We are losing our sense of humor. And that is an extremely dangerous thing for our civilization. Our new found P.C. attitude where everything ends in “-ist” and “#metoo” is creating closed off worlds where we no longer have to think about our own belief systems, foibles and fears.
instead, we isolate ourselves in spaces where everyone is just like us: scared, judgmental and angry.
Now, I’m not saying that every joke out there is appropriate. I mean, we figured out long ago that blonde and Polish jokes weren’t appropriate any longer. There are many more thing we don’t joke about. That is the norm in comedy. Comedy evolves with the times.
But as of late, it is being shut out and worse, it is being demonized, like higher education. More and more we are calling out humor we personally don’t think is funny, shaming humorists, columnists and comedians and in some cases in social media, even silencing them for good.
Comedy and humor were never meant to be politically correct. It is meant to shock you, to cause you to consider other truths through absurdity, to stand society on its head and turn it 180 degrees so we can see our collective similarities and shortcomings.
Back in the late 50s, early 60s, Lenny Bruce was jailed for some of the things he said on stage and in records. His routine was at the cutting edge of where we as a society needed to go. The same could be said of Richard Pryor, George Carlin or Robin Williams. Think Carlin was tame? Look up his landmark Supreme Court case regarding the Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say on Television.
Lately, I’ve been watching comedy from the 1970s and 80s. All in the Family, Happy Days, Family Ties seemed like harmless sitcoms in their day, but they tackled so many social issues we are still trying to come to terms now – racism, gender equality, politics, religion, abortion, crooked politicians, molestation, school bullying – a litany of topics that are in the headlines today.
The difference? Their approach – comedy – tackled these issues in a safe place. We watched stereotypical families work their own way through these problems and resolve them through dialogue, respect and humor.
Sure, this was all scripted stuff. But the issues they covered were relevant to their day, just as they are now.
Case in point. There’s an episode of Happy Days where Richie is planning to vote Democrat. His father is Republican, as was his father and his father’s father. The back and forth reasonings could have been performed today – the situation today is nearly identical with the polarization of political beliefs in our communities and our homes.
Perhaps no place is this more evident than Laugh-In. Watch a couple of episodes of Laugh-In on Netflix or Prime and you’ll be shocked to hear all the jokes that are still so relevant and topical today. The show touched on so many things we are afraid to even talk to our best friends about today for fear of sounding racist, sexist, misogynist, homophobic or what have you.
Somewhere along the way, we have forgotten how to laugh about our shortcomings and imperfections. We take everything so seriously these days. We have become so afraid of being misunderstood in social media that we had to create emoticons with a big smile just so someone sees that we are trying to be funny.
The problem with humor is that it is very situational. The words count yes, but so does the delivery. The nuance of what is and isn’t said creates the humorous situation, the one-liner or plot context. We understand that it is humor, we allow it to disarm us for the duration and once we are through being entertained, we find that we may have actually learned something about ourselves and what it’s like to be a human.
I’m sure that certain groups would think that the Coyote & Road Runner shows were all about cruelty to animals instead of the idea that intelligence can beat technology and that good always triumphs over evil. Pepe Le Pew would seem like a misogynist to some, even though as kids we only laughed at the case of mistaken identity and the impossibility of a skunk and cat every finding true happiness.
Sure, there were some horrible stereotypes along the way. F Troop with its “Indians” and Speedy Gonzales.
The point here isn’t about the missteps we have taken in our attempts at humor. Again, times change, standards change, and what was funny in one time is inappropriate and even repulsive in another.
But these days, everything is becoming inappropriate. Instead of waiting for a good laugh, we are waiting to be insulted so we can exact our revenge on even the most innocent of observations about this crazy thing we call life. We don’t want to be entertained; we just wait for that moment where our clan became the butt of a joke so we can raise holy hell about it.
That is a sad thing for us. Ultimately, it will be our undoing. Watching some of the shows from the 1960s and 70s show how little we have progressed, even though we think we have made such great strides in our society.
If anything, we have regressed. We are back to those dark times when people were afraid to make a joke in order to break the ice and start a discussion or make an audience think. We are afraid to laugh at a joke that yes, may be a bit off color, but thankfully isn’t so sanitized that it doesn’t challenge us intellectually or emotionally.
Without humor and the ability to look at ourselves and society in a mirror, we lose our ability to evolve. We instead, slip back into the days when we were afraid of those who were different from us, shunning them instead of engaging them.
Humor is the universal icebreaker. Without it, we turn ice cold.
In the Emerald City, looking for punch lines in all the wrong places, 😃