In ancient mythology a hero was the representation of the triumphant spirit of humanity. The hero was pitted against insurmountable odds but would persevere in the end. Another less renowned character in these stories was the clown. This character represented the absurd and the laughable idea of trying to be a hero at all.
These are two lenses through which to view comedians. Dane Cook and Daniel Tosh have recently made headlines over their offensive jokes. Tosh made light of rape and Cook made light of the recent shootings in Aurora, Colorado. The question over boundaries of jokes has surfaced amidst these two stories. What is off-limits? What is too offensive?
On the one hand it’s easy to identify the stand-up comedian as the clown because their goal is laughter. They celebrate the pratfalls and shortcomings of humans, trying to take away the seriousness of life often afforded to the hero.
Looking at these recent controversies however it seems that offense and personal outrage seem to be the new age obstacles that look to control comedians’ fates. This molds the comedian into an unlikely Hero. It takes courage and determination to dare to offend when there’s always a possibility that you’re being recorded.
For this reason it’s probably good to question why we laugh in the first place. Stephen Colbert famously said that, “You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time…If you’re laughing, I defy you to be afraid.” In other words laughter is a way to alleviate fear and pain. It’s a way to circumvent the natural response of fearful events. The fear of something lends power to it. The ability to mock something only weakens it. True, jokes about rape and mass murder will not extinguish such events but I think the end goal of laughter is to try and take away the pain of seriousness that so dominates our lives.
To my personal dismay both comedians apologized for the jokes. Perhaps this was PR motivated, after all comedians know if they apologize quickly enough the spotlight will disappear and they can go back to making equally offensive jokes about different topics. Satire’s greatest asset is its own disconnect from reality through the use of irony and hyperbole. Daniel Tosh thought that the audience member was taking his set too seriously—a mortal sin in a comedy club. Dane Cook’s joke was about how bad he thought The Dark Knight Rises was.
One thing we need to realize is that there is a disconnect between a comedians personality on and off stage. Who they are and what they say on stage are as disconnected as Batman and Christian Bale. The laughter Tosh and Cook are trying to garner is not a sign that they approve of the existence of these controversial events. Comedians are a special kind of hero in that they use their powers to extinguish our absurd seriousness. Perhaps in a world saturated with 24-hour cable news and high terror alerts we could try to remember that next time we’re in a comedy club.
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About the Author: Nate Rankin writes Comedy Reviews and Fiction because no one taught him any better. His fiction has been featured by Workers Writes, theNewerYork! and Used Gravitrons and is forthcoming in The Green Blotter. His work can be seen here: http://iamseamus.tumblr.com/writing You can find him on the Tweety Box @CommanderSeamus If you'd like to submit a review inquiry please send to nrankin22[at]gmail[dot]com