Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Crossing the line: what kind of humor do you find offensive?

A couple of weeks ago I saw the new documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. Remember? That was the night I tried to charge the couple next to me the price of admission because they talked through the whole damn movie.

I absolutely loved that film. I saw it by myself, but it's a great date movie because it presents many points for discussion (afterward, not during).

I have tremendous respect for Joan Rivers; she was a groundbreaking female comic who held her own among the big boys in what continues to be a male-dominated playground. As Kathy Griffin says at one point, “There’s literally a handful of women who have done this.”

Kathy Griffin. Oy. I'll save her for another time.

Admittedly, Joan Rivers can be funny as hell; there are many laugh-out-loud moments in the film. But I'm not a huge fan because I often think she's mean-spirited. Sometimes she's positively vicious on the red carpet, and in her stand-up act as well, like when she cracks the line, “Gay men are proud of their excessive body hair… like Madonna’s daughter.”

Yikes--do you really have to pick on a 13-year-old kid?

I was telling my friend Susan about this. Her response was, "So that's where you draw the line, huh? Jokes about kids?"

Hmmm, I guess so. I didn't even know I had a line. I have a pretty high tolerance, especially for the politically incorrect. Polish, Italian, Jewish, Canadian, Irish, b-l-a-c-k... I've laughed heartily at jokes about them all, I'm not gonna lie. Bad language? Please. There's only one word I would never use (it's something you can say on TV, but I hate it), but God knows everything else has rolled off this tongue.

So why do I think Joan Rivers is a bully when it comes to Madonna's daughter, yet only right now as I'm writing this do I realize that line also cracks on gays, which evidently is not bothering me a bit? Do I have such a high tolerance because I'm not gay, or old enough, or fat enough, or have enough of any ethnic blood to take offense? BTW, I never do material like that when I perform; as you probably know, I'm more the self-deprecating type. (But I'm not above laughing at it.)

Humor is so subjective, no? I know I've said things right here that some people found offensive and others found hysterical--remember my great idea for a reality show? I guess we all have our tipping point.

So where do you draw the line? When a joke is no longer a joke?

12 comments:

Linda and her Twaddle said...

Not keen on jokes about disabled people unless the person making the joke is actually disabled themselves. Then it can be a little bit more acceptable.

Apart from that, comedy is meant to be controversial and agitating. It is meant to push boudaries and offend people.

R. Jacob said...

Linda
The book arrived!
Look forward to reading it.
Ray

K A B L O O E Y said...

Definitely subjective. I think picking on kids is past the line. Not to say I wouldn't find it funny, but I'd feel guilty afterwards. I have a higher tolerance for certain material if I can tell the comedian is making fun of the intolerant, not the seeming target, like with Sarah Silverman's humor. So when unfunny "civilians" tell racist jokes at a party, that crosses the line for me.

MA Fat Woman said...

I try not to make my jokes, mean-spirited (lack of a better word) on my blog. I present the situation, give my opinion why I'm laughing at it and let you come to your own conclusions.

As for my personal taste, wait, let me taste myself, I don't think I have a line that can't be crossed...

Anonymous said...

Copy & paste this link for more insight about the Lourdes/Madonna jokes...hint: it's funny!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEo54elmsMg

Anonymous said...

I never thought I'd say this, but I do have a lot of respect for Jude Law for shielding his children from the spotlight - no photos, etc.

Madonna is currently using her daughter to hawk her new "Material Girl" clothing line at Macy's. She even has a blog supposedly written by "Lola", but we all know it is merely another advertising stunt to cash in on Madonna's previous '80's look, which has come back into fashion.

Josie said...

I find all humor funny including politically incorrect. Everyone ends up being a punchline for me...jews, hairy italians (me), everyone, so where do I draw the line? When someone is using humor as a way to be intentionally hurtful. Not my bag. I dunno that Joan Rivers was doing that in the Lourdes situation. When she insults someone to their face about their appearance on the red carpet it makes me feel bad - I don't find that funny. Intentionally hurtful. I find HER funny - the thing with Joan is she's kinda hard to look at these days. Too much plastic surgery - takes away from her gift, which is being funny.

Not that you asked but I CANNOT stand her daughter Melissa. Poor Melissa missed out on her mom's talent but is making up for it in the plastic surgery dept. Ugh.

Vegas Linda Lou said...

@ Kablooey: I agree--if the comic's target is the intolerant, then full speed ahead. Bill Maher is a perfect example.

@ Anon: Please, dear God, do NOT let the 80s look come back into fashion. I beg of you.

@ Josie: I have more to say about that movie, including some thoughts about Melissa. We're on the same page.

Mimi said...

I think that to be funny, comedy has to push barriers.
My taste? I don't like either sex or bad language put in for the sake of it, but if it's funny and happens to be in the line, that's fine. Don't know if that makes sense!

The Vegas Flea said...

I can't find a definitive point where I draw the line. But, I can honestly say that I don't appreciate Joan Rivers' humor. Nor do I like Carlos Mencia. Now that I think about it, Dennis Miller sucks as well (but in a different way)...I could go on. :)

bruce said...

So there are a lot of jokes out there that aren't jokes. I don't think SNL is funny at all. Nor is your average SNL graduate, e.g. Will Farrell, funny. Stupid, yes; funny, no. But at what point do I take offense?

I get offended when the supposed joke is intended to inflict injury, to reinforce a stereotype or prejudice, and to justify and reinforce the prejudice. When the intent is to be just plain mean.

Back in the 80s Eddie Murphy came out with a concert movie that featured a routine that started out with a line that went something like, "I like to make fun of homosexuals because they're homosexuals." I used to think the whole routine was uproariously funny. And then one day I was told I was homophobic because I quoted some bits out of that routine. It dawned on me much much later that the man who was telling me that was homosexual. I took me a long time to understand what he meant when it was all plain right there in that line, "I like to make fun of homosexuals because they're homosexual." The whole bit was just plain mean.

It's not to say that jokes featuring gays, jews, italians, whatever class or ethnicity can't be funny. It's funny when you take the stereotype about the class and hang it out to be absurd. I didn't know gay men were proud of their excessive body hair, and there might be some place you could go with that that would be ironic or absurd. Madonna's daughter? That's not it. That's mean.

(pssst, you are of the more 'self-deprecating' type)

Vegas Linda Lou said...

Well put, Bruce! And thanks for the correction on the typo.