Censoring Comedy: Does It Suppress or Flourish Creative Freedom?

Everyone loves a good laugh. And it’s no dispute that comedy has often given us a respite from our everyday lives. However, there has been a divide between the notion that comedy should be politically correct, or that by censoring comedy, it runs the risk of being a dictated practice. As a disclaimer, I fully acknowledge that we have wildly different tastes in what we find funny. If you don’t perceive my preference as being hilarious, it’s perfectly fine.

Comedy has been around since 425 BC from Aristotelian to Sanskrit plays, up to Shakespearean and English pantomimes. It’s a light-hearted form of storytelling. It forms a foil against the darker aspects of humanity. Shakespearean comedies appeared as such because they focus on happy endings such as the marriage between the two characters. Then there is something called ‘Comedy of Manners’ where the focal subjects regard the witty banter and scandal surrounding the plotline: say, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde’.

Today, it has evolved to the understanding of what we know now: Comedy that produces laughter in slapstick, and sometimes obscene ways. These comedies that are termed as ‘obscene’ do not bode well with scholars, especially those of the conservative kind. We shall then address the purported ‘comedic freedom’ that many comedians are attempting to push, and the people who are against that notion.

Are those that are anti-obscene really ‘sensitive’? Let’s see!


‘Political correctness’

It is almost by nature that comedy tells of the subversion of expectations. A lot of punchlines focus on the tripping of sensitive topics such as racism, ethnicity, sexism, and stereotypes to flourish in its double entendre. There have been statements by comedians who reason that the current climate of ‘political correctness’ has developed a ‘sensitivity’ among listeners and watchers. Such ‘sensitivity’ results in changing responses to comedy and jokes.

Chris Rock told the New York Magazine that he stopped playing colleges because they are too conservative in the sense that “their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody” has disturbed or downgraded comedic art. Russell Peters said that “society has become too sensitive” and that self-censorship would ruin the nature of comedy.

There are others who say that political correctness in comedy hasn’t actually stemmed the creative flow of jokes. In fact, it has opened up a new arena of quality comedy and good taste. One can argue that comedy doesn’t have to offend; it can simply shed light on what we consider ‘funny’ in these times. It seems that comedians are now realising that their words have repercussions and are thinking twice before picking on a sensitive topic that may overturn the expectation of their reception.

There is a mountain of success to be discovered once you’re well-informed on how some jokes may trigger another person. I’d like to recall that this sort of political correctness is maybe not being ‘sensitive’, but perhaps, merely, educated? After all, educated humour is one of the best types of humour to surround yourself with, and proves that what some people may consider ‘banal topics’, may be of utter interest to another?


Responsible and quality comedy

Comedy can be tasteful, and to those who say that there aren’t any good examples, may I introduce my favourite show(s) and comedian(s) who both don’t rely on crude telling of humour to make their audience laugh.


Source: Apple iTunes


Andy Samberg’s character – Jake Peralta – seats in an interrogation with his boss, Terry (by Terry Crews) as they both test out the lie detector. Jake assures that the lie detector is broken and asks Terry to quiz him. Upon asking if his favourite artist is Jay-Z, the lie detector shows that Jake’s – well – lying. “Is it? Or is your favourite artist really Taylor Swift?” Jake plays it off by saying that it’s a lie, before admitting that Taylor Swift makes him feel things. “She makes us all feel things!” Terry says in exasperation.

Brooklyn 99 (or ‘B99’ for abbreviation’s sake) shows that humour relies on the human experience, not stereotypes. The art and charm of B99 lies in its diverse cast of actors and actresses: from different races, creeds, and walks of life. The show includes characters of colour, and demonstrates the bonds between a ragtag group of police officers who solve crime and their own day-to-day shenanigans. Samberg himself stated that: “You want to hear jokes about life and things you can relate to. I don’t think this show will ever go out of its way to make comments in that regard.”


Source: The Guardian


Another comedic avenue that has gotten some flake for his lack of ‘risqué’ material is Michael McIntyre, a British comedian whose observances about the bourgeois life make up for the absence of R-rated punchlines. Some critics argue that Michael McIntyre’s humour is too “safe”, while comedy keeps on pushing the envelope of decency.



He doesn’t necessarily demonstrate a reliance on stereotypes to produce laughter from his audience, but rather focusses on his energy when he’s on stage. Part of this British comedian’s charm is that he connects with the audience by being campy enough to warm up the stage with his prances and exaggerated form of storytelling. I’ve watched a scene of his skits that left me in stitches without once needing to crinkle my nose at the fact that he insulted someone of my gender, race, or economic status. The audience should feel the same, for they too, seem like they’re having fun.

This could suggest the question of political correctness. Is it truly ‘politically correct’, or are we all better off as human beings with an increase of empathy, kindness, and respect to not use someone’s identity as a punchline?

McIntyre’s focus is on critical commentary, such as middle-class people in Waitrose, or how his family acts when they go for a holiday overseas. He rarely steps beyond the boxes that his comedy falls in, and it’s both unusual and familiar. Critics who state that he’s playing too safe can eat their words because the general consensus is that, Michael McIntyre is funny – and ridiculously successful.

These are just scratching the surface of my argument that comedy doesn’t have to be crude to be funny. There is an infinite number of ways to be funny without offending someone or playing into stereotypes to place a punchline in its right place, and I personally can’t wait to see how this new art form of comedy will flourish in the future.


Written by Tennielle Callista Chua

Featured image from iagreetosee.com

Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of IGNITE. 

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." (George Orwell, in Animal Farm, 1945)

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