Feel the Room: Political Correctness for Comedians

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I’m more offended by the spelling error, honestly.

John Cleese once came forward to say that “political correctness is killing comedy”. His argument was that having to dance around what offends people removes the humor from comedy and that people expect to be “protected from any kind of uncomfortable emotion”. I didn’t really think about it too much- until I had to.

Political correctness is certainly a topic worth revisiting, if only because we are dealing with a present situation where a person is getting all sorts of attention for not being politically correct[1]. My personal beliefs on political correctness and censorship with regards to comedy took a while to evolve. I’ve yo-yoed between being squeaky clean and filthy gross on stage a few times. I’ve seen acts on both sides of the dirty/clean table. I’ve seen racist acts, I’ve seen sexist acts. But it wasn’t until I was producing shows that I really thought about it.

I came across a situation not too long ago that made me feel at odds as a producer and a comedian. At one of my shows an act was onstage performing material that was… filthy. It was gross- really just some of the weirdest, disgusting stuff. Sex, poop, death- this set had it all. And it just killed the room.

I got an email shortly afterward telling me they enjoyed coming to my shows but also disappointed with the performance they had just seen. It turns out they had brought their office with them and had a hard time explaining the type of humor that was onstage. In particular, they didn’t like some of the sex slang because it meant having to explain it to their boss. They told me that they would prefer if we didn’t do that material in the future.

Now I had to think about this. Here I was as a producer, facing an audience member who had been to shows before and brought a sizeable portion of the crowd, having to decide if I would censor any future acts. I was also a comedian, and I can tell you that being censored is truly restrictive- a lot of comedians I know would get upset[2] if they were told to stay away from a certain topic. It seemed like a hard decision.

What it came down to was how the material was presented. Maybe the act was nervous. Maybe he wasn’t ready to perform in front of 80 people. Maybe he just couldn’t read the room- and that’s what I settled on.

Political correctness may be killing comedy, but feel the room. You can try some stuff you think might be offensive. Heck, you might be surprised as to what the audience ends up finding offensive! But if you got a room of people who paid money to see a show they’ll like, and then they see jokes that fall flat, that’s not their fault. You shouldn’t be able to tell a person what they find funny or not; funny is funny.

But I will say this- as an audience member, you have to know that the comedian onstage is doing HARD work. Go support your local scene and watch some open mics to see the process. And understand that you’ll need to be open to some material.

What do you think? Should comedians be immune from political correctness?


 

[1] Trump. It’s Donald Trump. I’m not going to link to his site. The man already has too much attention.

[2] to say the least.

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2 thoughts on “Feel the Room: Political Correctness for Comedians

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