Richard Pryor Is Weeping In His Grave Over the State of Comedy Right Now
I first began doing stand-up comedy in the early 1980s at the beginning of the comedy boom in America. It was a real no-holds-barred affair and — not gonna lie — it was glorious. Comics had creative freedom that almost seemed like our birthright. When I first began going on the road professionally a few years later it was still like that.
Little did we know at the time that a generation of humorless scolds was being spawned right under our noses.
Woke millennials are a blight on the landscape of humor that threatens to ruin comedy altogether. I recently had the pleasure of being a guest on a fun podcast (LANGUAGE WARNING) where my lovely hostesses asked — somewhat seriously — if we’re soon not going to be able to joke about anything anymore. We talked mostly about the future of comedy, of course, but the past is coming back to haunt people too.
Jimmy Kimmel has been getting raked over the coals for some skits that he did in blackface a long time ago and an interview with a very young Megan Fox (the actress, not my colleague). Ed wrote a post over at Hot Air pondering whether Kimmel would be the next victim of cancel culture. Perhaps sensing what was about to happen, Kimmel took some time off right before all of this hit.
It’s bad enough that comedy is being ruined by the fact that seemingly every subject is taboo now. If we’re going to start ruining comedians for things that were done two decades ago I can assure you that all of us in the business are well and truly screwed.
This shaming of jokes past isn’t new. I wrote a post in 2018 about a Vulture.com article that asked comedians to share the joke they “most regret.” It was embarrassing. Do I have material out there from 20 or more years ago that I regret? Sure. Am I going to apologize for any of it? No. I was a younger comedian, I did stupid things. It’s kind of how we get into the business in the first place.
I can’t help but think about how Richard Pryor and George Carlin would be handling the sanitizing of comedy if they were around.
Not politely or gracefully is my guess. I grew up idolizing those two, and both were pretty much the direct heirs of Lenny Bruce’s legacy. As I’ve said in many interviews recently, Lenny Bruce didn’t repeatedly get arrested for dropping f-bombs just so present-day comedians could let a bunch of emotional midgets from the participation trophy era neuter comedy forever.
Never Apologize for an Offensive Joke
Kimmel did finally issue an apology, but it was weak and he tried to work in a veiled dig at Trump supporters. A simple “I was stupid” suffices. Let’s not pretend that anybody who is demanding this is really offended. The rage mob is never satisfied anyway; all the apologies in the world will never mollify them. Forced apologies like Kimmel’s are rarely sincere.
In perhaps the most remarkable case of liberal projection I’ve ever seen, Newsweek is blaming this on conservatives, saying that we’re “weaponizing” cancel culture to punish the virulently anti-Trump Kimmel. My colleague Jennifer Van Laar has more on that at our sister site RedState. Even if that is the case here, then conservatives are merely playing by ridiculous rules established by liberals.
Adam Carolla came to his former The Man Show co-host’s defense, saying, “Jimmy Kimmel is doing Karl Malone. Jimmy Kimmel is doing Oprah. Jimmy Kimmel is doing Snoop Dogg. There’s a context. It’s comedy.”
Exactly. As the title of Steve Martin’s third album says, “Comedy is Not Pretty!” It’s also not meant to be pored over 20 years after the fact by easily-offended weaklings who take virtually everything too seriously. It is a sad statement on the state of the world when stupid old jokes and comedy bits are being taken so seriously.
This is also an important free speech issue. If comedians are going to be forced to dance around language out of fear of offending the wrong people, then comedy won’t last long. Good comedy needs the freedom to offend. That doesn’t mean it needs to be deliberately offensive, although these scolds are making me lean in that direction more and more.
It’s rather fun to upset the woke.
PJ Media Senior Columnist and Associate Editor Stephen Kruiser is the author of “Don’t Let the Hippies Shower” and “Straight Outta Feelings: Political Zen in the Age of Outrage,” both of which address serious subjects in a humorous way. Monday through Friday he edits PJ Media’s “Morning Briefing.” His columns appear twice a week.