When Does a Joke Go Too Far?
September 8, 2015
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NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic, I remember it so you don't have to. We live in an interesting time because of our internet culture don't we?

NC (vo): Most of us just go online for either business or pleasure, but then there's another two groups of people we're all too familiar with: those looking to offend (OFFENDERS), and those looking to be offended (OFFENDIES).

NC: And admit it, we've all come across these people and their both, PAINS in the ass.

NC (vo): Extremist trolls looking to get attention by pissing people off, and extremist cry babies looking to get attention by acting like everything, everywhere is an insult. We usually shrug or laugh them off and then go on with our lives.

NC: But the combination of the two extremes has led to an interesting issue being addressed: our humor.

NC (vo): Some would argue humor has gone way too far, driving too much into bad taste and harsh stereotypes. Others would say humor has gone too soft; afraid to anger the politically correct sensitivities of the world.

NC: Are either of them right? Do any of them hold any water?

NC (vo): Well first of all, offensive comedy is nothing new. Comedians have been censored, harassed, even sent to jail for jokes that today would be seen as pretty common place. That's because, as mentioned by myself and others, all comedy is based on some form of misery. So you'll always have to address something unpleasant in order to get a laugh. George Carlin, one of the world's most beloved rule breakers once said, "Comedy doesn't work, unless someone's getting offended." And he's right. Puns are a mockery of language, goofy faces are a mockery of strange looking people, you really have to think about it, but, yeah. Somebody's pride has to be challenged in order to for it to work.

NC: But what most good comedians realise is the more truth in pain you can emphasise, usually the more funny it is.

NC (vo): Tom and Jerry is much funnier than Smurfs because it really looks like the pain hurts. Malcolm in the Middle is much funnier than Full House because they address much harsher realities. But of course if you were to see any of these in real life, you'd probably be horrified and wouldn't laugh at all. Hence, this is why comedy is a defence mechanism, which I go more into in other editorials.

NC: But this begs the question, when does a joke go too far? Why is it OK when Dave Chappelle...

NC (vo): ...uses the N-Word...

NC: ...but not OK when somebody else uses it like eeeh....

(Cut to Michael Richards' racist rant at The Laugh Factory, 2006)


(Cut back to the NC in awkward silence)

NC: ...yeah.

NC (vo): To many of us, this might seem pretty fucking obvious what the difference is but like in many cases, you need an extreme to understand an extreme. So we'll just use this one as an example. When Richards used the word, it wasn't to laugh at a problem or offer an interesting point of view, his intent was to seriously hurt a person. With Chappelle, he uses the exact same word, but he's mocking such hate. He's using it as a means of satire and to get people to look at an issue. Both were trying to make the audience laugh but one came from a place of trying to do something positive, while the other came from a place of trying to do something negative.

NC: So, does it simply come down to intent?

(Cut to imagery relating to Gilbert Gottfried's tsunami joke controversy)

NC (vo): Not entirely. Gilbert Gottfried got in trouble when he made tsunami jokes shortly after a massive Japanese earthquake. It even ended up costing him his voiceover job for Aflac. Now tsunami jokes were nothing new, but when it was made just after that real life event, the pain was still too close for most people. This is why most people say comedy is pain plus time. We've all heard Titanic jokes or Lincoln assassination jokes but, if you were to make those shortly after the event, it would be seen as insensitive because you wouldn't be taking into consideration the pain others are going through. This where the phrase, "Too Soon" comes from. Gottfried eventually apologised as he realised he crossed the line. There wasn't enough positivity to the joke in order to make people laugh. That doesn't make him a bad person and his career would still do fine, but many would agree the joke hurt more than it healed.

(Cut to scenes from South Park and Family Guy)

NC (vo): Some comedians however thrive on bad taste. There's people like Matt Stone and Trey Parker and to a lesser extent, Seth Macfarlane, who make no qualms that they want to try anything funny and don't care who gets offended in the process. While both can be entertaining, most find themselves enjoying Stone and Parker's humor more. But why? They both seem focussed on shock value and what's inappropriate. Part of it may come from the fact that their (Stone and Parker) most popular projects "South Park" and "(The) Book of Mormon", instill trust that it's creators can be goofy but, also have a balanced mindset. The extremism seems like an excuse to apply common sense into a world of madness. Something a lot of us can identify with and see a lot of comedy in. Seth Macfarlane's work is always a mean crazy person, in a mean crazy world. So his comedy seems less balanced and more desperate to shock. No where is that more obvious than with the joke about Sarah Palin's child. I, think it's, actually kinda confusing. On "Family Guy", Chris goes on a date with a girl who has Down Syndrome and she says her mother is the former Governor of Alaska. Palin got so pissed and caused others to make a big fuss about it but, to me, the biggest insult is, the joke doesn't make sense. Palin has a son with Down's Syndrome, are they implying that former Governors of Alaska have Down Syndrome kids? Are they saying the son got a sex change and suddenly became a teenager really fast? The joke is such a cheap shot at shock humor that people got offended by it before they even asked if they really got it. That's an example of humor looking to shock just for the sake of shock value. Now that's not to say it can't be funny or even downright hilarious at times, but it's not gonna hit as many bulls eyes as "South Park" - (Posters for "Ted 2" and "A Million Ways to Die in the West") as we've seen the past couple of years - because we relate with Parker and Stone's humor more and therefore trust them more. So the art of bad taste is still an art nonetheless.

NC: But what about when it goes the other direction; when not being too offensive kills the comedy but being too politically correct kills the comedy?

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