Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Offensiveness and comedy

XM Radio has 2 comedy channels. One is labeled family-friendly and one is labeled "XL" which means "parents beware!" I guess.

In need of a good chuckle, I was listening to them today and I had a profound realization about offensiveness, history and comedy.

On the "clean" channel, they often have comics from yesteryear. Today I was listening to someone (probably from the 70s) talk about how they had were tired of seeing all those "rice-burner cars made by slanty-eyed Japs" coming into the country. He did have some funny jokes about the differences between Japanese economy cars and American muscle cars, but he kept using the phrase "slanty-eyed Japs" to help deliver his punchline.

Next it played something by Henny Youngman. Henny is famous for putting down his wife in his acts. The ol' "take my wife, please" routine. After about 3 minutes of him, I couldn't stand it anymore.

So I switched to the "XL" station. I listened to some comic go through his morning routine and chuckled. He talked about the alarm clock, the morning shower, the coffee and his f*cking toaster. He dropped the f-bomb one time to emphasize how the toaster can screw up his day if the bread burns.

When his skit was over, I changed the channel to some music. And thought. While I'm not against raciness in comedy, I was offended. I think there is an important and strong tradition in using comedy to be offensive and challenge the norm.

But I wasn't offended because a comic alluded to his fornicating toaster. I was offended by the topics of the "clean" channel. If I was a parent, I wouldn't want my kids listening to such blatant sexist and racist jokes. I'd much rather have them hear about a fucking toaster than a man complain about his wife for 3 minutes.

But now I'm thinking about how things change as offensive. Jokes that repeat "slanty-eyed Japs" would never pass muster, but Carlin's Seven Words You Can Never Say On Tv are still taboo. When my kids grow up, I'm sure I'l hear most of them on prime-time television. What will be a no-go zone for the next generation?

UPDATED: On a similar topic...go check out this 1968 advertisement.