The Death of Comedy
The biggest loser in the now-infamous punchslap seen-’round-the-world thrown at the Oscars on Sunday night wasn’t Will Smith, nor the Academy Awards. The biggest loser was comedy. More precisely, stand-up comedy.
Comedy might be dead given what happened. Real comedy. Freewheeling comedy. Ad-lib comedy. Impromptu comedy. All dead.
After Chris Rock was assaulted, what comedian is willing to go in front of a live audience and risk getting punched in the face by an angry person from the audience? What comedian at the next television awards show is going to ridicule a celebrity? What comedian wants to participate in a roast?
From now on, it’s like driving with the brakes on. Comedy is dead.
Indeed, comedy may have been killed because, at its essence, all comedy has a target. And the target is something that, in some way, makes us all a little uncomfortable. Think about it. All comedy has a “victim.” Whether it’s a pie in the face, falling down drunk, getting humiliated, pop figures being ridiculed, stereotyping ethnic groups, making fun of eccentricities, or whatever — virtually every joke or comedic skit includes a target victim.
And, oddly enough, comedy is linked to pain. The pain of that target victim.
Comedy will continue, of course. And comedians will still perform. Hundreds of stand-up routines will probably even include a reference to the Smith-Rock confrontation as part of the skit. And, we’ll nervously laugh it off and then move on. Everything becomes a punch line.
But the core creativity of comedy has been assaulted. And scars remain. Political correctness, wokeness, and cancel culture have replaced the old previous demons, which for many years were plain old-fashioned attitudes and censorship. Now, crossing invisible lines isn’t just a threat to one’s career (ask Michael Richards about that). It can even trigger violence and cause a national incident on an awards show that was so insidious it temporarily knocked a war off the front pages.
The irony here is the very best comedians (my view) often push boundaries. They inch up to the lines of acceptability, and inevitably even cross a few, at times. So, we moan and move on until the next punchline, and then we laugh and forget about the misfire. That’s the way comedy works, or is supposed to work.
Plenty of comedians are not my taste. I choose to not watch them. One time, I walked out of a live show when the “comedian” made fun of people in the audience and launched into several incestuous jokes about family members who were sitting together. I considered that cringeworthy. So, I quietly rose from my seat and we left the show. That’s the way it works. But I didn’t complain to management. I didn’t orchestrate a boycott. I didn’t call for the comedian to be punished or have his career destroyed. I don’t jump onstage and punch the comedian. I used my conscience, voted with my feet, and then wrote a bad review about the show. That’s it. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
I don’t care to discuss the Rock-Smith issue. I’m sick of it, already. What will linger, however, is the fear within every comedian. Every comedian, consciously or not, has to worry that while 199 people in the audience are laughing, that one dude with an angry look on his face might jump on stage, or do something much worse. Copycat crimes are a thing in this society.
Worst of all, if comedy loses and comedy dies, then we ALL lose. We all lost the most from what happened on Sunday night.