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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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2018 Capital Gazette shooting

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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: 484675

Reported Deaths: 9480
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison33151493
Hinds31184589
DeSoto30803365
Jackson23735349
Rankin21390373
Lee14963221
Madison14206272
Jones13430227
Forrest13199241
Lauderdale11623307
Lowndes10501176
Lamar10258130
Pearl River9151221
Lafayette8268137
Hancock7534113
Washington7144152
Oktibbeha6989124
Monroe6533167
Neshoba6489201
Warren6486166
Pontotoc632993
Panola6278127
Marshall6165126
Bolivar6129145
Union576089
Pike5626138
Alcorn540590
Lincoln5310132
George473572
Scott461596
Leflore4495140
Tippah448180
Prentiss447979
Itawamba4457100
Adams4429117
Tate4420103
Wayne434667
Simpson4339114
Copiah432988
Yazoo423686
Covington417192
Sunflower4155104
Marion4111104
Coahoma3986100
Leake398286
Newton372375
Grenada3565104
Stone351360
Tishomingo338389
Attala325987
Jasper316062
Winston305691
Clay297374
Chickasaw287866
Clarke283290
Calhoun267741
Holmes262887
Smith252249
Yalobusha224347
Tallahatchie221150
Walthall211758
Greene209945
Lawrence207034
Perry201054
Amite199452
Webster196942
Noxubee179339
Montgomery172954
Jefferson Davis168342
Carroll162537
Tunica154235
Benton143035
Kemper138840
Choctaw128826
Claiborne127134
Humphreys127038
Franklin116928
Quitman104227
Wilkinson102036
Jefferson91533
Sharkey63020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 790648

Reported Deaths: 14025
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1117431765
Mobile709021237
Madison50032633
Shelby36350315
Baldwin36278495
Tuscaloosa34034548
Montgomery33229678
Lee22712220
Calhoun21297410
Morgan19852335
Etowah19341462
Marshall17716274
Houston16862386
St. Clair15479305
Cullman14659258
Limestone14609188
Elmore14507264
Lauderdale13557281
Talladega13015236
DeKalb12214237
Walker10604330
Blount9735157
Autauga9691137
Jackson9400158
Coffee8934175
Dale8631173
Colbert8545184
Tallapoosa6688181
Escambia6599121
Covington6466167
Chilton6395144
Russell608755
Franklin5805101
Chambers5425134
Marion4818120
Dallas4713189
Clarke464079
Pike463297
Geneva4433117
Winston427395
Lawrence4124108
Bibb410281
Barbour347470
Marengo326485
Monroe320253
Butler318490
Randolph306656
Pickens306474
Henry302658
Hale293085
Cherokee290855
Fayette280373
Washington245548
Crenshaw238770
Cleburne236751
Clay229265
Macon220658
Lamar200443
Conecuh182046
Coosa170835
Lowndes170858
Wilcox159736
Bullock149543
Perry136537
Sumter124736
Greene121443
Choctaw73427
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