A recent racist cartoon published in Investor’s Business Daily, which depicts four men being lynched by a tree labeled “Al Sharpton”, has come under scrutiny for being offensive and racist. The cartoon is racist and offensive, but most importantly it isn’t funny: like, at all. Edginess is a key component to modern comedy, and that’s just great. It is this will to tackle the uncomfortable and unknown that makes comedy one of the best methods for social introspective and change. But in the case of the Investor’s Business Daily’s racist lynching cartoon, the creator has forgone edginess for a blind attempt at shock value.
Showing men getting lynched isn’t funny, it’s just offensive. There are actually few things less edgy in comedy than presenting shocking material with the entire joke being, “Here, look how shocking and offensive this is!” With that, here is a list of 4 offensive topics that are NEVER funny.
1) The “N-Word”
First, anyone who mentions Louis C.K. gets a time out. Yes, Louis C.K. did a bit on the N-Word once and it was funny. Louis C.K. is also the greatest comedic mind in the past decade; he doesn’t need this list. Similarly, the concept of the N-Word, and what it means to society can be funny, as that is comedy about social culture. However, simply using the N-Word for the sake of using a word white guys aren’t supposed to say is lazy and not funny. Just ask Kramer how his career has gone since he thought racial slurs could save his act.
2) Rape Jokes
We've mentioned rape jokes, and the confusing war surrounding them before, but that doesn’t change the fact that rape just isn’t a funny topic. Neither is suicide, or alcoholism, or any number of painful things that people listening suffer through every day. These topics aren’t funny because they’re terrible, and because there just isn’t a ton of material there to work with. A key to good comedy is finding humor in the mundane, and doing so in a way that viewers can identify with. It’s not worth the effort to inspire an audience to connect the act of rape with chuckles. You may get some nervous laughs out of it, but it’s more likely to really upset some people.
For like a year 9/11 wasn’t funny. Then between, like, 2002-2004, it was kind of funny to mock 9/11 because it was it was still kind of edgy, but far enough away to not seem exploitive. But at this point, the actual event was twelve years ago, and a lot of people are still bummed out about it. You wouldn’t bother making jokes about the 2000 election because it’s dated as all hell. This all goes back to the inspiration behind jokes. If the best material you can come up with is, “Ha! 9/11!” you are a hack.
4) Black people getting lynched
And here we return to Investor’s Business Daily and their unfunny lynch joke. First, political cartoons are usually awful to begin with, but there are fewer things lazier than a cartoon of things happening, with people’s name’s posted over them. “This isn’t just a tree; it’s Al Sharpton as a tree! Get it! And the tree is lynching a bunch of unrelated news stories from the past month because Al Sharpton is symbolic of 300 years of white oppression over blacks via fear of death! Comedy!”
In short, pretty much any topic that is best described as “terrible and unfortunate” probably won’t make great comedic material. This article isn’t meant as some list of comedic commandments. Instead, it’s simply a handy reminder that just because youcan talk about something, doesn’t mean you should. And if you do, don’t act like a victim when people challenge you on being hurtful and offensive because you’re too lazy, of unfunny to make better material.