Free speech is under attack! Or at least that’s what some comedians would have us believe.
It seems like every few weeks, a new comic pops up to go all “kids these days” and decry what they call a culture of political correctness. Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Patton Oswalt are all outspoken critics of this culture, especially when it comes to a comic’s haven: the college campus.
That’s why when I heard that comedian Sarah Silverman, who has never shied away from being politically incorrect herself, had weighed in on the debate over whether or not political correctness was destroying comedy, I figured it was more of the same.
I was dead wrong.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Silverman tackled the question with amazing nuance.
She began by stating a simple truth: You can’t please everyone.
Comedy, like any sort of creative media, is a subjective field. It’s inevitable that you’ll encounter some people who find your work offensive in ways.
This is a point often raised by comedians who push back against being politically correct. Which is why I was so surprised, and delighted, by where she took the answer next.
Silverman is calling on comedians to “change with the times, to change with new information.”
Whaaaaat? She’s siding with Team Be A Good Human? Yes! Join us, Sarah! We have cookies!
Silverman touched on one of her own comedy crutches and the evolution that led her away from it: her habit of calling things “gay.”
Clinging to that single word to describe something she found boring, annoying, exhausting, or otherwise not her cup of tea is ridiculous, to say the least.
Why was she clinging to that word so tightly, she wondered. And how would it sound years from now?
So she scrubbed that use of “gay” from her vocabulary, and it turns out it wasn’t really all that inconvenient.
If calling things “gay” was hurtful to people, why do it? As a comedian, isn’t her job to bring joy to others? She knew for sure it wasn’t her job to reinforce negative stereotypes about the existence of an entire group of people.
And she decided to make sure her comedy reflected that.
And as for that P.C. college crowd so many comedians seem to fear?
She made a great point there, too:
She’s right. Comedians can yell at kids to get off their metaphorical lawns or they can try to understand why the kids are there in the first place. And it’s a lesson for all of us: As we grow older, it’s important we continue to become aware of the world around us and change with it accordingly.
A static life isn’t really much of a life at all.
So what makes this all so surprising coming from Silverman?
Silverman’s career has consisted of riding (and frequently overstepping) the line between edgy and offensive.
She’s managed to upset just about every minority and oppressed group to walk the earth. Perhaps her most infamous joke involved the time she did blackface on her Comedy Central show, which was probably (definitely!) ill advised.
I mean, a textbook once listed her as the actual definition of “offensive” (seriously).
Does this mean the world will see a less edgy, gentler Sarah Silverman?
Believe it or not, I kind of hope not, and hear me out.
There are ways to be funny and edgy without being hurtful. I trust Silverman can find that balance if she wants to. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about her work is her fearlessness. When the risks she takes pay off, they pay off big. Now that she’s giving more thought to the effect her words can make (both good and bad), I’m excited to see her prove that you can be an edgy, funny, and yes, politically correct all at once.