Dina Hashem told a hilarious joke in a comedy set and Comedy Central shared the video on social media. This would normally be a huge deal for a young comedian, but in this case it all went horribly wrong. After complaints from the joyless Twitter mob, the network took it down. Not only was her video scrubbed, but Hashem has been getting death threats for having made the joke in the first place.
The joke was about XXXtentacion, a rapper who has been dead for over a year. Celeb death is fair game for humour. In fact, everything is open for being laughed at. If a joke isn’t funny, people won’t laugh at it. That’s the only way to tell if it’s a bad joke.
Humour is meant to push boundaries. There’s a reason kids joke books about how to see time fly and interrupting cows just aren’t that funny: the jokes have no sharp edges. The best jokes challenge us and our status quo. Just try to watch this without laughing.
Even the most offensive, horrible events or situations can be made funny. The reason we laugh at them isn’t because they are not offensive, but often because they are. Comedy Central should know this. They brought us South Park, after all, arguably the most offensive show ever to grace the airwaves.
Comedy Central has one job: to make funny content. Their job isn’t to make funny content that isn’t offensive, or to make funny content that pleases everyone, or even that everyone laughs at. They used to know that, but they’re getting lost in all this stupidity along the way. Comedy Central has lost their nerve, and their sense of humour.
South Park emerged in a different era, when people were interested in pushing boundaries, in laughing at things they weren’t supposed to. How could jokes about a kid dying after shoving a tampon up his ass be acceptable but one about how a guy maybe shouldn’t carry his money around in his hand be cancel worthy?
Now we’re all so afraid of owning our true selves that we insist we don’t find things funny that we actually find funny. What we are afraid of is people thinking bad things about us. That’s literally our whole motivation. We behave on the outside as though we are shocked and dismayed by offensive jokes but then turn around and laugh when we think no one can hear us.
We used to be okay with taking risks, with standing out, with bucking the crowd. We were honest with ourselves about what we found funny and why. It’s because we didn’t second guess ourselves or worry constantly that our intentions would be misconstrued. Now we wonder if our very laughter will signal something horrible about ourselves to anyone who happens to be observing and we will be taken down.
There’s nothing wrong with making jokes about public figures, or the stupid ways that people die. Joking about death is how we avoid taking life too seriously. It also is completely nonsensical to threaten someone with death because they joked about death. It’s the social media version of a parent saying “I’ll give you something to cry about.”
After Comedy Central pulled the clip, comedian Colin Quinn stood up for Hashem’s right to free speech:
Quinn has a history of not caring who he pisses off, and Comedy Central should be paying attention. They should also be listening to Hashem’s crowd, because they were laughing. Just like with Louis C.K., who showed up as a surprise guest in Brooklyn to big laughs and cheers from the crowd only to be ridiculed online, the proof of Hashem’s humour is in the laughs.
Hashem apologized for the joke. “I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone’s feelings, that’s never what I want. I’m a comic and use jokes to try and make dark topics less painful but I realize not everyone feels that way, and don’t want anyone to feel badly. It was taken down and won’t air on TV.”
So, a well-crafted, well-executed joke will no longer air on TV. Great. This is only a victory for censorious scolds. For everyone else, it’s a straight-up loss.
Comedians need to stop apologizing for being funny just because some people can’t take a joke. If we go back to the place where people didn’t apologize to the pitchfork mob, the mob would lose its power. They are only powerful because we keep giving them power, and like a mold, it grows because we let it grow. The key is to scrub the mob, not be scrubbed by it.
The social justice left has its hands well around the throat of comedy. They promote unfunny anti-comics like Hannah Gadsby. They demand that funny jokes that don’t meet with their world-view be pulled, and replaced with jokes that promote values of some kind.
But jokes aren’t meant to promote anything except laughs. The only criteria for whether a joke is good or not is if it’s funny, not if it doesn’t make people mad. Those who believe that jokes about death are worthy of sending death threats to the comic have a really skewed vision of justice and comedy. Keep the comic alive to make the jokes about the dead, and let the dead fend for themselves.