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Humor is just another defense against the universe. - Mel Brooks
Can we talk…about Joan Rivers? Because it’s hard to deny she has a penchant for controversial humor. Actually, as we know it, humor is the ability to be comic, provide laughter. That’s never been a problem for Rivers; she’s funny. It’s the subject matter of her jokes that are, in part thanks to the media’s attention, up for debate as to whether or not they are funny. There lies the problem: dissecting her jokes to decide whether or not they’re offensive. In theory, anything can be funny. Jokes are a way of laughing about things that may be difficult, real, and or troubling. Or they can be an outlandish statement that’s an obvious lie designed to make you laugh. To quote Paul Provenza, that’s what Joan does: “challenge authority, question prevailing attitudes and mores, and tap specifically into perspectives that are not necessarily ‘acceptable’ to voice." Not everyone digests them as they were intended but that’s not her problem nor should it be. And here’s why.
Lately she has made some jokes about President Obama being gay and Michelle Obama being a “tranny.” At worst, they were in bad taste, but clearly jokes. Almost instantly she was labeled a “racist,” a “homophobe” and “transphobic.” Which is rather unnecessary considering this woman has the status of a gay icon. It so simple and naive to condense Joan’s jokes and translate them to equate her being racist, homophobic, any-group-she-may-have-offended-ist. She’s hardly that. Would a racist have two African-American assistants? Would a homophobic person have an openly gay co-worker or accept being Grand marshal at pride?
Now, in this era of social justice blogs, it appears comedy should almost not exist because everything must be politically correct. A lot of what Joan has said gets taken seriously, as if she is some evil old lady who is plotting the demise of a social group. Newsflash: she is not, she is doing her profession. When she made a bold statement saying certain Palestinians, those who stay back after being told to evacuate, “deserved to be dead,” it was presented as if she only wished death on them. A few, namely users on this site, are foolishly saying that her medically induced coma was karmic. They call her vile, awful, a plastic surgery nightmare. And you know what, she would be the first to make fun of herself for all those things. She wouldn’t care, as long as she got a laugh. But what does that make the people who are now relishing in Joan’s current condition? Aren’t they the same type of people they claim she is (only worse because they’re not joking)?
My point in writing this isn’t to defend Rivers’ comments, some which I have found to be funny, others not so much. That’s how comedy works: material is tested, if it works it resonates well, and if not, then it’s the opposite. Although I will say, to better understand who Joan Rivers is, watch Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. (It’s a rare, vulnerable look at the mind of comic, and how constant work is the only option in an industry that spits out the elder players.) My point is to remind people that comedy is not intended to be taken seriously. Comedians aren’t these villains waiting to plot against humanity. They’re not some poisonous group waiting to offend or inflict pain on others. (That’s what politicians are for. Just kidding. Sort of.) Comedians are artists who use humor, a “defense against the universe," to make tragedy into comedy.