Humor to Address Differences in Race and Sexuality?

14 09 2009

Folks,

Many who do comedy use humor to address the tensions we have around race and sexuality.  Below are two links, the first from Letterman about same gender & heterosexual marriage and the second a commentary by African American commentator Yolando Young about what she calls a, “growing trend of black comedians chiding the pathologies that plague segments of the African-American community.” 

Please read and view the links under “Humor” and tell us what purpose YOU think humor has in addressing the tensions we feel around race and sexuality.

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20 responses

15 09 2009
Ryan Caouette

Race and sexual orientation have long been a few of the many topics that comedians have used in order to deliver punchlines, whether on late-night talk shows, during stand-up comedy routines, or when hosting award shows. The question, however, is whether such “heated” topics are appropriate for making jokes, and if so, when are they appropriate.
It is obvious that not everyone (especially those on the receiving end of the punchlines) will always find certain jokes to be funny. Even humor that is seemingly “innocent” is not immune from criticism; one only has to look at the controversy surrounding the joke David Letterman made this summer in regards to Sarah Palin’s daughter to prove this point. But it appears that certain issues–race and sexual orientation perhaps at the forefront– are more apt than others to generate debate. There are perhaps several reasons for this; historical persecution/ discrimination, political sensitivity, religious (in)toleration, etc. But humor (and, with the rise of a new breed of talk-show hosts, satire) is suppose to be a way for people to escape from the grind of daily life. Contrary to what some figures (Bill Cosby and Sarah Palin are just two individuals that come to mind) argue, a joke does not (or should not) have to be the true opinion of the speaker. It would be no fairer to say that Chris Rock is a racist because of his jokes concerning black culture than to say that an artist is insane because of their abstract art or than an author is a criminal because they write horror stories. There is, and needs to be, a difference between creativity and reality, imagination and truth.
Actors, directors, artists, and writers cannot be held to the same standard as politicians, businessmen, and academics. The former are entertainers; the latter have a responsibility, in what might be appropriately called “the real world,” to safeguard our interests and our liberties. If we begin to limit how humor is used, then we are already on our way to a creating a closed society, where freedom of expression is not important. Indeed, if such issues as race and sexual orientation are no longer suitable topics to draw jokes from, then humor and satire loose much of their influence and meaning, for the healthy critique of our values and the times in which we live are lost. And that is no laughing matter.

16 09 2009
Matty Lin

I think humor can make anyone feel better. As long as I have my best friends around to make me laugh, everything is great. 🙂

16 09 2009
Matty Lin

ps- GSA is meeting Fridays 1pm in the mondadnock lounge.. Zan- I don’t get how to post that on the actual blog lol so hopefully you can help out.

16 09 2009
Dawn K Stevenson

I think humor has a way of disarming some tensions. But in a paradoxical way, it can raise tensions, as well – typically when it veers somehow off track….
In that Young piece, I could certainly empathize with the sentiment that, “indeed, the notion of “ghetto” isn’t where you live, but where your head is”, and I’ve certainly had friends of different backgrounds respond this way to within group differences internal to their own culture, the way I might catch myself judging someone as “white trash” (yes, and I am oh so cultured!). But I have also seen this anger people and ignite hatred…the Bill Cosby vs Dave Chappell dialogue within the black community was a good example of this.
And, as an openly gay and married woman, who has a loving set of heterosexual parents who just celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary, I laughed quite a bit at the Letterman piece. Was I offended? Not at all. I don’t know what that says. There is one thing I do know: laughter is the best medicine.

21 09 2009
Kyle Brooks

i believe that human can be a positive and negative to this situation. Yes it does relieve a lot of tension, but it also can make others feel uncomfortable or even upset. In these cases there will always be “someone” who will get offended, but as long as it is appropriate, i believe human can be very positive and help relieve the tension that can brought with these tough issues.

21 09 2009
Kyle Brooks

i meant humor, not human, sorry for the confusion

21 09 2009
Mitch

I feel using humor to talk about serious issues is healthy. If we can’t laugh at ourselfs then whats the point.

21 09 2009
Tim

I feel that humor makes things more acceptable and eases people tension towards the subject. Some of the Breyer’s ice cream flavors were relatively accurate and described some of the people in the US.

22 09 2009
Sam Bizon

Why not just let some issues be? using humor or not, some issues just aren’t worth the time. I think I say this because it doesn’t directly affect me and I have no problem laughing at this, I thought it was witty.

22 09 2009
samuel willis

I think that the fact we are talking about comedians and how they poke fun at society is a joke all in itself. what are they supposed to talk about? i mean without comedy, like ryan said, we will become a close society.

22 09 2009
justin kaskel

I dont feel that society should be sticking their noses where it doesnt belong. If the Ben and Jerry’s company feels it necessary to push a product aimed towards the celebration of same-sex marriages with this one flavor, it will open the door to many other companies trying to boost their own consumer sales. This is just a specific target audience which the company is aiming towards. Personally I do not like the contents of the ice cream but if it was a flavor which i did enjoy, then the name would have no bearing on whether or not i choose to purchase that item. Furthermore, i dont feel that attacking the Ben and Jerry’s company would be the right thing to do, however Bryers knows exactly how to do it…haha funny stuff…

22 09 2009
Marzell

I believe humor is the easiest way for people to express their true feelings without the fear of severe repercussions or dislike. Only through humor can people see the other side of things and not attack it, instead we can talk about it afterwords good naturedly and speak civilly.

22 09 2009
Wilka Murphy

I am Puerto Rican, I was born in Puerto Rico but I was raised in Lawrence, Mass…there is a mixture of many Latino cultures there. It is very common for me to hear negative things being said about Lawrence and the gang violence and death that goes on due to the “aggressiveness” of the people who live there. Most of these acts are committed by Latino’s but I’d like to think that it is not because of their cultural backgrounds but because it is what they choose as their own free will as human beings in general. I am not ghetto yet some would say that I was but the way I chose to be influenced and the things I choose to influence me still makes me who I am, not what race I was born into. When I see comedy shows that make fun of Latino’s (in a classy and very true way) I do laugh because I see it every day. It is not that I am laughing at my “own kind”, I am merely accepting that this is the way that cultures sees us and if that is the way it is going to be, I can be graceful and accept it and have a good laugh while I am doing it. As long as I am comfortable laughing at something that is meant just to be funny and not take it too seriously then I can be more comfortable in the world and situations I am in. Besides, humor is a form of release, it connects cultures and forms bonds…if there was no humor in the choices we made or will make and the things that we saw or will see then life would fall short of its potential.

22 09 2009
Maegan

I think that the point of using humor was to make light of any critics that may have problems with the ice cream company recognizing gay marriage. The satirical nature of the fake Breyers commercials turned the focus on problems that heterosexual marriages have, and away from the “problem” of homosexual marriage.

I think it’s great that Ben and Jerry’s did this! :]

24 09 2009
Karen Wirein

I think humor is funniest when it points out our own hypocrisies. And in so doing, it illuminates them. Humor often hosts the first appearance of social change, and it’s a great way to start the social dialogue that must precede change. Humor is useful to remind us not to take ourselves too seriously.

26 09 2009
Eric Riley

Race and sexuality are very sensitve subjects.
However, when using humor, it lightens the mood a bit.
By taking a subject you would normally have to step lightly around, then confronting it head-on with a punchline, it makes you think about the topic in an optimistic way.
By doing so, you can see the subject in a better state of mind, which removes a bit of the sensitivity, eventually helping you arrive at a better result.

Plus, everyone enjoys a good laugh.
Why be serious when humor does the trick?

26 09 2009
John Abasto

I believe that humor is one of the leading factors that keep descrimination alive. What is seen as a trivial joke can be quite offensive to people of different ethnicity, race, sexuality, gender, etc.

26 09 2009
Hope Ball

I think that humor, in regards to sexuality and race, can have both positive and negative ramifications. Humor can lighten the mood about a serious issue and help to break the ice to get more people conversing.
A negative aspect is that depending on how the humor is worded then some people may have misperceptions about what is being said and may assume that the person is serious in what they are saying. This can result in tensions between people. Also, people need to realize that what they may view as humorous may not necessarily be viewed as such by others and could in reality be offensive to them.

26 09 2009
Hope Ball

I think that humor, in regards to sexuality and race, can have both positive and negative ramifications. Humor can lighten the mood about a serious issue and help to break the ice to get more people conversing.
A negative aspect is that depending on how the humor is worded then some people may have misperceptions about what is being said and may assume that the person is serious in what they are saying. This can result in tensions between people. Also, people need to realize that what they may view as humorous, may not necessarily be viewed as such by others and could in reality be offensive to them.

12 11 2009
Gabrielle Melancon

i think humor can be useful to ease tensions but there comes a point, in my opinion, where humor is incorrect. sometimes things can be uncomfortable so people make jokes as an icebreaker but when do you take things to another level? when do you address things that make you uncomfortable in a serious way and try to make a change? when do you leave humor behind and use other means of addressing issues? and how do you do it?

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