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Elayne Boosler: Saying 'joke' is no excuse for offensive behavior

"Comedy" is now the fall guy.Every time someone gets busted for a horrific statement, he or she sudde...

Posted: Aug 20, 2018 12:37 PM
Updated: Aug 20, 2018 12:38 PM

"Comedy" is now the fall guy.

Every time someone gets busted for a horrific statement, he or she suddenly announces: "It was a joke!"

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Uh uh. No. You are not going to cloud up our art form with your ill-conceived oral feculence.

My gifted comic pals and I work way too hard on crafting humor to allow you to come along and claim your unlicensed, misfiring sawed-off shotgun is actually a sharpened blade that cuts to the truth to illuminate understanding and brings out our shared humanity through laughter.

We now live in a political environment of such stunningly unbelievable rhetoric, we're constantly thinking, "You've got to be kidding." Yet the audience always knows, so if you're going to speak, or tweet, and fall back on comedy as a "get out of jail free" card, you probably won't get out of jail.

An "alt-right" activist said recently that people should start shooting journalists. When he was widely criticized in the wake of the Capital Gazette newspaper shooting in Annapolis, Maryland, he claimed his critics were taking his "joke" as a threat.

But that's not what happened. No one took a "joke" to be a threat; they took a threat to be a threat. They saw it exactly for what it was: a polemicist speaking without a punchline. Jokes are clearly jokes.

When Henny Youngman said, "Take my wife, please," no one came and took his wife. Jokes have a structure; many of these self-proclaimed "comedians" are just stating a sentence. And above all, a joke has to be funny -- the more controversial or edgy it is, the funnier it has to be.

I'll go anywhere with any good comic; down any conspiracist, conservative, liberal, Bible or soy-based rabbit hole, just as long as it's funny. What many fail to recognize is that they're no Bill Hicks.

Roseanne's racist tweet? Well, even professional comedians can miss the mark. In that case, they get to claim, "It was a joke," in the same way that a baseball player can say he batted today, even though he went 0 for 4. The only people who should be tweeting anything about "apes" are Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall, and Dian Fossey's dead.

Comics don't get a pass.

You make enough money and have had enough practice at comedy to write jokes that are smartfunny, sillyfunny, or both. Leading with hatred and prejudice doesn't often lead to landing a punchline. If you really wanted to call Ivanka Trump a c***, well, there are ways to intelligently stick that landing and be funny.

What's the point of speaking if a wall goes up before you can be heard? Comedy's only tool is language. A message gets so much further across our current social divide when people are not recoiling from a motherf**kerdickc*** barrage that automatically shuts them down.

You can impart so much more smart, subversive humor when people are actually listening to you and not on the defense. We have all the words in the world on our palettes, why paint with only three or four colors? (Note: Comedy geniuses living or dead are exempt from this rule, because they know how to paint.)

If Louis C.K. had asked me to watch him masturbate, I'd have said, "Dude, I don't even watch your show."

Then there's last month's hilarious incident when comedian John Melendez — aka Stuttering John — called the White House pretending to be a US senator, asking to be connected to the President. Shortly afterward, John got a call back and was on the phone with the President. Talk about using comedy for good. Aside from the laughter, a comic pointed up the dangerous vulnerability to our country when a president thinks he doesn't need experts on staff because he "knows everything."

Our ambassadors are gone, our statesmen are gone, the smartest kids in the room are gone, and the country is vulnerable to any and all interference from those who would hack our democracy. One great comedy bit exposed the ongoing danger.

Pretty good for a joke.

I haven't seen the new Sacha Baron Cohen show yet so I can't comment on it. I can say only, if he is bringing reprehensible politicians back into our living rooms, I hope it's really, really, funny. And remember, when a comic dupes a politician, only the politician suffers. When politicians dupe the public, well, you know.

Vile statements are not "jokes." They're vile statements. You can't call them jokes any more than you can call vomiting "recycling." Besides, the hallmark of a true joke is that after you say it, you never have to say "It was a joke."

Haters, polemicists, politicians, rabble rousers, lazy comics, panderers; stop throwing the craft of comedy under the bus as a Hail Mary pass when you're busted for uncivil discourse.

No one's buying it. Leave jokes alone. And donate a pint of blood and say thanks to our free press.

Je suis Charlie. Je suis Annapolis.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 149940

Reported Deaths: 3779
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto10097104
Hinds9984199
Harrison7116110
Jackson6360119
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Lee509195
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Tallahatchie97027
Clay91327
Clarke90553
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Stone77014
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Calhoun75513
Montgomery74525
Carroll72415
Lawrence71814
Smith71316
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Amite54014
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Benton49318
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Webster44314
Kemper43618
Wilkinson39822
Jefferson35211
Franklin3395
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 244993

Reported Deaths: 3572
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson32314500
Mobile19859361
Madison13223148
Tuscaloosa13049154
Montgomery12342236
Shelby1031577
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Lee775766
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Jackson320423
Colbert311942
Blount292240
Autauga273542
Franklin252633
Coffee245415
Dale232654
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Chilton223438
Russell22193
Covington218934
Escambia198331
Chambers176850
Tallapoosa176391
Pike158614
Clarke158419
Marion140236
Winston133023
Lawrence127936
Pickens123518
Geneva12218
Marengo121524
Bibb117917
Barbour117310
Butler116541
Randolph102921
Cherokee102224
Hale97031
Clay91924
Fayette91616
Washington91219
Henry8546
Lowndes79929
Monroe78911
Cleburne77214
Macon73722
Crenshaw71130
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Perry6886
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