Don’t Make Me Laugh: Bigotry isn’t “comedy”

A thought on Dave Chappelle’s hate speech and propaganda that netflix is fobbing off as “comedy”.  I recently saw this stand up routine by James Acaster, “Too Challenging”.  He may have done this in 2019, but it’s a perfectly apt “up yours” to Dave Chappelle.

I’m no expert on comedy (as can be seen by my attempts to write material for an amateur night stand up performance at a local comedy club).  But if I were to define it, I would say comedy comes in five basic types:

  1. Hit pieces (so-called “edgy comedy”)
  2. Juvenile and puerile
  3. Sketches and skits
  4. Absurdity
  5. The truth, with exaggeration

As you might guess, I’m not a fan of the first two, though I would say there is a difference between them.  “Hit” comedy by Chappelle, Sam Kinison, Andrew Dice Clay and their ilk target people, and the hate they incite gets very tiresome very quickly.  Juvenile and puerile like Sacha Baron Cohen, Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler may or may not be hateful depending on who is doing it or who it is about, but generally speaking it doesn’t appeal to me.

Sketch comedy can vary.  SCTV and the Kids In The Hall ranged from juvenile to absurd, and Saturday Night Live is long past its best.  Those who never saw Almost Live (from Seattle) in the 1980s and 1990s sadly missed out.  On the other hand, anyone who grew up with Wayne and Shuster, Not The Nine O’Clock News, or watched You Can’t Do That On Television knows it can tell a story or make a point.  I liked Monty Python’s absurdity when I was younger, but not so much now especially after some ex-MP members started voicing their opinions on some things.  The Goon Show was the original absurdist series.  Imagine if they were from the TV age and not radio.

To my mind, the comedy that remains funny and lasts is comedy that tells the truth about the human condition, tell universal things that we all experience and do.  It’s shows how ridiculous any of us can be, and laughing at ourselves is rarely mean-spirited or if it is, it’s usually self-depricating.  The joke that is considered the world’s funniest works in every language and every culture, with all ages and groups.

George Carlin had many good moments, though he has a few regrettable pieces.

“Anyone who drives slower than me is an idiot.  Anyone who drives faster than me is a maniac.”  – George Carlin

MacLean and MacLean were a Canadian brother comedy duo.  They were foul mouthed and borderline obscene, but many of their themes were universal.  Listen to some of their classic routines, like “$#i+!”, I’ve Seen Pubic Hair, or their show ending song, “F*** ya”.

Fern Brady is priceless, talking about sexual orientation, Irish men, and abortion.

Dexter Madison‘s schtick was a ridulous exaggeration and parody of male behaviour.  His jokes were full of vicious barbs, but the only target of those barbs was himself, his stage persona.  His comedy was never unkind toward others.

I love Cameron Esposito’s description of how she and her partner will have a kid: “We’ll have to get take out.”

Larry Miller’s “Five Stages Of Drinking” is a comedy classic that never gets old.  Anyone who has ever drunk and partied knows this sketch even before hearing it.  He telegraphs every line and every joke, and you still wait in anticipation to hear it because everything he says is universal, a shared experience.

Thankfully, comedy that tells the truth has become the norm and dominant form over the last twenty plus years: Jon Stewart, Samantha Bee, Larry Wilmore, John Oliver, and many others.  I recently learnt of Jan Böhmermann’s ZDF Magazin Royale which is also brilliant (even if you’re dependant on auto translated subtitles).

Comedic truth has become so common that some MSNBC presenters have adopted comedic lines and barbs into their reporting: Chris Hayes, Joy Reid, Ali Velshi.  It runs the risk of not being taken seriously, but as long as it doesn’t compromise their reporting of the facts, I have no problem with it.

And to close out, here’s a clip of Lenny Bruce from 1959, talking about the false perception that comedians are liars.  He shows instead how the “news” media lies with just a few newspaper headlines.  Fake news is older than sixty years.


  1. robert79 says

    I’m a big fan of the adage: “punch up, not down”, which I think mostly excludes the first two… except for a “hit piece” on someone in power (for example, the orange guy with the weird hair who still thinks he’s still president…) Depends on what you call a “hit piece” I think…

    As for “sketches and skits”, these often revolve around stereotypes. Usually these are (I think, I hope) quite harmless, but can occasionally devolve from “karen” to “irrational women”.

    • says

      I knew punch up / down, but wanted other words to describe it. Hit piece appealed more than punching down because it’s “comedy” that incites violence, while Truth with Exaggeration is exactly what punching up does. It never lies, it says exactly how things are.