Recently Todd Phillips, director of the Hangover movies and the new The Joker origin story film, recently said in a Vanity Fair article that he decided to move away from comedy because it's impossible to be funny in this new “woke” culture. To be fair, the comedy landscape doesn't look anything like his genre of “bro humor” that the hangover moves fall into. Maybe I’m not the right one to critique. Those movies are literally not for me. They are for bros. But I found his assertion that nothing funny is being created anymore to be extremely short sighted. To say that comedy is dead is to miss the many great comedians and comedies currently in existence that do so without resorting to irreverence for irreverence sake or majorly offending anyone. Their tone is different than the Hangover etc. But that doesn't mean that it isn’t funny.
Comedians like Jim Gaffigan or John Mulany are hilarious, and they manage to do so without being cruel or profane simply for the sake of edginess.. John Mulany makes jokes about Catholicism, Judaism, his parents, and his significant other without ever seeming like he’s attacking anyone. Jim Gaffigan manages to be open and personal about his home life and faith all while making fun of those things but in a way that never seems mean spirited.
Comedies like Brooklyn 99, Superstore, The Good Place, and Bob Burgers all have their moments of irreverence or potentially offensive jokes. The Good Place is literally about a made up version of the afterlife. It has the potential to offend every religion ever, but it’s tone keeps it from doing that all while still being “forking” hilarious. Superstore both mocks religion at times but also characterizes some of its very religious characters as overall kind people. Brooklynn 99 had punchlines about cannibalism, prison violence, and crime, and still it maintains its air of warmth that keeps it from ever feeling like it went too far. Bob’s Burgers features children saying things that would be very jarring if a kid said it in real life. And yet, the tone never feels like a punch. Maybe it’s tougher now to make people laugh without making someone one on twitter mad. But the idea that comedy is dead is just lazy.
Because of all this discussion of comedy and the right or wrong way to do it, a Larry King interview with infamously profane comic George Carlin has resurfaced. In it he speaks about the comedic tradition of punching up rather than down while he gives some nuanced criticism of the jokes of another comedian. I actually agree that punching up is funnier than punching down. But maybe, the idea that comedy always has to punch is part of the problem. Obviously we still want our punchlines. We still want to laugh. But what if there’s a way to be hilarious that doesn't require mean spiritedness. There is a way to make fun that is still good natured. And maybe in an extremely divisive time, the reason “bro humor” isn’t what it used to be is because we need less “bro” and more “ensemble”. We need shows that show very different people coming together to be an awesome police precinct, run a burger joint, or manage a department store . And yes those people should still be ridiculous and still make us laugh. But maybe we don’t have to sacrifice kindness to do it.
Strange Perspective is a unique weekly look into today's pop culture by Progress columnist Rachel Strange.