Not Crossing the Line

Posted on 25 February 2015

The more thoughtful comedians will regularly ask themselves with certain jokes, have I gone too far? Have I gone beyond the realms of both good taste and ethics? Am I now part of the problem and not the solution?

Over the last few years we have seen storms flash over rape jokes, racist politcal cartoons, gamer and intellegentsia misogyny. It would be far too easy for people to say that comedy encourages bad behaviour. But comedy is just a tool. You can use a hammer to build a house or to bash someone in the head. Upon each occasion of bad behaviour, regardless of the tool, we need to ask ourselves: how was the tool used and why?

If the tool was used to manipulate, dominate, punish, or control, then we have a big problem.

Emotions are an important part of how we navigate our environment, form relationships, and survive. Anger is part of the emotional tool set. Anger is not a problem, what a person does with it is. Anger is part of our fight or flight response and helps us to act forcefully in the moment to ensure our survival. A person can get angry that a company is endangering our environment by dumping chemical waste, then choose petitions and peaceful protest to see that it stops. A person can also get angry on this occasion, then choose to firebomb a factory, killing workers and stopping the production of those chemicals.

These are very different choices. I would say the second one is wrong. The first method enlists people’s cooperation and provides an ongoing process where further changes can be made. The second method denies the humanity of others and relies on domination and punishment to get its way. Sadly, people of all political persuasions feel it is necessary to use these methods now and again.

Other tools that get used include sex, money, and positions of power. No one should have to feel ashamed of their sexuality, but when sex is used to manipulate, dominate, and worst of all punish…all of a sudden it is very dangerous. The same is true of money and power. People will resort to abusing these tools when they don’t feel safe for some reason: they need emotional validation, they are frightened that their survival is at risk, they feel someone wishes to harm them. This can cause an over-inflated need to control.

If we do not understand why a person has harmfully used a certain tool, if they do not understand why they have wrongly used a tool, we take away the tool and they will just find another one and continue their destructive behaviour. If we punish them without understanding, we are likely to cause a person to feel more insecure and not cure a thing. It has to stop somewhere. It stops with insight and compassion.

As comedians, simply mocking people isn’t going to change the world. We have to look deeper and take aim at the core of each issue. This starts with having better awareness of our own motives and that of our culture, then seeing how that fits into the world picture. Keep questioning yourself, it will make you a more interesting and relevant comedian—someone people will remember and respect.

Peace and kindness,


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