Everyone Is Offended By Everything
Recently I have been catching up on some comedy specials on Netflix. Having done a little standup myself, primarily to improve my toolkit as a speaker but mostly to see if I could do it, I am always intrigued to see how comedians push the boundaries on content. Exploring what others may deem offensive.
Three specials that stood out to me were Dave Chapelle’s “Equanimity”, Chris Rock’s “Tambourine” and Marlon Wayans’ “Woke-ish”. (Can Netflix give Monique and Wanda Sykes a deal already?)
These three shows really jumped out at me. Firstly because all the guys I mentioned explored some real vulnerability in their content that comes with age and yet they were still able to address issues that were, for many, quite offensive.
Chris Rock made attacks on religion, confessions on infidelity and porn, to his views on police and police brutality.
Chapelle made me wince a few times with this take on transgenders and his appraisal of the #MeToo movement by pushing back against the dominant narrative of sympathy with victims. In his own words.
“You have a responsibility to speak recklessly, otherwise my kids might not know what reckless talk sounds like. The joys of being wrong. I didn’t come here to be right, I just came here to fuck around.”
Finally, Marlon Wayans in his first stand-up special had some hot takes on Caitlyn Jenner and a gay Martin Luther King that would probably have a few people penning thought pieces about controlling what comedians say.
It got me thinking about how easily we get offended by anything and everything. How in an age where at the tap of a mobile or a few keyboard strokes we can get upset and quite rightfully be able to object to things we disagree with.
Comedy is one of the last places in our modern culture where we can speak freely and say offensive things without the comedian really having to worry about whether people are going to take issue (at least in the venue). They know in the main that a body of fans will still roll with them.
From black comedians, free use of the word nigga to rape jokes from mostly men (and very few women) dark humour has always pushed the boundaries of what is acceptable. Sometimes we laugh because we have no other way of appropriately dealing with some of the sinister sides of our humanity. And if we don’t laugh, we cry.
Comedians like Bill Hicks, George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Paul Mooney were skilled storytellers who could make you feel damn uncomfortable while making you laugh from the belly with their truth about the absurdity of humanity. Often such content pushed back against what others considered acceptable language and behaviour. They made it their job to offend.
Granted if a comedian does push the boundaries, keyboard warriors have every right to respond. Challenging Wayans about his inconsistency when expressing his love for his daughter expressing same-sex attraction while wanting her to experience dick once is your right. It is worth noting however that while certain humour may not sit well with you for others the touch point of comedy is a relief. An outlet. An opportunity to reflect on how they navigate an ever-changing world.
I know I have written pieces where I challenge inequality. I walk the tightrope of cognitive dissonance when on the one hand I can actually laugh at a joke about sexual orientation knowing that some of my work is about challenging people to be more respectful of those who don’t fit the heterosexual norm. But surely this is the mess of navigating humanity, isn’t it?
This endless competition to be the most woke, neuters language, expression and pushes a lot of bigotry underground. Sometimes we fuck up. That’s life. If it is public we can be held accountable but there are times when in private where we will laugh at things that are offensive.
People are actually terrified of saying the wrong pronoun, or referencing the wrong terms on ability, race or whatever. Surely we should be able to recognise that if you say something wrong we can be corrected without it involving some heated change.org petition or our job security being threatened. For fuck’s sake we all make mistakes, don’t we?
We are probably part of communities and subcultures where, as friends and family, risque and offensive jokes are told. Be it about race, gender, orientation, ability or culture. Surely we don’t all live in some pristine word perfect bubbles where offensive language or tone is parked. For me that is unreal and it is unreal to expect life to be like that. With the best intentions.
To be fair there are those who will shut down any humour which offends but I will be honest and say that is not my portion.
I know I will still laugh at jokes around cultures who don’t prepare food the way mine does. Likewise, I know of LGBT+ friends who will actually crack jokes in my presence in tears. Still don’t get the wig references.
At some point in life, someone is going to say something that you will find offensive. I make tall jokes, shorts jokes, fat jokes, skinny jokes, black jokes, white jokes and I know in many cases some will find it offensive. This is life. You have to choose which battles to fight and which ones you lose, otherwise, everything will offend you.
To be clear there is a time and place for everything. Bullying and narratives that constantly are used to demean people need to be challenged. Comedy shows and stars that step over lines drawn by people will be problematic and we should raise issue. However, for others it will be normative. Not everyone is offended by the same thing.
I just wonder if sometimes we, yes I include myself, place way too much energy in reacting to things that offend us. Be it comments, comedy, Donald Trump or the wilful placing of offensive ads by companies. Often commenting and using energy for issues that we could actually ignore. Of course, some events and issues need a collective voice of outrage but sometimes I wonder if we would cause ourselves less anxiety if we ignored some things that push our buttons and focus on that which empowers us.