I’m all for edgy comedy, but sometimes a comedian can go too far in his/her act and potentially cause some real hurt to people. Tracy Morgan’s now-infamous recent comedy routine some hateful rhetoric against gays (especially children) and the politically-correct world freaked out about it, so now Mr. Morgan is on a mea culpa tour to make things right.
It’s a good start, but it does raise an interesting question about when that kind of comedy is funny and when it’s hurtful.
First a little background, just in case you haven’t heard the story. On June 3rd, Tracy Morgan was doing stand-up in Nashville and said some really angry things relating to gay kids. He said that if his son ever announced that he was gay, he’d pull out a knife and stab him. He said that kids getting bullied needed to quit whining and fight back (though he used more colorful language.)
Naturally, in a time in which the media and general public have become increasingly aware of bullied gay (or questioning) kids killing themselves because they couldn’t take any more torment, these kind of remarks can hit home. While some people might interpret his statements as being deliberately over-the-top as part of some kind of character, others will hear them and think that Mr. Morgan is expressing his true feelings on the matter.
As for me, I don’t know whether he was trying to be funny or not. I just know that it didn’t make me laugh — my first reaction was to be shocked and appalled that anyone would say such a thing out loud, much less a celebrity with a lot of verbal reach.
Other celebrities who know Mr. Morgan immediately rushed to his defense, saying that he’s not a hateful person and he just went too far in a comedy routine. There are even plenty of people who’ve weighed in on the matter who don’t know Tracy, but who are defending his right to say what he wants and to strive for the kind of sensational, edgy comedy that many successful comedians are known for.
Which got me thinking… What if this was a comedian that I knew well and loved? What if a comedian beloved by the gay community, but with a hateful “schtick” that was known to be satirical, had said something similar? More to the point: would we be freaking out if Lisa Lampanelli, the so-called “Queen of Mean” who has made a career out of going way over the line, had said the same exact things that Tracy had said?
I know I wouldn’t. If Lisa has said the things Tracy did, I would’ve gasped out loud, covered my mouth, and shaken my head while laughing. If would’ve been a “Oh my God, she did NOT just say that!” kind of moment, and I would have probably been delighted at how much she had pushed the boundaries of taste and judgment.
So why the double standard? I think because comedians like Lisa go out of their way to make it clear they don’t believe the hateful nonsense that comes out of their mouth, and that they are saying these things purely in jest as a send-up to the kind of morons that really do believe that stuff. (Much like the character of Stephen Colbert takes regular conservative style or political views and goes so far to the extreme that it’s funny, in a satirical way, without being hateful towards mainstream conservatives who probably barely recognize themselves in his routines.)
It’s the difference between laughing with> us, and laughing at us. If satire is what Tracy was going for, then the worst he’s guilty of is a botched delivery. I suppose we’ll never know, but his public statements of apology are hopefully an insight into how he really feels, not just a staged PR reaction.