When is Comedy Not Funny?

Humor, by its nature, is subjective. Comedy, by its nature, often offends. The dictionary defines comedy as jokes and sketches that make people laugh, but comics today find that not everyone laughs at the same stuff. What is funny to one sometimes offends another, and while that was always the case, offended parties today have a way of making their dissatisfaction more publicly known.

Which makes it hard for funny people. Especially people who are funny for a living.

“I think what we’ve reached now seems to be a point where anything that seems to be the slightest bit critical of any group or individual is out of bounds, and what people don’t understand is that ALL humor is essentially critical,” says funnyman John Cleese of Monty Python fame.

Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam’s 30-year-in-the-making film “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” opens this weekend. He says in a recent interview that striking the balance of satire in “The Life of Brian” is more important today than it was in the film’s time. He says the movie might not have been made if today’s standards were applied.

Has a politically correct climate killed comedy?

Mel Brooks thinks so. “We have become stupidly politically correct, which is the death of comedy.” Can’t be blunter than that.

But Ken Webster Jr., a stand-up comic and host of the “Pursuit of Happiness” political talk show afternoons on KPRC AM 950, finds more nuance in today’s broad variety of humor. Webster says stand-up today consists of sub-genres that appeal to specifically targeted audiences, including black, gay, blue, clean, Christian stand-up comedy, what have you. “There is a subgroup of stand-up comedians who have been rejected by the mainstream establishment of stand up comedy because they are too edgy, and that has made them more popular with a sub-cult of people.”

So “political incorrectness,” playing off the term that gained cache in the 1980’s, has become its own niche of comedy. That’s funny.

For the young talent like Ken Webster Jr. who are moving in to comedic prominence today, comedy isn’t dead, it’s continuing a path of social evolution that finds all people still have a funny bone, and still like to laugh. Dionysia introduced comedy to the Greeks as a form in 486 BC, and it’s not ready to exit stage left any time soon.

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