Columns / Discourse / September 27, 2017

Is comedy desensitized to bigotry?

Part of the relationship that I have found with people, particularly with comedy, is the ability to judge what you should and shouldn’t say. Some things are off limits and no comedian should ever venture there. Things like the Holocaust or blatant racism are usually going to ruin any comedian and should be avoided at all cost.

Welp… this weekend I had the pleasure of performing right along side a member of my comedy team who had to act out a “racist black person” with another having to guess what he was.

What’s worse was the guy who was guessing thought that he was just your average black person. He used the recycled old racist stereotypes of fried chicken and watermelon. He might as well have been wearing blackface.

This was all just devastating to see unfold on stage. People made comments about those jokes not being funny, and I was genuinely hoping that most of the laughs were just nervous laughter. Unfortunately some of those laughs were genuine, and I was performing with these guys. There happened to be fellow Knox students in attendance. How does being associated with these jokes reflect upon myself and my peers? I could distance myself and retreat back into the safe place of Knox, but I also really enjoy the opportunity to provide local comedy to Galesburg. If anything I can (and have) vocalised my serious disapproval of those jokes.

After talking with those from Knox who attended the show and doing my own self reflection on the subject, I am going to continue work with these guys in the future. A great suggestion was to break up the sausage party and have a chick check the troupe when things get weird. Establishing a relationship with these guys is the only way that I can have any impact. If I want Galesburg to express Knox values, I have to share them.

It is unfortunately very easy for racism and sexism to hide behind a joke. Is there a place where racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic undertones are acceptable to laugh at? In a perfect world, and what I think, personally, Knox would say is “no, absolutely not.” Laughter should not come at the expense of another person. My personal experiences with myself and my relationships with others includes laughing at such jokes in TV shows, movies, and subreddits like r/ImGoingToHellForThis.

Season 1, episode 2 of The Office, “Diversity Day” is one of my favorite episodes of The Office, but it showcases racial stereotyping. Michael is notorious for “that’s what she said” jokes. Am I here to defend my love for The Office against these observations? No, but I do want to point out my own conflicts with where I draw this imaginary line that deems what is appropriate in comedy.

So where do you draw that line?


Joey Peterson

Tags:  bigotry Galesburg racism

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