Bad Humour Is Good Humour!

26 03 2011

What is the essence of good comedy? It is levity in the face of tragedy. It is the clown, and it is drag. Too many people mistake sexual, ethnic, and racial humour for a mockery of the victim, when in fact what the comedian is really doing is mocking the victimizer.

Comedy is so complex now that comedians are doing blackface in order to show how absurd and ridiculous blackface really is, and drag queens are impersonating 1960s housewives to lampoon twentieth century feminine norms. Layers of irony are heaped on top of one another until the object of ridicule becomes obscured for the simple-minded, remaining crystal-clear for the more perceptive observer.

Sometimes, the comedian simply wants to make fun of everybody. They do not discriminate—they want to expose the flaws in every person, for every person has them. In fact, they want to celebrate these flaws as part of what makes us human. It is the obligation of the comedian’s target to overcome their pride, acknowledge the wonderfully honest caricatures the comedian paints of them, and laugh at them with a sort of tongue-in-cheek humility.

Shock humour is not malicious; it is expositive. Malice is a concerted effort to inflict harm; shock humour is a concerted effort to expose the foibles of human nature. A person who seeks to hurt the feelings of their target is not a comedian, but a cruel and elaborate misanthrope. Indeed, the comedian practises her art out of an appreciation for humanity and its imperfections.

The most important thing for the audience is to know the intent of the comedian. The burden of understanding lies not just on the shoulders of the comedian, but also on those of the observer. While the comedian is obliged to communicate her jokes in a fairly down-to-earth, sociable, and straightforward way, the observer is obliged to meet her half-way and try to decipher her language, tone, allusions, and body-language in order to uncover her intent. Otherwise it would be a simplistic, and hence boring, act. It’s a two-way street.

Take the ridicule of gay people, for example. I think it’s fucking hilarious. Most gay people I’ve met think it’s fucking hilarious. Gay people know what homophobia is when they see it, and they know that a stand-up comic poking fun at anal sex is not necessarily homophobic. In all likelihood, the comic is poking fun at anal sex because she is comfortable about it and openly acknowledges it as just another part of the puzzle that is humanity. Indeed, she may be a proud and loyal fag-hag attacking the very homophobes who rail against gay sex. Gay people know the difference between a genuine attack, and a lighthearted jest exposing their own foibles.

With that longwinded disclaimer, I would like to present you with a series of random and otherworldly works, or “quirks”, of art that my friend Seth and I created using MS Paint and the Web Site Dragulator, created by drag icon Ru Paul. The goal is to mock assumptions and stereotypes, so hopefully you will see that. I hope that I haven’t killed the effect, because a spontaneous heart is required to enjoy the art.

(You should visit Seth’s blog at http://thelittlereport.blogspot.com)


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2 responses

26 03 2011
Christine

I think you make a really good point — just because someone makes jokes about about a certain group of people doesn’t necessarily mean they’re discriminating against or promoting hate against said group.

One person, though, who does this (and I can’t figure out where I stand on his gay-related humour) is Louis C.K. — he has a lot to say about gay people, gay marriage, but sometimes his copious use of the word “faggot” kind of bothers me.

Here are some links below — I’m very interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter!

Louis CK on gay marriage and gay people being “just funny” and Ewan McGregor: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiH4n8Yz380&

Cinnabuns are “fat faggot treats”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fp-j72ALHHs

28 03 2011
Brandon Arkell

Bwahahahahahahaha! “I wanna fuck the shit out of his face!” That was hilarious. I have to say.

I agree–sometimes you can overdo it. Sometimes you can overuse epithets, and it begins to sound as though you’re channelling your bigotry in this awkward, quasi-comical way. It almost seems like a form of parapraxis, or “Freudian slip”, in which a word accidentally reveals your inner attitude about something.

I will say, the way he says “faggot” is very much in that sharp, charged-up, sharky, aggressive, macho way in which a lot of homophobes use it. When I hear it said that way, I instinctively cringe on the inside. But he’s probably not homophobic; he probably says it that way because that’s the way most people say it (since most people say it derisively). It’s kind of a grey area–it’s one of those things where he should probably just rein it in, but if he doesn’t, a heck of a lot of gays are probably going to tune in to the actual message.

That said, we really do have to be cautious about how our humour is conveyed. You should never walk down the street in blackface and just expect a black person you don’t even know to “get” the humour. There has to be a mutual understanding between the comedian and her audience, and this is largely determined by context (a comedy show), tone, facial expression, body language, etc. We do have a responsibility to tell jokes with care and sensitivity.

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