As Stephen Colbert graduates from Comedy Central to CBS and the ratings of John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” soar, satirical news shows are experiencing a massive surge in popularity that has only highlighted the absurd comedy already in the political circus. The Sept. 16 GOP debate produced more quotable comedy than the VMAs. Candidates like Donald Trump are goldmines for political comedians because, well, sometimes you have to laugh to keep from screaming. But as the line between comedy and politics becomes blurred, we should be wary of putting our favorite comedians on top of a pedestal or under a microscope. It is dangerous to expect all comedians to be politically correct as well as political. Comedians can be incisive commentators, but when their commentary is watered down for easy consumption, their comedy can only suffer for it.
It says a lot about the world that some of our most rational political thinkers are comedians. This irony, however, has dangerous implications for comedy as a whole. Amy Schumer, whose sketches usually feature strong feminist undertones, recently came under fire for racial material she did early in her standup career. Trevor Noah’s “Daily Show” debut on Monday was met with audience jeers after quips about late singer Whitney Houston and a congressional aides/AIDS pun. Now that politics and comedy are bleeding together, we have begun to shy away from comedians who say outrageous things, all while politics becomes ever more outrageous.
But it is unreasonable to expect comedians to never offend their audiences. Though Schumer’s jokes were undoubtedly in bad taste, her response holds true for comedy in general — part of a comedian’s job is to delve into unsafe territory. Without them, there would be no way for the average American to make sense of the madness roaring around them. As citizens, our time is better spent supporting real social changes instead of roasting each comedian when they say something questionable. Their job is to be funny first and discreet second. Just because some comics have intelligent points to make about today’s political climate doesn’t mean they all do, nor should they.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t hold people accountable for anything they say. Blatantly offensive jokes about marginalized groups are a problem, and contributing to a negative stereotype is decidedly unfunny. But these lines are drawn through taste, and most tasteful comedians know how to distinguish between the hurtful and the satirical. It can be tempting, given the injustices we see on the news each day, to want to eradicate any instance of potentially offensive behavior we see. However, comedians offer us a respite from the madness, and we need that now more than ever.
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