revolutionary: comedy is finding a new language

November 22, 2019
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To simultaneously love comedy on a personal and professional level, and be an advocate for social change is a strange position to occupy at the moment. Most people can agree that the greatest comedic success is to not just make the audience laugh hysterically, but also squirm in their seats as they grow uncomfortable.

To be a comedian is to tell the stark truth. This is why people are no longer accepting lies, cliches and cultural misinformation in comedy, no matter how many lazy comics try to hide behind claims of freedom of speech. No topic is untouchable — but I do think that if you are so bold as to write a joke with a punchline at the expense of a disenfranchised group (especially one that you are not a part of), it better be hilariously worth it. Jokes written solely for shock factor are, to be concise, boring. 

I am also a fan and believer of comedy’s history. I don’t think that it is possible — or helpful — for society to censor the medium. People should be able to express themselves, and all comedy needs to include all people ranging from societies ignored and pushed aside, to the typical faces who dominate the world. We should be able to hear everybody. The goal is not to replace — but create more room. If we do this, we all win, and comedy as a medium benefits from new approaches and perspectives. 

Comedy has always been a crucial tool of the revolution, so it only makes sense that it finally undergoes one of its own. As the world begins to redefine power balance in regards to race, gender, sexuality, religion, physical abilities and generational disparities, comedy has to evolve too. As laughter is one of our most powerful languages, the general public knows the responsibility of the voices who supply it. Comedians are being held accountable, and perhaps because we understand just how smart and self-aware they are, critique is not so easy on them.

The revolution demands that comedians do their homework! Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it shows when that opinion is based on no research or first-hand knowledge.

Today’s comedians are being challenged in a way they previously were not, and it seems that some seasoned comics have a choice to make: complain and spew their bitterness or embrace the challenge, and become better than they ever imagined. I’m of the position that, if you are trying, I will not give up on you.

It can be hard to hear the great comics of today (young and old) over the unforgiving critical cries against those who try but mess up; and the loud screams of veterans afraid they will be forgotten, but focus their energy on disciplining the youth that’s holding them accountable (instead of focusing on doing their job well).

With this gaze on comedians, we will all lose. The job which once used the comfort of a live setting to workshop thoughts has lost the magic of a safe space due to cell phones and social media. So how can a comic work out their jokes? Comedians, who are often thought leaders, deserve the chance to speak about the unspeakable.

The turmoil in the comedy world right now is a sign of progress. Change is uncomfortable, and right now what the comedy world is going through is pretty damn painful. I hope the beacons of hope who have emerged over the past few years become the majority. We have a beautiful opportunity to combine the best parts of our differences to create a new language together.