The War on Comedy
Posted 04/08/2022 02:05PM

The War on Comedy

by: Max Porter

On Sunday, March 27, tens of millions witnessed one of the most shocking live television moments of all time at the Academy Awards, commonly known as the Oscars. Chris Rock, a world-renowned comedian that has been around for decades, was presenting the award for Best Documentary Feature. In true fashion, he tried to make jokes to introduce the naming of the award recipient. One of them targeted Jada Smith, an actress and the wife of Will Smith. Jada Smith has an autoimmune condition known as alopecia, a sudden hair loss disease caused by the immune system attacking hair follicles. Referencing the movie G.I. Jane, about a fictional character who is the first woman to undergo special operations training in the military and therefore has to shave her head, Rock said, "Jada, I love you. G.I. Jane 2, can't wait to see you." After seeing his wife's visible disapproval of the dig, Will Smith walked on stage and slapped Rock across the face. At first, the audience thought it was a skit. Smith then sat back down and screamed, "Keep my wife's name out your f*****g mouth." The venue and viewers of the Awards grew silent and were stunned realizing that this was no act. However, the dismay caused by the slap is unnecessary; the reaction of Will Smith is a microcosm of the harmful trend in increasing negative perception towards comedy.

Every human adaptation has been brought about to promote the well-being of the species; this includes the ability to make jokes and be amused. Laughter has been shown to have numerous health benefits, like relaxing the body's muscles for up to 45 minutes, decreasing the presence of stress hormones, increasing the release of feel-good chemicals such as endorphins, improving the functioning of blood vessels, and in some cases even lengthening peoples' lives. After all, there is a reason why the saying "laughter is the best medicine" exists. Comedy can also have social benefits. Studies demonstrate that laughter attracts people, strengthens relationships, and helps defuse conflict.

So, with all these positives, why are people, like Will Smith, trying to restrict the ability of individuals to make jokes and laugh? Many types of jokes in today's society target parts of peoples' identities in a comical way, like political affiliation, religion, and origin. For something to be a part of one's identity, the individual must believe wholeheartedly in the righteousness of the ideal because it reflects who they are. Therefore, when this identity is joked about, even with good intentions, it feels like an attack and threat on the person's very existence, causing one to defend themselves through getting offended and projecting their own resentment onto others. What does not help with the prevalence of inflated reactions to offensive jokes is the increasing division in every aspect of life and identity, causing even mildly insulting jokes to arouse anger. To be clear, insulting comments with no pun about sensitive subjects should not be made; these remarks do not improve the health and relationships of anyone.

While individuals absolutely have the right to get offended by jokes and feelings are important, people also have the equally important right to speak freely. Comedy is subjective and not everyone will find the same things funny or, contrarily, offensive. Therefore, in the interest of utilitarianism, instead of people blatantly restricting the ability of others to joke about something that they perceive as offensive, those who know they get offended by certain topics should take individual steps to avoid hearing inflammatory comments. They could also criticize those making the jokes in a constructive manner. With the many benefits of laughter and the reality of freedom of expression, the war on comedy, while well-intentioned, is a detrimental step backwards. In a world where it is difficult to not see or hear about despair, comedy is sometimes the only escape.


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