When does a joke go too far?

In this week’s reading, Henry Jenkins talks about a “racist” joke that Sarah Silverman told in her film “Jesus is Magic”. Silverman refuses to apologize for the joke and said the joke was not racist, but about racism. This got me thinking about when a joke crosses the societally defined line of appropriate and inappropriate.

I believe that the line being crossed is not so much in the content of joke as its delivery. We have all come across someone at some point in our lives that has told an off-color or outright racist/inappropriate joke. Whether it be an older family member who “comes from a different time” or a peer, the so called joke evokes silence from the crowd or nervous laughter as to silently scream “I KNOW THIS IS WRONG BUT I’M TOO AFRAID TO SAY ANYTHING ABOUT IT”. However, when the punch line of a well-delivered joke has politically correct boundaries tested, the audience may be more willing to go with the flow and laugh. The laughter may be out of nervousness or cringey-ness, but it is laughter nonetheless.

One of the greatest examples of a joke that if an observer were to start to listen to mid-joke, they might not laugh or think the joke inappropriate, is Louis C.K.’s Saturday Night Live monologue. Yes, you know the one I am talking about. During the course of the joke CK mentions that they may never be invited back to host the show again and acknowledges the audience’s aversion to jokes regarding child molestation and racism. In true Louis style, he gently guides us into the realm of toeing the line and into his fucked up mind to a truly epic payoff. Enjoy.

Louis C.K. SNL Monologue

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