The Strange Death of Comedy

Jul 30, 2018

Tell a joke now and who knows who you might offend? Identity politics is taking the fun out of just about everything. This is – no fooling – a very serious problem. Actor/Comedian Owen Benjamin explains why and what needs to be done about it.

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Comedy is important to a society—it’s a pressure valve that allows us to discuss uncomfortable truths in a friendly way.

  • Comedy plays a vital role in society, providing a break from everyday life and fostering a sense of community.View Source
  • Good comedy, just like influential people and ideas, has broad appeal and, in that sense, helps unify people.View Source
  • Studies have shown that laughter promotes strong relationships. “Laughter establishes — or restores — a positive emotional climate and a sense of connection between two people, who literally take pleasure in the company of each other,” Psychology Today reports.View Source

More and more comedians are avoiding college campuses. Why? Academia’s embrace of political correctness.

  • In 2014, Chris Rock said he stopped performing on campuses because of academia’s desire “not to offend anybody.”View Source
  • Jerry Seinfeld said in 2015 that he won’t play college campuses because they’ve become too politically correct.View Source
  • John Cleese of Monty Python fame said in 2016 that he avoids college campuses because of the obsession with political correctness.View Source
  • WATCH: Owen Benjamin discusses “comedy in the age of political correctness” on “The Rubin Report.”View Source

The more political correctness is imposed, the less room there is for comedy—which is crucial in maintaining a healthy society.

  • The embrace of political correctness has increasingly resulted in comedians being censored in various venues and platforms. In 2014, students at UC Berkeley launched a petition to stop liberal comedian and political commentator Bill Maher from speaking on campus, claiming he was known to make comments that were “blatantly bigoted and racist.”View Source
  • Comedian Owen Benjamin was also banned from Twitter in 2018 for making a joke about anti-gun activist David Hogg.View Source
  • Benjamin was previously disinvited from a show at UConn in 2017 for criticizing giving hormone replacement therapy to young children.View Source
  • WATCH: Owen Benjamin discusses the dangers of political correctness on “The Andrew Klavan Show.”View Source

The Left’s obsession with identity politics is killing comedy.

  • Bill Murray said in 2018 that the increased focus on identity politics is making comedy “harder and harder.”View Source
  • Monty Pythons’ John Cleese said in 2016 that political correctness has been taken “to the point where any kind of criticism of any individual or group could be labeled cruel.”View Source
  • The dramatic decline comedy, says comedian Owen Benjamin, is a direct result of the Left’s, and the Democratic Party’s, embrace of identity politics.View Source
  • WATCH: Comedian Owen Benjamin discusses political correctness and comedy on “The Michael Knowles Show.”View Source

Late-night hosts have increasingly embraced divisive partisan politics over more broadly appealing and unifying comedy.

  • The original host of “The Tonight Show,” Johnny Carson, said being political would “hurt me as an entertainer, which is what I am.”View Source
  • Now, most late-night hosts openly promote partisan politics — and almost uniformly from the Left.View Source
  • Jimmy Kimmel openly announced he doesn’t care about losing Republican viewers.View Source
  • After the 2016 election, late night comedians noticeably focused disproportionately on anti-Donald Trump jokes.View Source
  • “Sarah Silverman was hilarious,” said comedian Owen Benjamin. “Amy Schumer was hilarious. Chelsea Handler was hilarious. And you watched them turn into these propagandist creatures.”View Source

Three white men walk into a bar. You’re a racist!

Is that a joke?

In today’s hyper-sensitive world, it’s hard to know what’s funny anymore. And as someone who makes his living as a comedian, that’s a big problem.

Ask Jerry Seinfeld. He’s announced he won’t play college campuses. He doesn’t want to deal with all the political correctness. And he’s not exactly edgy.

Comedy is important. Why? Because it’s a pressure valve that allows us to discuss uncomfortable truths in a friendly way—laughs are better than punches.

But identity politics is killing the gag. How many times have you heard someone say something like this:

“You’re not black, so you don’t know what it’s like to be me.”

“You’re a man, so you can’t have an opinion about any issues affecting women."

 “As a left-handed, pansexual leprechaun, only I really know about elevator safety.”

Comedy only works when we agree on certain realities.

Take this joke. “Why do you always go fishing with at least two Baptists? Because if you only take one, he’ll drink all your beer.”

The reason this gets a laugh is because most of us recognize that many religious people are a little more religious around other religious people. That hypocrisy is funny because everybody can relate to it on some level. We’re all a little hypocritical now and then. The problem is that today, fewer and fewer people seem to agree on the basics. You know—shared assumptions.

I recently did a joke on stage: “People keep comparing Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. He’s nothing like Hitler… Hitler would’ve never let CNN talk like that. Anderson Cooper wouldn’t have made it through the Night of Long Knives.”

There are people that don’t understand that joke. And the reason is, that joke requires us all to agree—and, stick with me here—that Hitler was a bad, bad man, and that the Night of Long Knives was a bad, bad thing, and that President Trump—whether you like him or not—isn’t anything like that bad, bad man who did that bad, bad thing. And I wouldn’t want him to be!

But, since we now live in a world where some stupid people like Hitler, and some other stupid people think Trump is Hitler—well, we just can’t agree that this obviously absurd joke is funny. We can’t even agree that it’s obviously absurd.

How about this: “Why did the chicken cross the road? Why is the rooster being paid more for crossing the same road?” Is that absurd enough for you?

During the run-up to the release of the movie Black Panther, all of the marketing push was about how—finally!—there was a black movie made by black people with black people for black people. I found this to be fairly hilarious, so I simply took any statement about the film and responded as a white person that actually had that insane way of viewing the world:

“I just saw the trailer for Black Panther. Ugh. No white people. Looks terrible. Hard pass! Who am I supposed to relate to? No one’s white.”

Not one, but two prominent black actors—Don Cheadle and Jeffrey Wright—started tweeting me about how it’s time black people had a movie and how I should be more sensitive to their situation. Keep in mind, both of these black actors are already rich and famous.

I figured this was such an obviously satirical take on identity politics that no one could miss the joke. Nope! I was releasing a little social stress through satire. That’s what comedians are supposed to do.

Releasing social stress used to be the special task of late night comedy—the place that everyone could meet at the end of a long day. But that’s dead, too. Nobody takes themselves more seriously than these former comedians. Seems like Jimmy Kimmel cries more often than he tells jokes these days, and Stephen Colbert is just Rachel Maddow with punchlines. As if we weren’t already divided enough, they’re only telling jokes for half the country now.

There’s no shortage of things to laugh about. We just need to find them. Together. And if we don’t, we’ll explode.

And that’s not a joke.

I’m Owen Benjamin for Prager University.

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