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Has political correctness gone mad? 'Comedians must be allowed to offend'

Comedians are at the forefront of a battle against an assault on free speech, writes Seán Connolly.

Seán Connolly

POPULAR YOUTUBER PEWDIEPIE has been dominating the headlines this week because of a variety of perceived anti-semitic jokes in his videos. Initially reported by the Wall Street Journal, this story exploded and ultimately lead to Pewdiepie getting dropped by Disney.

Some of our best-known comedians have called on the Government to introduce an exemption from defamation for comedy, “to allow citizens think, laugh and collaborate”. The Journal.ie itself carried a story recently about an offensive MC at a Galway comedy night.

Could comedians be at the forefront of a battle against an assault on free speech?

Should comedians be allowed to offend?

Should comedians be allowed to offend? Or should comedy be censored so that it is politically correct? Personally, I agree with the former.

I feel that there should be no enforced censorship in comedy. All censorship ever does is make the thing that people want to censor more powerful.

Many people complain about the “snowflake” generation of millennials who are offended by everything. I’d offer a different point of view. In the past, comedy has been perfectly happy to have people of a certain gender, race or sexuality as the butt of a joke. We aren’t anymore.

Listening to their audience

shutterstock_87072482 David Mitchell found himself in hot water a number of years ago for an Anne Frank joke involving a drum kit. Source: Shutterstock/Featureflash Photo Agency

Comedians need to listen to the reasons people give for being offended, to take certain things on board, and to think critically about their comedy writing. This can only result in a better routine and jokes that appeal to a broader audience.

If you want to keep willingly making lazy jokes based on simplistic stereotypes, then you might have to just accept that you’re a person who deserves the hate they’re getting.

As adults, we should all be smart and aware enough to tell the difference between “this joke is annoying people for a pretty valid reason” and “this joke is annoying someone because their name is Steve and they don’t like how you pronounce Steve.”

Many comedians have weighed in on this issue over the years

For some, being mindful of what they say actually has creative benefits. Graham Linehan has his own rules for these challenges. He has said: “If the person I was making fun of contacted me, would I be able to defend it? If the answer is yes, I go ahead.”

If you’re going to offend, punch up. Take the piss out of people in power. Look at how well Saturday Night Live is doing these days.

Melissa McCarthy’s impression of Sean Spicer is hilarious because it both points out the absurdity of the man, and how the Trump administration can’t deal with any sort of criticism. What would ever be the point in using comedy to punch down or to bully instead? No point whatsoever.

You can joke about anything

David Mitchell found himself in hot water a number of years ago for an Anne Frank joke involving a drum kit, which he defended as “satirising the situation they were in”.

Mitchell himself didn’t write the joke, but defended it saying: “The tragic circumstances give it an edge and make the audience more likely to laugh, but that’s not the same as finding the Holocaust funny.”

I agree with Mitchell. You can joke about anything, but it’s the target of the joke that matters.

Seán Connolly works as a video producer for the popular Irish YouTube channel Facts. He studied Digital Media in the University of Limerick, and also creates a variety of video content for his own YouTube channel, where he can be found at youtube.com/SeanC .

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