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Funny you should say that

Diverse city
By SHAY STEWART-BOULEY  |  June 22, 2011

I'm pretty confident in saying that humor is probably one of the key things that separates us humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. I mean, maybe animals have senses of humor, but I have yet to see any evidence that the smartest ones — dogs, pigs, dolphins, and simians — can understand a knock-knock joke, much less George Carlin or Dave Chappelle.

So it's with no small amount of dismay that I watch as many of those who champion diversity, tolerance, and equality seem all too willing to chop off our big comedic noses to spite our collective faces.

So far this month, we've seen comedian Tracy Morgan taken to task for what is being called a homophobic rant during his stand-up routine, in which, in part, he said that he'd kill his kid if he turned out gay. I've seen a multitude of mommy-bloggers and others in the general parenting-skills realm criticize or even revile the book Go the F**k to Sleep. And I've had a friend on Facebook express offense at some gay and lesbian jokes told during the Pride Festival this past weekend at Deering Oaks Park in Portland.

Let's start with that last one, since I was at the event, and heard some of the jokes in question. The MC at the event, a middle-aged gay man, made a number of jokes, both off-color and not, and many of them, unsurprisingly, LGBT-oriented. For example, he made some jokes about the need for same-sex marriage legalization, culminating in some comments that it would help the economy, because gay couples will be demanding wedding gifts of high-end Louis Vuitton sheets and such, while lesbian couples will be putting the expensive tools from the hardware store on their wish lists.

My friend, a straight woman, complained online that she was very offended and uncomfortable with those stereotype-laden jokes, as were several other women she knew who also attended the event. I don't know the sexual orientation of those other women. If they're lesbian, they might have a reason to complain; if not, they really don't. I have serious problems with people getting offended at jokes that play on stereotypes on behalf of the "offended" group, when the "offender" is a member of that group or a closely related group. I mean, if someone is entitled to tell some homosexual jokes, wouldn't it be a gay man? And I have a feeling a lesbian MC might have made similar jokes in which the gay men were obsessed with interior design or showtunes.

Likewise, the various mommy-bloggers who said that Go the F**k to Sleep is offensive to children have totally missed the point that the book is aimed at parents. Even the harsh language in the book is not spoken to a fictional child but encompasses the silent (and hilarious) ruminations of the beleaguered fictional parent voicing the foul-mouthed rant. Yet many of those critics remained offended, saying parents shouldn't even have such thoughts, much less joke about them.

As for Tracy Morgan — well, Tracy, I'm not sure I can defend you, dude. Part of your joke involved violence and hate toward a group to which you don't belong. However, even there, I have to remind myself that part of the job of professional comedians is not simply to entertain us but sometimes to push the envelope to reveal truths we don't otherwise talk about or think about, like attitudes within certain communities. That isn't always pretty to look at, and it won't be funny to everyone who hears it.

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Related: Gina Gionfriddo on the art of playwriting, Review: Henry's Crime, Review: Under the spell of Putnam County at TBTS, More more >
  Topics: The Editorial Page , Books, Parenting, George Carlin,  More more >
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