Random Ephemera

Political Correctness Makes Comedy Better

Nothing is more important than unrestricted free speech.
white proverb

There is a truism, mostly uttered by South Park and other aging comedians fading in relevancy, that comedy stands on one side of culture and political correctness stands on the other. The two forces are mutually opposed, with one embodying free speech and hard truths while the other seeks taboo words to cut from language.

It’s weird to me because as someone that loves both language and a good insult, I have found political correctness to be a great medium for comedic growth. Not in opposing it, but in recognizing the evolving boundaries on acceptable behavior that it continues to describe.

Take ableism, for example. There’s a host of words that I have been slowly weeding out of my vocabulary when it comes to condemning foolishness. Retard, for one, is way out, but even more seemingly harmless words like dumb, lame, imbecile and idiot are all leftover terms used in times when gawking at the mentally ill for a penny was a thing you could totally do. Dumb, a term for deafness, is a lot less benign when you think about how many times deaf people have been singled out for genocide.

And yes, watching your language is a huge pain in the Trump, and learning not to say certain things does feel like you’re in Demolition Man and are getting automatic citations for swearing. For a little while, at least. However, after you start you realize just how much space old, set patterns take up in your head. Your brain always defers to these obvious terms because your brain fills in as much as it can from past experience to prevent you from input overload.

Removing old terms leaves a hole where you can innovate and improve. He isn’t an idiot. He a lichen-covered, humanoid-shaped rock pile covered in crayon-scrawled nonsense. She’s not stupid. She’s a complete lackwit, an embarrassment of human evolution better suited to digging for undigested berries in her own poop. Those militia folks up in Oregon aren’t retarded. They’re a collective bean and beer fart that achieved sentience and possessed a small gun show to be its minions.

Not up to hyphenated reference or long descriptions? Or perhaps you’re under a Twitter character limit? No problem. Just rediscover the joys of childhood insults. One of the reasons I love Yo! Is This Racist? is because the site has re-popularized terms like ding dong and dingaling. I like yo-yo myself, but poo head works fine and so does dingleberry.

A while back I interviewed the makers of Boo Bunny Plague, a locally produced video game full of raunchy humor. At the time they were in talks to get the game released on the Wii, and I asked them about whether they would have to censor the content. They told me that, yes, they would, but that the process had actually made the game better because they had to think more about what they were saying.

They couldn’t be lazy, and words that fall under the political correctness no-no list are incredibly lazy words mostly used in sub-par jokes or to give emotional weight to a poor argument. The word fag isn’t just the sin of perpetuating systemic homophobia in a world where discrimination is still rife with real consequences; it’s also the sin of uncreativity. It’s a monkey word. It’s something I can picture chimpanzees saying before they fling crap at each other if they had the gift of human speech and access to a comment section. Cunt and tranny and towelhead and the like are somewhere between a finger painting and a grunt made while masturbating. It’s barely language at this point.

Free speech is actually not under any credible threat. Here’s a list of things that the Supreme Court declared free speech in the last ten years: Distributing animal cruelty videos, getting within 35 feet of Planned Parenthood so protestors can bother patients and standing on the sidewalk shouting homophobic insults at the father of a slain gay United States Marine at his funeral. No one actually needs to play the devil’s advocate on this issue because as those links show evil isn’t hurting for professional lawyers to plead its case.

Political correctness isn’t a threat to comedy. It’s a threat to stagnation. Any half-decent comedian not clinically high on the smell of his own hype has the crowd-watching chops to know which bits are working and which bits are falling stale, whether it's a crack about Monica Lewinsky or just a racially insensitive bit about cats and Chinese restaurants. That’s what people seem to forget about jokes. Jokes are supposed to make other people laugh. Humor and comedy and thought are all supposed to evolve, and we’re meant to be actively involved in that process both as content creators and as consumers. I would assume that most people would not like to go back to the days when you could pay a copper Lincoln to go see Sammie the Schizophrenic slowly rot untreated as if it was a Patton Oswalt set. Likewise, if you can’t be funny without navigating basic human decency in 2016, then you can’t be funny. 

Jef's collection of stories about vampires and drive-thru churches, The Rook Circle, is out now. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner