What’s funny and what’s offensive? The Aristocrats documentary falls short of any insight into the dividing line, although it’s universally acknowledged that the line is there and can be stepped over very easily, in fact there were two definite “not comfortable with this moments” in the documentary itself:
One was a comedian telling his version of the joke to his one year old son. The kid had no idea what his father was saying, but it still made me uncomfortable after all surely it is part of being a child, part of growing up that allows you to come across these terms in your own time and make your own decisions as to what you do and don’t find offensive.
The other was by a comedy writer turning the joke on it’s head and trying for an offensive “punchline”. This was actually done twice in the documentary, one worked very well, the other failed for me because of the language used (if you watch it, the one that failed is by the male comedy writer, the one that definitely worked is by the comedienne). Suffice to say that, for the one that failed, it used terms I’m not even comfortable posting here.
One comedy writer described the Aristocrats joke as a mirror, offering more about the comedian telling the joke than the audience laughing at it: “If the joke contains bestiality, don’t let him walk your dog”. But surely your reaction to these things also says something about you, and I guess it’s similar when discussing any taboo subject. EVERYONE has a reaction to the subject, it’s how you deal with the reaction, and deal with the information later on that makes us individuals.
However when you break these things down, it’s very easy to place some distance between yourself and the repulsive content you are discussing, as evidence by an editorial meeting shown at the offices of The Onion where they compile a list of possible topics, each one worse than the previous. Is ” ‘and then he fucked Jesus in the ass’ more offensive than any form of race-baiting?” they pondered (and apologies if… ohh you get the drift).
I think it would be pretty easy to write-up a list of possibly offensive topics, but one thing I noticed last night was that despite some of the topics being used in the joke being WAY beyond my personal radar of “acceptable humour”, I was laughing heartily. In fact it was the most laughs I’ve heard in a cinema for quite a while, even if they were all a little on the hysterical “I shouldn’t be laughing at this so I’ll laugh a little TOO hard lest anyone think I’m not a bit offended” side.
So it’s very easy to wrap this up, and stop waffling, by going for a simple closing along the lines of “each to their own, and be considerate of your fellow man”. But, you know what, fuck that. The entire POINT of the Aristocrats joke is to go too far, challenge your own taboos and take people in the audience with you. Maybe in this politically correct world we need a little more of that, a little more pushing back of the boundaries, some balls and bravado to say, fuck it. This is what I think, and I realise it may offend some people but that’s for THEM to deal with.
Of course I can’t leave it at that, the caveat being the it shouldn’t ever be deliberately aimed, deliberately focussed to cause offence or in any way hate related. We joke with some of our Muslim colleagues, and they constantly threaten to leave a backpack under our desks… WE know it’s a joke but have you been offended?
I’ll stop now and leave you with a throwaway joke from Bob Saget, as recounted by the woman he told it to:
“Bob said to me: ‘You know, you should leave a box of ultra-thin tampons lying around. That way, next time you take a date home he’ll think you’re really tight….'”.