There are many people who are easily offended. Their comedy sensibilities are seriously lacking, and instead of seeing the funny element of a joke, they concentrate on the stereotype being presented, and thus categorize the joke as “offensive.” This is not entirely accurate. However, all joking aside (I couldn’t resist the pun), there are some “jokes” that aren’t jokes–they’re just offensive statements.
I’m all about what someone I know once called “equal opportunity offenders.” Think Mel Brooks, Chris Rock, Kat Williams, Dave Chappelle. The greats tend to fall into this category. Equal Opportunity Offenders make jokes about every stereotype in the book; they can laugh at other people and at themselves. They don’t make these jokes to alienate, discriminate, devalue, or otherwise hate on individuals or groups of people. They make fun of everybody for the things we don’t necessarily choose, and some of the things we do: our race, our geographic location, our nationality, our religion, our sexual preferences, our genders, etc. But they do this as a method of moving the conversation toward larger issues, and the humor comes from the stereotype. We don’t laugh because we actually think all such-and-such people do/are this, but because its a stereotype of what that group is or does. Sometimes it’s true, but it’s not meant to be the kind of statement that narrows the possibilities of individuals.
However, there is another category of ‘comedian’–if one would deign to call them such–that doesn’t fall into these bounds. Let me explain with a short anecdote.
I was riding in a car with a large group of people when a country song I was unfamiliar with came on the radio. I found it a little distasteful (it was about “titties and beer”), but not offensive. I could chuckle at it. Yet, one line deeply disturbed me, and as everyone around me laughed it up, I sat stone faced: “Thank God I ain’t queer.” What?! That’s not funny. That’s not saying, ‘Hey, Gay men are like this and Women are like this, yuck yuck ha ha.’ That’s just a mean-spirited cut against anyone who categorizes themselves as queer. It’s a stupid and ignorant statement, not a funny one.
Another example: using language that is racist, unless you’re reclaiming it, is not funny. Ever. Black people can say the N-word in a comedic setting because it’s theirs to reclaim and refashion in meaning. Sorry, white people, it’s not yours in any manner except the racist one. So don’t use it in your comedy. Calling someone a nasty name based on their race or ethnicity often results in a few nervous chuckles, but it’s not funny; it’s racist. Same thing goes for any other nasty words directed towards women, gay people, and other minority groups. It’s not funny when you call someone a bitch or a fish wife or a fairy or a fag. It’s just not.
Being nasty toward people for things they don’t choose isn’t funny. It’s mean, nasty, and often falls into the category of one of the -isms (racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, etc.). Instead, why not focus on the little idiosyncrasies that make people funny in general. And if you’re gonna pick on one group, be prepared to pick on them all, including your own.