The Evanstonian

Comedians should stand up for more than laughs

Miyoki Walker, Entertainment Columnist

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Just kidding.

Although the point of comedy is to make people laugh, comedians must be aware, not just of the intent, but also of the message they are sending with their jokes and the people they are hurting in the process.

It’s the age-old question: should comedians get a pass on offensive material? Sure, the purpose of comedy itself is to entertain and maybe even break the ice on issues some are too afraid to confront, but should we excuse dehumanizing rhetoric and stereotyping as ‘humor’? The answer is no. Whether we find the jokes funny or not, we should never disregard the feelings of disenfranchised and marginalized groups.

Take Amy Schumer’s work for example. Schumer has been deemed offensive by some, a comedic genius by others, and her new film “I Feel Pretty” has garnered a lot of criticism due to its apparent message that a plus-size woman would have to be crazy to love herself. Not only this, but Schumer has a reputation for being racially insensitive, especially in her comedy sets, during which she’s told jokes dehumanizing Hispanic men, applauding her own privilege and disparaging overweight people. Schumer is living proof that comedy, regardless of how funny some may find it, has the potential to further oppressive and prejudiced forces that work within entertainment.

It’s not that people aren’t laughing — Schumer’s predominantly white fan base seems to get a real kick out of these jokes — it’s that, while Schumer makes money off of jokes rooted in stereotypes, people of color are facing the consequences of these stereotypes. Schumer can call it comedy all she wants, but the jokes are flat, ignorant, and insensitive.

This isn’t to say that all taboo and controversial jokes are off limit, these are perfectly fine so long as they target the right groups and institutions. Hannibal Buress, a popular stand-up comedian, recently performed at the Catholic Loyola University and got his mic cut after referencing the Catholic church’s history of molesting children. Despite many of the school’s religious affiliation, the censorship still garnered disapproval from many audience members. The difference with Buress’s joke and Schumer’s jokes is the consequence in telling them. Buress’s joke encourages necessary discussion about abuse, while Schumer’s joke dehumanizes the subjects of it.

While I do believe that comedy should remain an uncensored method of promoting difficult and necessary conversations, it is up to the comedian to make their comedy ethically and morally sound. If what they call “joking” is actually just using offensive jokes for shock value, then it is not funny, it’s lazy. Using age-old stereotypes for laughs is far from original and it does not grant a pass to use derogatory and degrading jokes in the name of comedy.

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Comedians should stand up for more than laughs