Has the PC Police Put Comedy Under Arrest?


Versione italiana

The question as to whether or not political correctness has ruined standup comedy depends on who you ask. 

It’s a bit like asking whether or not VAR and overzealous refereeing have ruined the once free-flowing game of soccer (aka Calcio.)

In both cases, one wonders whether or not our obsessive attempts to get a decision right–whether it be a big call in a game or a comedian’s extra care to not offend an audience–have detracted from the overall quality and unfiltered nature of the end-product itself.

While I think we can all be relieved to see less brutal leg breaks as a result of reckless tackles flying in on the pitch, what remains more opaque is the invisible influence of political correctness on the world of standup throughout the decades since it became an official term.

We can acknowledge that we need cooperative instincts like political correctness for society to exist and also ask if in certain cases it has caused certain comedian’s material to suffer. 

It isn’t all just theoretical conjecture, either.

The Malaysian Government’s recent request for comedian Jocelyn Chia to be tracked down after her joke about the 2014 flight that disappeared confirms the relative ease with which a standup artist can still offend a major governing body with whom they have no affiliation.

True, the reason an event like this even makes headlines is because it’s so rare, but that still isn’t to say that most comedians feel in the clear with regards to what topics they can and cannot address comfortably in front of a given audience. 

Talking with even just a couple NYC based comics recently proved enough to demonstrate beyond doubt that every comedian approaches this ambiguous and potentially thorny topic differently.

Though Otter Lee and Brad Rickert both came at it from opposite ends when starting out as performers, they’ve both criss-crossed in the middle since with a common interest in not alienating audiences at the expense of an easy punchline, (lame and PC as that may sound.)

Comedian Pyramid Consisting of Otter Lee (top), Nate Stein (bottom left) and Brad Rickert (bottom right) Brighton, MA

To what extent has your guys’ comedic style shifted to become more or less “PC” since you first started performing? Have you always been able to move in the direction you wanted to go in, or have you ever been forced to scrap a personally-cherished bit for the sake of not offending a particular crowd?
Otter Lee: I’ve been performing stand-up comedy since 2018 and when I was starting out, I very much wanted to avoid offending anyone. I went to open mics and almost always saw a couple performers being edgy and offensive, just for the sake of being shocking, and I think I was terrified of being like that. Also, as a queer, Asian-American comedian, I understood that the majority of the shows booking me wanted to highlight diversity and intersectionality.  The rule for me for a while was that I wouldn’t want to comment on a group that I didn’t consider myself a member within. Gradually, it opened up to poking fun at situations and individuals that have personally antagonized or affected  me in some way.  I still want to make sure I’m not punching down, but lately, it’s felt like a more mutual exchange of blows. 

I’ve seen a trend recently where comics that are dating someone of a different race or religious background seem to take that as license to really go for those groups in their material. I’ve always wondered how many of their partners are actually cool with it.  Let me date someone long term and get back to you on the matter! 

Brad Rickert: I’d say that my personal style has ebbed and flowed both as I’ve grown as an artist and while society has changed.   When I first started I was in high school so shock humor and edgy jokes were personally the funniest to me.   As times changed I found myself conforming to more PC content and it led to a significant amount of mediocrity on my end.   I’m now going through a phase on stage where I’m pushing the envelope a little bit more and straddling the line of political correctness.  

I definitely feel like there were times I felt censored or restricted from delivering my true sense of humor to the audience.  I do believe that was maybe a lack of skill or understanding on my part, and perhaps leaning into my truth would have been the best play all along.   Long story short I view the censoring to be self-inflicted.  I understand that cancel culture and the need to be PC may be real to people with something to lose (a tv show, high profile gig); but for a comedian whose main form of expression is stand-up, censoring is the enemy.   I’m not suggesting that shock humor is the way to go and saying fucked up stuff is the best way to approach comedy, I’m just saying you have to trust your gut and the audience will tell you if it’s funny or not.  

A quick Google search of the terms “PC comedy” reveals a split-consensus on the notion that political correctness is sucking all the funny out of our lives. Where do you guys stand on this particular debate? Is PC culture merely “driving comedy” as Ricky Gervais states, or is it perhaps causing it to derail like a train off the tracks, as some other noteworthy comics believe?
BR: I think there’s more great comedy now than there ever has been.   Bad comics use PC Culture as an excuse to why their awful abortion jokes aren’t killing (no pun intended) and on the flip side there are just as many bad comics who are using PC Culture and Identity Politics as a shield and excuse for why their jokes aren’t working (pun intended they’re unemployed).   I believe the radical opinions on each side can create better comedians over time, as the goal should be to make everyone laugh.   As a comedian I’m not interested in finding my niche market.  I’m way more interested in using my unique perspective and humor to bring people together. 

Do you think the best comedy is always a bit shocking and or incendiary, or do you think it’s possible to make an audience 100% amused and 0% uncomfortable?
BR:  I think saying 100% anything is tough, but yes I think there is very good non-confrontational, clean comedy.   I think shock can be replaced by the word surprise in comedy.  One might shock someone by hiding around the corner with a knife, or they can throw them a surprise party. I love a good misdirection joke or random non sequitur in my act because it gives the illusion of being edgy without actually saying anything offensive.

OL: As I’ve matured as a comic, I don’t really see political correctness as much of a binary as I did in my earlier days. I think a lot of people believe it has to be completely one way or the other: the verbal equivalent of The Purge versus nursery school. I personally see it as more nuanced I guess. 

Of course, if someone were to stop me after a set and say “Hey, I’m really upset because of one of your bits,” I’d wanna hear them out most of the time.

Most recently Otter completed a run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Stephen Colbert’s Tooning Out the News. Follow him on FB, instagram #otterleemoy and twitter @ OtterLeeMoy

Follow Brad on BradRickert.com and at the Red Room Comedy Club in Chicago instagram #bradaintfunny

Comedians IG: @ bradaintfunny, @otterleemoy

Top image: South Park’s PC Principal Disciplining Cartman Image: YouTube

Has the PC Police Put Comedy Under Arrest? ultima modifica: 2023-06-28T12:40:46+02:00 da JOHN O'HARA
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