Disclaimer: The following article is not saying, one way or another, that you can or can’t be offended by something that someone claims to be comedy. Everyone, whether they think or so or not, is an individual and, as such, they have specific values, morals, experiences, etc. that may provide for a “hot button” that would engender anger in them even if it was intended in the spirit of comedy. The unnecessary length of this disclaimer might possibly be an example of this.
One definition of comedy is “professional entertainment consisting of jokes and satirical sketches, intended to make an audience laugh”. With the goal being to obtain a reaction of laughter, why would anyone even come close to the, arguably, polar opposite reaction of fighting?
Of course, it’s something that isn’t without precedent. Comedians have offended people certainly to the point of walking out and, though much rarer, to the point of trading blows.
Recently, comedian Randy Kagan was attacked at the Hollywood Improv while performing. While the details have been heavily disputed by both Kagan and the Improv, the fact remains that Kagan was attacked on stage for something he said, possibly, according to a witness, a remark Kagan made about the way a woman was eating. The reality of the situation is that in an absolute comedy setting (i.e. a comedy club where patrons pay cover and a 2 item minimum to watch a show), mere words that weren’t even a veiled threat incited a person to tackle the comedian performing and start a fight.
People go to see comedy for a good time, specifically to laugh, and yet, become livid and end up going for punching a person in the face. Though there might be some disagreement from Peter McGraw over at the Humor Code, much of the “violation” in a joke isn’t benign, but that doesn’t necessarily disqualify as being funny or even being comedy. At its most basic structure, humor points out inconsistencies and connects them to a point where audiences can hopefully relate. As mentioned in the lengthy disclaimer (please re-read if you found it annoyingly long), each person is intrinsically different as to what defines them as a person. No audience of people is going to connect 100% to that point of relation that a comedian or bit of comedy is presenting, but they still might laugh at what is being said.
Observe Doug Stanhope, one of today’s most heralded comedians, yet, you’ll probably find that he has more ardent detractors of his comedy than nearly any other of his contemporaries. Much of his comedy is derived directly from his personal beliefs, which end up seeming aggressive to whatever and whomever Stanhope is hilariously attacking. Stanhope has sharpened his act to the point where he will make people laugh that most likely don’t agree with his oft-described libertarian views.
Still, certain groups that have attacked him can’t connect the aggressive nature of his humor to, well, his humor. They only hear the intricate string of swear words and blunt, graphic, and explicit descriptions he rants into a mic, and then forget about the comedy and take offense. Not that Stanhope gives much credence to his detractors, considering his incredibly loyal following around the world, but that is just a microcosm of the inalienable subjectivity of comedy. Simply, some people will find a specific comedian, movie, joke, etc. funny and some won’t. Statistically, out of approximately 7 billion people, and billions of them not speaking the language that you speak, an overwhelming majority will most likely won’t find that specific thing funny.
Even if something intended as comedy ends up being something that you don’t find funny, especially if it’s just words being spoken into a microphone on a stage set up for comedy, it shouldn’t inspire one to violence. That being said, the comedian better make sure their insult or derogatory aside is funny to the rest of the room or they will seem like a real blue ribbon asshole.