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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Nothing’s taboo to comedy

    Comedy and pain go hand in hand: We deal with our pain, personal and cultural, by laughing. Comedy is based on our own thoughts and beliefs and actions, which means there will always be jokes that allow us to deal with our pain or even just to empathize with the comedian and their own pain.

    Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, stars of the Comedy Central show “Key & Peele,” wrote in an article for Time, “Somewhere along the line, we’ve forgotten the true purpose of humor: to help people cope with the fears and horrors of the world.”

    They’re right, there’s something altogether healing about comedy. My first instinct when I feel uncomfortable is to try and lighten the mood.

    Tig Notaro, one of my favorite comedians, once walked onto the stage at Largo at the Coronet Theatre, a comedy club in Los Angeles just hours after finding out she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She opened the show with a blunt, “Good evening! Hello. I have cancer! How are you?”

    Though some might have felt offended, fellow comedian Louis C.K. wrote on his website after the show that it was one of the greatest stand-up performances he had ever seen.

    “The show was an amazing example of what comedy can be,” he wrote. “A way to visit your worst fears and laugh at them.”

    Comedy can mend all wounds, and comedians present new perspectives about our lives. These generally include a facade that keeps us from becoming too uncomfortable. Comedy begins a discussion, and it lets us self-reflect as a society.

    Lately, a lot of the discussion in the comedy world has been about how we discuss sensitive topics such as slavery, the Holocaust and racism.

    Key and Peele happen to believe that it’s their duty to discuss once-taboo topics, since excluding them would mean assuming the audience cannot self-reflect. The line between getting your audience to do that and losing them is thin. Timing and the receptiveness of audience members is key.

    One of the most controversial topics being discussed in comedy today is rape. Patton Oswalt, a comedian and actor, posted an essay to his website discussing things he has witnessed during his 25 years of experience doing stand-up. In the essay, he wrote about how he has learned to approach rape jokes.

    “Every viewpoint I’ve read on this, especially from feminists,” he said, “is simply asking to kick upward, to think twice about who is the target of the punchline, and make sure it isn’t the victim.”

    It seems simple, but he’s right. Comedy is a way of dealing with topics we might be uncomfortable discussing and making sure not to victimize anyone further, but to get them to engage in a way to make them laugh can be a valuable tool for coming to terms.

    Daniel Tosh, host of Comedy Central’s Tosh.0, took it too far when he did his infamous set at the Laugh Factory. A woman in the audience had responded negatively to his rape jokes earlier in the set and he responded by saying, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by, like, five guys right now? Like right now?”

    With that, he invited something to actually happen. Yes, we can joke about rape, but victimizing an audience member is just too far.

    There will always be controversial jokes. But if comedy can get us talking openly and honestly about our lives, I say let humor happen. Nothing should be taboo to joke about, because humor can help us through hardships.

    — Maura Higgs is a neuroscience and cognitive sciences sophomore. Follow her @maurahiggs

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