British comedian Ricky Gervais isn’t letting the PC culture put him in a corner — in a tweet of defiance, Gervais says if people don’t like to hear jokes, keep doing it anyway.
It is a good system, and one that has been around for a long time. The problem is, comedians — or just regular Joes who tell a joke on social media only to have it haunt them later — face greater risk than just a complaint from naysayers. They lose jobs. Shows are canceled. Even when they don’t give a f***, as Gervais puts it, they are sometimes shouted down and harassed until they repent of their comedic sins.
Just look at college campuses, which have proven to be very lucrative for stand-up comics in the past. Now, many “liberal” universities that are supposed to be open to new ideas, shun violations of PC sensibilities and demand comedy that is, as Caitlin Flanagan wrote in The Atlantic, 100-percent risk-free.
Apparently, the greatest value on college campuses isn’t tough thinking, but tender feelings that need to be stroked and coddled. That’s what Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld discovered. “You can’t even be offensive on your way to being inoffensive,” Rock said. Seinfeld told a radio host that he wouldn’t go near a college any longer because they’re so PC.
Today, Gervais is refusing to give ground. Daniel Tosh is another comedian who has challenged the PC culture, though he was beaten into submission at one point over a joke about rape. Someone might wonder why would anyone joke about rape. Tosh made the point that if you’re good at writing jokes, you should be able to joke about anything. In other words, you should be able to laugh at anything.
Anything? Yes, he means anything. Comedy, like horror and traditional fairy tales, has always served as a vehicle for cathartic release — a way for people to process and cope with the horrors of life. The more irreverent the comedy — when it’s written well — the better the release.
Ironically, people who criticize comedy for being insensitive, and who run to safe spaces to escape the microagressions that spill from a stand-up comic, are missing the very point of comedy. It is, by its very nature, a “safe space.” Couched in the gentle arms of comedy, we can face the trials, tribulations, and offenses of life.
The line between pain and laughter is very thin. Good comedians cut through that line with skill and intelligence, compelling us to contemplate pain and the realities that come with it from the safe vantage point of laughter. They help us recover from pain by finding solace in humor.
Someone once said that comedy is a funny way of being serious. If you’re only serious, you isolate yourself. You’re constantly burdened with the weight of fear, pain, and suffering. You exist in survival mode in which everyone, everything, is the enemy.
Comedy eases that burden while still grappling with serious issues. Laughing in the face of solemnity puts us, and others, into a more relatable frame. It strengthens our resolve and frees our minds. It helps us make sense of this world.
Comedy really is the best medicine, which is why Gervais is right. Sometimes people don’t want to take their medicine, but you give it to them anyway. Our culture is hurting. We’re divided by identity politics and the inability to see one another as complete human beings who are very much just like us.
Accusations and realities of racism, sexism and bigotry are like pitchforks in our hands. We can’t laugh anymore when faced with these sacred cows of the PC culture. Hence, the divide widens. The isolation intensifies. The sickness worsens. We need medicine. We need humor, even when it’s offensive — especially when it’s offensive. Let’s, therefore, try to laugh more in 2019. Then we might be able to love more.