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Written by

Basil Joseph

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Is there a line that can be crossed in comedy?

Comedy is the expressive art form of taking a characterising real life or exaggerated life depictions into entertainment and humour. A common question tends to arise time and time again; where is the line drawn when it comes to comedy?

The beauty of comedy is that it often pushes the boundaries that many are unable to explore. Comedy offers audiences escapism from their day-to-day reality to enjoy uncensored material on topics we often shirk away from discussing. Ultimately the decision as what boundaries can be crossed in relation to comic material lies with the comic and is often validated by the audience. The reaction of the audience often times give a brutal indication as to whether a joke on sensitive issues is well received or not.

The art form of a joke revolves around how well crafted the issue being discussed is put together. Society dictates that material around religion, race, obesity, sexuality, gender, and other sensitive issues should not be demeaned for the sake of entertainment, but why should that stop freedom of speech? If a comedian delivers a tasteless joke then that comedian should be held accountable if it is received poorly. Comedians accept the responsibility that the things they utter will cause offense. If one goes down the road of offending a few then that individual must be unapologetic about it, as long as they can validate the reasons as to discussing certain topics that are deemed unacceptable in the form of comedy.

It begs the question as to who should be overarching governance for comedy. Would it be the comics, the audiences who watch and listen to the material or the regular people of society? The American comedian DL Hughley stated that comedy was the place where you could talk about the things that people would be shocked to discuss in public. He mentioned that when he was a teenager he would sneak down to his basement to listen to comedy because he knew it was offensive material he parents would not approve of. Comedy is meant to be offensive to an extent and he questioned why people complain about the offensive material in comedy when they are clearly not the target audience. Comedy touching upon sensitive themes will always offend a few but in reality, there is a market that it caters to. 

Comedy has always crossed some sort of line but sensitivity in today’s society is heightened because we tend to pander to the minority who use social media as a tool to air their grievances against anything that goes against their principles and beliefs. Comedy has often been given a pass because comedians have always toed the line as to what we deem acceptable or unacceptable. It is a field that has never been held to account because we have always accepted that comedy blurs the line as to what should be offensive and the shock values it causes. I don’t believe there is a line that comedy can cross because I believe a good comic will always find a way to execute a joke that would often seem improper in a shrewd and well-crafted manner.

The line is often crossed when the material is delivered poorly, but this creates the distinction between a good and bad comedian. A good comedian would assess whether they are skilled to engage in a topic that many would never think to touch upon because of the uproar it would create. The skill level of delivering a joke would often prove the determining factor as to whether a line has been crossed in comedy. We live in a society that promotes the freedom of speech and this should not be inhibited in the realm of comedy. That doesn’t mean we can stop people from being offended. Everyone has a right to find acceptance or offense in the things they watch or listen to. The beauty of comedy stems from execution and delivery.

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