As society continues to become more tolerant of people of different beliefs, and awareness of political correctness increases when discussing race, religion and sexual orientation, the question “Have insults in the name of comedy gone too far?” garners more and more attention. Despite this question being raised frequently by the people who are defending the victims of comedians, others – oftentimes those in the comedy business – disregard the question, insisting political correctness has no place in the business of comedy.

We have had our share of multigenerational comedians, spanning from the likes of racially charged comedians such as Richard Pryor to politically controversial satirists like Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. The question remains, however; where do we draw the line with comedy and when should we take a step back?

It is time to take a few steps back and consider the dangerous direction that comedy has taken. It is too often that comedians defend his or her jokes when audiences become enraged and fight back. Although many argue that people can no longer say anything without someone being offended, I think it is time that we destroy the idea of politically incorrect insults being acceptable in the name of comedy. If insulting and degrading someone is the prerequisite for a successful joke, then comedians are going about creating their material the wrong way, especially when the material ridicules a person or group’s race, religion or sexual orientation.

The spotlight on controversial comedy has most recently focused on “The Daily Show,” which received backlash after a perceived attack on the religion of a member of the musical group One Direction. In the six-second media clip that has gone viral on Vine, correspondent Jessica Williams discusses a “new terrorist group being formed as you speak.” In delivering the crux of the joke, Williams includes the boy band, One Direction amongst real terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda and ISIS.

This most recent stunt by “The Daily Show” has taken what is not a laughing matter to begin with too far. Although the “Directioners” anger at “The Daily Show” holds merit due to the fact that Zayn Malik, one of the boy band members, is Muslim and openly supportive of his religion and culture, many argue that the backlash from the teenage “Directioners” is immature and that these girls fail to grasp the adult sense of humor of “The Daily Show.” While this zealous group of starstruck teens may be fueled by emotion, their outrage holds value. While a response from Comedy Central denies knowledge of Malik’s ethnicity, is it acceptable to compare a boy band to terrorist groups?

There is often a thin line between hate and humor when targeting a specific person or group. Despite my distaste at the extremes many comedians go to in order to achieve laughs, I do believe that there are instances when serious topics can be delivered as genuinely humorous jokes used to defuse an otherwise tense situation. There have been times when the satirical nature of “The Colbert Report” has called into question tense topics, but Colbert’s tongue-in-cheek delivery gives the show significant leeway.

For instance, when discussing the United States’ move to attack Syria, Colbert stated, “The United States has no choice but to attack Syria because Dictator Bashar al-Assad is killing his own people with chemical weapons. Before, he was just killing them with bullets. But if America cared about shooting people, we’d be invading Chicago.” Although he is taking a controversial topic and making light of it, Colbert does it in such a way that is not targeting a group of people based on race or ethnicity. Rather, he chooses to use humor to provoke thought and shed light on an important point: Oftentimes, the decisions our country makes in regards to external threats contradict and are hypocritical of the decisions made in similar internal situations.

So the question remains, when did it become both acceptable and humorous to make light of situations such as the growing threat of terrorism? Unlike Colbert whose satirical remarks serve to point out a flaw in society that needs to be addressed, the lighthearted discussion of an extreme form of violence that has had significant impact on our country is morally repugnant, especially given the recent horrific beheadings carried out by ISIS.

Furthermore, by making light of a serious situation and comparing it to a current pop band, it appears that we are accepting terrorism as something that is a laughable matter. This alone should prompt Comedy Central and other media outlets to reevaluate the intentions of their humor, as well as the sources from which they acquire their inspiration, before making light of such sobering topics.



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-- Online Editor-in-Chief Emeritus-- Digital Journalism

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