“It’s just a joke” – Where do we draw the line with comedy?

Are we becoming a “snowflake generation”, or have we just had enough of comedians taking it too far?

“Everything is too PC these days.” Is a phrase you’ve likely heard all too often. Maybe even used them yourself from time to time? The world has reached a stage where, more than ever, people are being called out for jokes deemed to be pushing things a bit too far, causing some to fear for the future of comedy and free speech as a whole.

One of the most recent examples concerns YouTuber Shane Dawson, who came under fire when an old podcast resurfaced in which he gave a graphic description of performing a sex act on his cat. Dawson has since apologised for what he promised was nothing but a “dumb awful sketch idea”, but many fans have argued that people have taken it too seriously. So where do we draw the line?

Free speech works both ways. If you can tell a risky joke, then your audience is allowed to challenge you for it – and in some cases, this must be done. It’s unlikely that Shane Dawson’s filthy feline comments have caused anyone anything beyond mild discomfort (assuming it had no basis in reality), but there are still plenty of instances where harmful remarks are swept under the rug and those who speak out against them are silenced for being “too soft”.

Take Kevin Hart, for example, who lost his spot as this year’s Oscars host by refusing to apologise for a series of past homophobic tweets. It’s easy to brush these jokes off as a mere jest, but saying you’d break a dolls’ house over your son’s head because playing with it is “gay” is no laughing matter when members of the LGBT+ community regularly face horrific abuse for who they are.

Good comedy doesn’t exclude people – if only half of your audience is laughing, and the rest has taken offence, then chances are it just isn’t very funny. There’s no harm in seeing the lighter side of things, but not at the cost of trivialising the struggles of others. The key is to take the time to consider your whole audience in this increasingly interconnected society. Who will it reach? Is it appropriate today? What does it suggest about who you are?

Comedians shouldn’t be afraid to push the boundaries, but they need to have the reflexivity to take criticism on board and consider whether their one-liners reverberate beyond the initial laughs and likes they were aiming for. Sometimes, people will just take offence for no reason, but it’s really not that difficult to notice if you’re the one being a moron.

By Jamie Morris

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