexist jokes through company email, who managed NOT to harass a coworker sexually, and who basically got through the work day being polite and professional to colleagues rather than treating the workplace like a club house under the “What happens at work, stays at work!” mentality.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Morat20 says:

        Yeah. Comics who push close to “the line” know they are on the edge. If they don’t they are idiots. If they f up on a touchy subject they get crap for it. If they dance on the edge well they get famous.

        Most rules about harassment at work boil down to “don’t be a complete jerk” and “its 2015 times have changed….cope.” Most people can handle that without any effort.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to greginak says:

          Yeah. I just wish we’d have more people understand that… jokes are just that. Comedians can’t afford to be racist or sexist or anything like that — it interferes with the comedy.
          And a well-done holocaust joke can be a thing of macabre beauty.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Morat20 says:

        This! but one caveat. I have relatives who worked in corporate HR. I had made a snarky comment about the possible beneficeris of an old rich woman, ie her cats, that got a female coworker all in a tizzy. My HR folks told me to do the following:

        Apologize to her in person WITH witnesses in the area that would hear the convo.

        That’s how you CYA these days. Really. PC culture is alive and well.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Damon says:


          This is where I start to lose it and have to co-sign with the others that PC is less political and more courteous. I mean, if I made a crack at work about how obnoxious Christians were, do you think HR might have a talk with me? I’m sure they would. And if they did, would that be because they were being PC?

          The issue is that we are now extending courteousness to groups we didn’t previously OR in ways that we didn’t previously. That is hard for some people.Report

          • Avatar Damon in reply to Kazzy says:


            Yeah, I could understand if I made a crack at women or christians, or such. I didn’t. I made a snarky prediction about a rich single white woman, who had recently died, leaving her fortune to her cats, of which, she had many. I made no derogatory comments about women. My HR friends explained to me the unlikely, but possible implications, if the female coworker decided to “make a case of this”. Their recommendations were to take actions that would be, essentially, a preemptive strike on my behalf to prevent a worse case scenario.

            Disclosure: I have cats and the only reason I’ve not made provision for them in my will is they’ll die before I will.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Damon says:


              But the fact remains that you DID make a crack, so whether it was offensive because it was about a woman or because you were snarking about a recently passed person, you were acting in an insensitive manner. Maybe your coworker was in a tizzy because she cared about the woman you were mocking. Or maybe there was something about your comment that did rely upon the sex/gender of its target (Would you have made the same crack about a rich single white guy with cats?), which you didn’t realize, but which your HR person’s ability to understand that the male perspective isn’t the only perspective and thus drew your attention to this?Report

              • Avatar Damon in reply to Kazzy says:

                “Would you have made the same crack about a rich single white guy with cats?”

                Yep, but it wouldn’t have been as funny since it’s not a meme.

                The HR people in my story are relatives, not the HR people at my then job. And their advice as ONLY about damage control. Neither of them thought it was an issue, but they advised me to take the action I did as a preemptive CYA.

                I stand by my snark.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Damon says:

                yeah, that’s good advice. Trying not to offend people is one thing. Recognizing and making up for accidental offense is just part of “don’t be an ass”Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Damon says:


                The fact that the “meme” is gendered likely means that the joke is offensive. Again, you were mocking a recently passed person, snarking about her gender. The fact that you are complaining that you received any pushback in perfect evidence of what Schwartz is talking about. That wasn’t political correctness. It was telling people not to be an ass. Just because you could have previously gotten away with being that sort of ass doesn’t mean you are being persecuted because we have corrected for that.Report

              • Avatar Damon in reply to Kazzy says:

                No, what i was complaining about was that a woman who overheard the comment went so ballistic about a snarky comment. The woman was no relation to the dead old lady but apparently took offense at my speculation that a lonely old woman had gifted her wealth to her cats. That apparently, was a sexist comment, to her. Given that this has ACTUALLY occurred, I fail to see how my prediction was sexist. If anything, it was a statement on the probability the bequest to the cats had occurred

                And again, the advice from the HR relatives was “it doesn’t matter, apologize and cya” in case she decides to make a federal case of it, becuase “you’re a white male and she’s got privileged status.”Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Kazzy says:

                “the fact remains that you DID make a crack”

                And the conclusion that we come to is that making cracks is now prohibited, because if someone is offended, then that’s bad. I’d say we’ve pretty firmly established that offense is not about the speaker’s intent but the hearer’s reaction, even if the hearer in question wasn’t meant to hear the speech.

                Is it getting chilly in here, or is it just me?Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to DensityDuck says:

                no, the conclusion we reach is “don’t be an ass, and try not to laugh at other people’s misfortune.” This is why I’m not sharing the tale about the cats in the refrigerator.Report

              • Avatar Damon in reply to DensityDuck says:

                I’m felt the chill, indeed.

                I wasn’t laughing at someone’s misfortune. The woman was dead. How could that even be considered “misfortune”?Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Damon says:

                I’ll mind that you’re a better man than me and mine, then. I laugh at practically anything, if I can help it. Of course, some jokes are better told quietly — it’s downright disrespectful to tell jokes about dead children in front of their parents (and yes, those were stupendously awesome jokes).Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to greginak says:


      I respect Chris Rock a lot but i haven’t heard his explanation of that.

      If I follow ya here, the argument Chris Rock made wasn’t really an argument so much as an observation: that doing good comedy requires practicing not only your own skill set, but also teasing out the timing, content, nuance in delivery, shadings of emphasis, etc of new material in front of a live audience to zero in on the funny rather than the offensive. His point was that nowadays – with a hopped up PC culture coupled with video-phones (thanks Obama!) – comedians can’t practice their material in a live setting. One false move, and BOOM!Report

      • He perfects this argument in his classic bit “Funny people vs. bigahtz”.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Stillwater says:

        And Rock had previously said that he doesn’t do clubs anymore — where most of the trial-and-error traditionally took place — because everything ends up on YouTube. This makes me think his focus is probably more on technological shifts than cultural ones.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy says:

          I think part of Chris Rock’s complaint is that technology allows new material to get out sooner than latter. This makes it really hard to practice and perfect it.Report

        • Avatar Glyph in reply to Kazzy says:

          I don’t know, technological shifts that allow this stuff to get out to everybody ARE cultural shifts – in that parts of the culture that would not have previously been involved, now are. Maybe that’s for the best, maybe not.

          He specifically made an analogy to unheard Prince demos. Prince can woodshed and workshop in his studio, and all most people ever hear is the final released product. So Prince can (theoretically) always “look his best”, musically.

          Now, there are always uber-fans, trying to get their hands on those unfinished demos; in some cases, they may even end up preferring the songs’ earlier iterations, or at least appreciating their evolutionary path to “finished” product. They can see even the demos as indicative of musical genius, even though they are a “peek at the man behind the curtain.”

          But if you play those demos for the general public, they are all “what the hell? This guy is singing/playing out of tune. Is that a cheap drum machine keeping time? Why does it sound so hissy? This sounds AWFUL!”

          All they hear, are the flaws/missteps/limitations. And a comedian’s “studio” is the stage.Report

          • Avatar Kim in reply to Glyph says:

            I have it on good report that it’s fucking creepy when Meatloaf stands behind you, just listening, while you’re working in the studio.

            Comedians need a live audience to work with — the magic doesn’t happen until you can actually gauge reactions, tweak timing, etc.

            UCB has a great stage in NYC that seats mostly comedians in the audience. And that’s well and good. But I promise you, if Chris Rock did a show there, someone would videotape it (unless the audience tackled the bum).Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Stillwater says:

        His point was that nowadays – with a hopped up PC culture coupled with video-phones (thanks Obama!) – comedians can’t practice their material in a live setting.

        Is this ‘PC culture’ or it is *outrage* culture, constantly on the prowl for things to get the entire internet upset about?

        I suspect that PC nonsense is the mostly *likely* to supposedly be the trigger of ‘outrage culture’ WRT comedians, but is it *only* that? Or is this just just another an excuse for everyone on the internet to get angry at someone? Is the problem that PC culture has the dial turned too high, or is the problem the internet and how it treats things it doesn’t like?

        While it may seem like comedians deliberately put themselves out there and hence are fair game…most comedians are hobbyists and expect to be able to walk away from a poor joke once they leave the stage. Most comedians are not Chris Rock.

        Actually, this might be part of the problem…many people don’t understand that, that harassing someone for a comedic failure that seems to slip slightly into bigotry is rather akin to harassing a bad karaoke singer.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to DavidTC says:

          Yeah. I think most comedians just don’t want to be turned into social pariahs every time they screw up a joke. I think they can deal with catcalls and with punches (you hurt someone, on some level you deserve to get hurt back) — it’s the threat of Not Being Able to Perform Again that stings.

          Comedians ain’t perfect, and expecting perfection in that field is uniquely ridiculous.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to DavidTC says:


          That is why I think the second quote is just as important. How we respond to bad comedy (whatever it is that makes it bad) or, more broadly, disagreeable ideas is really, really important.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to greginak says:

      Listen to Eddie Murphy’s comedy special from way back when. Particularly the bit about San Francisco. you could NOT pull that off today.

      Is this PC? I think you’re right, it’s a horrid term. SJW makes a ton more sense, and people who want to find fault with everything, and who make a freakin’ career out of it.

      A good trolling of the SJW would be Amazing.Report

  2. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Defenses of the political sensitization (largely around identity and identity signification) of much of the left’s sense of humor in the last ten or so years to me seem very often to have a hint of “It’s not PC if we’re right.”

    Which, to me, it seems is fair enough. If you want your comedians well-behaved per your sensibilities and are willing to say so, you’re pretty likely to get what you want, especially in enclaves where your sensibilities dominate, such as in this case liberal arts campuses.

    Note: I’m not saying that anyone in particular is wrong about what they want their comedians to
    say and not say, nor that they’re wrong to want those things, nor that they’re wrong to say so. It’s okay to want these things. But I don’t know that I’m terribly open to denials that these things are wanted.Report

  3. Ben Schwartz is a Jew. You know what they’re like.Report

  4. Avatar Glyph says:

    I haven’t had a chance to read these yet Kazzy, but this looks interesting. Will try to get to this later today.

    Salon recently did a compendium of 10 comics who have taken the “PC is killing comedy” line to one degree or another.


  5. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Comedy is the most anti-populist business there is.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kolohe says:


      Can you elaborate?Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Kazzy says:

        The practice of comedy as a vocation requires more esoteric knowledge than any other profession outside of the clergy and medicine.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kolohe says:

          I’m not sure I know exactly what you mean here K, but one thing I’ve noticed is that good comedians are consistently waaaay more intelligent and aware of the world they and I live in than I am. They really seem to grasp not only popular trends and whatnot, but how those trends relate to power structures, class issues, cultural histories, current “movements”, and so on. I recently listened to some Katt Williams interviews – someone who I find only kinda/sorta funny, actually – and was blown away by how much more he carries with him than we see in his act.Report

          • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Stillwater says:

            The best comics perform the equivalent of deep literary criticism on life.

            They’re like really good cultural anthropologists, digging into their own culture — somehow being both ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ simultaneously. With jokes.

            Takes a certain sort of skill. Also generally takes a big ego. Most performance types have to be. (Writers too, for that matter). I mean, it’s a pretty big jump to say “You should give me money in return for me telling you what I think. Or a story. Or anything, really. I’ll talk or write, you listen and give me cash”.Report

          • Avatar Kim in reply to Stillwater says:

            try talking to the guy who pulled the “make finance funny” straw… Oi, that’s somethin’Report

  6. Avatar Pyre says:

    I think the problem with the anti-PC crowd is the same problem that the League often has with talking about race and/or socioeconomic problems.

    This site, for all it’s merits, is so rich and white that I’m surprised we don’t have a cheesecake discussion group. Very few of us are minorities and almost all of us are comparatively rich. I am probably one of the lowest income people here and even I am treating my issues as something that I can hopefully turn around. People like Burt and Russel and David Ryan (who builds boats which, as a pastime, beats out Golf as “Rich white person activity”) are all fine people who are highly intelligent…..but can they really identify with a black man who makes minimum wage and was raised in a community where that’s the best he can realisticly shoot for?

    With comedy, it’s always funny unless you’re the target. This site has seen plenty of discussion over MRAs railing against feminists for being overly sensitive but getting bent out of shape over their own portrayal. Russel Simmon’s Def Comedy Jam certainly wasn’t a favorite show for Whites. Penny Arcade had the whole Dickwolves fiasco. etc.

    As I often do, I think Something Positive pretty much said it all when it comes to the “it’s just a joke” crowd….


    As well as the self-absorbed nature of a lot of people when they’re the target as opposed to others.


    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Pyre says:

      I’ll have you know that, with only a few exceptions, my family was poor to the point where we had to vacation in the continental US.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Pyre says:


      Thanks for sharing those links. And I think you are spot on. I think our issue tends to be discussing things highly academically because, collectively, we lack personal experience with a number of these things. Most white men in American have never been a demographic minority in any meaningful way. This makes it nearly impossible to understand what it is like for people who live every day as a demographic minority in nearly all contexts.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy says:

        Speak for yourself. There only fourteen million of my group in the world. Even though I’m white in the American context, I certainly don’t identify with a lot of white American culture. It involves a lot of things completely alien to me like Christmas, Easter, guns, hunting, and heavy patriotism.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to LeeEsq says:


          I said “most”. Not all.

          With regards to OT, I spoke of tendencies and collective biases. Not absolutes.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


            I’ll also say that things like “guns”, “hunting”, and probably “heavy patriotism” are not mutually exclusive with “Jewish” in the same way that “Christmas” and “Easter” are.

            But, yes, as a Jew in America, you understand being a demographic minority in a way that most white men don’t. As such, you are more capable of empathizing with others who find themselves in such a position than most. This is a good thing.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to LeeEsq says:

          “Up against the wall redneck mother.”!!Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

        If someone wanted to post an interview with a streetwalker here, I’d be hella interested.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Pyre says:

      “This site, for all it’s merits, is so rich and white that I’m surprised we don’t have a cheesecake discussion group.”

      If you’re going to try for the intellectual high-ground slam, it helps to not pull an it’s/its boner. HTH HANDReport

    • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to Pyre says:

      Pyre: This site, for all it’s merits, is so rich and white that I’m surprised we don’t have a cheesecake discussion group. Very few of us are minorities and almost all of us are comparatively rich. I am probably one of the lowest income people here and even I am treating my issues as something that I can hopefully turn around.

      I hear ya. I have this sorta weird thing going where I have enough education to more or less hold my own here while I live a decidedly blue-collar life. I had to seriously consider whether or not to own up to what I ended up in for a career if I wanted to be taken seriously. To their credit it doesn’t seem to be held against me, but of course I have no clue what people are thinking but not saying. And I do notice a bit of inadvertent “wealth-splainin'” at times. Not directed at me necessarily but just a bit of cluelessness about other than upper middle class life.Report

      • Avatar gregiank in reply to Road Scholar says:

        @road-scholar Interesting. My parents were old when they had me so while i’m 49 they were depression/ww2 generation. It seems lost to the mists of time now, but to that generation, being working class and very well read far from unknown. It was unsurprising to find blue collar workers with a lot of good ol book learnin. It seems like in the past 2-3 decades, as advanced education became in reach for most, the understanding that many people without means ached for knowledge has been lost. And the desire for more people to be able to go to college was far more than just vocational. Jobs were of course always part of it, but people clamored for aid and loans and opening up college because working/blue collar people and poor people wanted to learn.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to gregiank says:

          This could be because there have been active cultural shifts.
          Nowadays, farming communities tend not to be terribly learned, and especially don’t want kids heading off to college, because they know they won’t be coming back. (This is a cultural thing, and of course NotAllFarmers — the ones up near State College aren’t like this, surely).Report

    • Avatar Damon in reply to Pyre says:


      Yeah, so I have a friend who accused me of being “rich” once. And she likely had greater discretionary income than I currently do. It depends upon how you define rich, which we’ve discussed before.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Pyre says:

      “can they really identify with a black man who makes minimum wage and was raised in a community where that’s the best he can realisticly shoot for?”
      Depends. When you work with people like that, when you actually take the time to talk with streetwalkers and make friends with prostitutes, well, it’s a hell of a lot more likely that you can identify with them.

      It’s not like this is HARD, it’s just work. And people hate work.Report

  7. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    Somewhat off topic, but despite an otherwise pretty on-target piece the Baffle makes an odd claim when it says that the NYT “shut down” Bonnie and Clyde with a single review. Unless by “shut down” they mean spent two months as the number one box office draw and nominated for all the major Oscars that year.Report

  8. Avatar Alex Knapp says:

    It’s cute when companies that have been around for ages and have stopped innovating blame their failures on the market not appreciating their product. They never seem to stop to consider that perhaps market demand has shifted and that they need to adjust their production accordingly.Report