The death of comedian Joan Rivers has resulted in a wave of eulogies for her pioneering role as a woman in stand up comedy and as a talk show host. I have never actually seen any of her shows, but was aware that she was known for her scathing criticisms of people and fashions which she did turn on herself too.
I am not a big fan of the genre of insult humor practiced by her and Don Rickles, among others. People’s views and ideas are fair game for biting jokes but such humor when it is aimed at the looks of people or what they wear seems trivial and mean. Public figures, especially political ones, have to be prepared for such attacks and it is admittedly hard to draw a clear line between what is reasonable and what has crossed the line.
The appeal of such insult humor becomes even more incomprehensible to me when the target is supposedly being honored. The peculiarly American idea of ‘roasts’ where people gather to pay tribute to an honored guest but where the speakers are expected to make jokes at the guests’ expense is something that I find particularly distasteful.