Caricature of comedian Louis C.K. Courtesy of Flickr

Snowflake Generation

Comedians are blaming the new generation for their jokes not landing

Society isn’t too sensitive, some comedians are just not funny. 

Comedy is meant to be a critique on some of the darkest aspects of this world. Some of the world’s best-known comedians have built careers on being offensive. In recent years, more and more comedians have landed in strife over provocative humour. From Dave Chappelle’s jokes at the expense of the trans community or Louis C.K.’s anything, the controversy is adamant. 

Ultimately, there is a line between controversial comedy that garners laughter and the kind that is genuinely offensive and shallow.

Society is constantly changing, and our expectations morph as a response to the change. Due to comedy being a reflection of current events and popular topics, the material is not only never-ending but widely different depending on the time period. The matters that were funny in past decades may not resonate with audiences as well as they did then.

Specifically, older comedians who have a long-term career in comedy seem to have a harder time adjusting to the new-age audience. Part of being in the entertainment industry is reading your audience and knowing what they like and dislike; comedy should be no exception.

Chappelle, whose career spans from the early ‘90s to present day and consists of numerous stand-up specials, movies, sitcoms and his own scripted-show on Comedy Central, has a new Netflix special that has gained lots of public attention.

In the special, Chappelle’s jokes for the LGBTQ+ community, comments on the Michael Jackson sexual assault accusations, Kevin Hart’s Oscars-hosting homophobia controversy, school shootings and many more relevant topics have garnered some controversy. The issue isn’t the subject matter that he specifically discusses, but it’s the way he handles it. His jokes lack depth and merely poke fun at how rampantly offensive they are, even though no one said they were offended. His routine is tired and is based on a predicted audience reaction that in reality is nonexistent. The whole stand-up consists of buzz topics.

C.K., who came into massive success after opening for Jerry Seinfeld and eventually went on to become an actor, writer, director and producer, has participated in numerous controversial stand-ups. The comedian landed in spiralling downfall after multiple sexual assault allegations, but before that news broke, his career itself had been faced with criticisms. 

In December of 2018, an audio recording of an appearance C.K. made, reportedly at Governor’s Comedy Club on Long Island, New York, leaked on YouTube.

In the set, C.K. makes jokes about the activist students of Parkland, Florida, who have worked to convert a personal tragedy into social good. “You’re not interesting because you went to a high school where kids got shot. Why does that mean I have to listen to you? How does that make you interesting? You didn’t get shot, you pushed some fat kid in the way, and now I gotta listen to you talking?” 

C.K. also mocks Asian men, Black men and nonbinary people. “‘You should address me as they/them, because I identify as gender neutral,’” C.K. said. “Oh, okay. Okay. You should address me as there, because I identify as a location. And the location is your mother’s cunt.”

His stand-up screams out-of-touch desperation. An aging comedian who can no longer read a room, so instead basis his set around level of shock. 

Racist and homophobic jokes, which have always obviously been subjectively bad, were more accepted by wider audiences back when these men were at their peak. Thankfully, society has progressed to a point where most audiences no longer find it funny or acceptable for straight men to make jokes about faggots onstage. It isn’t a bad thing that people are less inclined to erupt in laughter over these out-of-touch jokes. 

Complaints that this generation is “too sensitive” and “can’t take a joke” tend to come from comedians who had it easy for a long time and who are too lazy or untalented to progress their comedy along with society. These are bitter comedians, usually men, who refuse to approach comedy in more clever ways. They would instead prefer to blame their inability to win over the wider public on those groups they are no longer allowed to use as punching bags.

This is not about being overly sensitive; it is simply about growing and adapting to what the audience will accept and figuring out how to be funny within those parameters. Nothing is necessarily out-of-bounds as long as you approach it correctly, and more importantly, make sure it’s funny.