Earlier this month Chris Rock, arguably one of the funniest men alive, took criticism for his opening monologue on Saturday Night Live for discussing the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings and the attack on the World Trade Center. Although the comedian made it abundantly clear he was not making light of the attacks nor the victims, some chose to criticize Rock claiming his jokes were awkward and insensitive. In case you haven’t seen the opening, review the video below:
Although this is far from the first time stand up comedy has been scrutinized for taboo subject matter, it seems more now then ever comedy and our freedom of speech is continually under attack. In most cases it seems the comedians jokes are taken out of context and then re-shaped to aide the argument of a special interest group or the news media. Although I can give you countless instances where this is the case, I feel the best dissertation on this subject came from the late comic, Patrice O’Neil. Back in 2007 Patrice appeared on Fox News to discuss the suspension of the popular talk satellite radio show, Opie and Anthony,after a belligerent homeless man (a guest on the show) stated he wanted to rape Secretary of State Rice. By the way, it was clear the man’s remarks were not a joke, nor did anyone construe it so. A representative for N.O.W (National Organization of Women) saw the radio program’s suspension as a sign the public was sick of brash humor, even siting O’Neil’s act as offensive to women. Perhaps Patrice put it best when he said, “..PC cops run a muck.”
The core of the discussion lies in freedom of speech, a sword everyone likes to swing through the air until they remember its a double edged blade and like any sharp pointy object one has to treat it with a measure of responsibility. First, one must realize their message may be offensive to others and exercise caution in the manner they choose to express themselves. Luckily, stand-up comedy has a sanctuary in the form of comedy clubs across the nation where people can choose to hear their favorite comic’s act whether it be a profanity laced set act or a guy with a puppet (or both). The medium of television and radio allows one to simply change the channel if they are offended or simply don’t want to hear what the comic has to say. A key fact everyone seems to forget is the reality everyone has the freedom of speech in this country, including those who may not agree with you. Just as you have the right to make your voice heard, so does everyone else. Although one can choose to ignore the opposing or offensive perspective, they can also choose to argue it. By argue, I do not intend to mean call for someone to be fired or be outraged, I’m talking about intelligent adult conversation. This is where stand-up comedy truly shines as the last truth in American entertainment.
The role of a truly great comic is not just to entertain but as Mel Brooks put it in the film, History of the World, the comedian (or as he calls it the stand-up philosopher) is to, “coalesce the vapor of the human experience into a viable and logical comprehension.”
What are comics if not modern day philosophers? Comedy legends like Joan Rivers, George Burns, Benny Hill, George Carlin, Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor and Andy Kaufman juxtaposed the realities of modern day life with satire to create a message that was not only entertaining but unlike television can challenge the listeners way of thinking and expanded one’s perspective. Their work paved the way for generations of comics to inspire and entertain millions. Today there are some wonderful comics like Louie CK, Jim Norton, Amy Schumer, Dave Chappelle, Nick DiPaolo, Robert Kelly, Vinny Brand, Jim Bruer,and Brian Regan (just to rattle off a few of my favorites) who simply put, take the art of comedy to another level.
Getting back to my original question:was Rock’s monologue out of line? Absolutely not. His act, as he did point out, wasn’t about making light of the horrible terror attacks rather it was about the commercialization of our history and traditions to suit the needs of big business. Days once reserved to commemorate important events and people are now used to sell mattresses, cars, and things people don’t need to and can’t afford. Perhaps rather than focusing on being offended by the Chris Rock’s monologue, some would benefit by re-examining it keeping the commercialization of our nation’s traditions in mind. If not and you are truly offended by his message, then remember you have the right to be and can choose to ignore it.
Do you agree or disagree? Who is your favorite comic? What do you think of the monologue. Comment and let me know 🙂
Philip A. Maenza aka “Philtastic Phil” is an internet entrepreneur and consumer behavior professional whose interests include art, film, music, stand up comedy, fitness, and comic books. Phil is also a dedicated community volunteer and always open to connecting with like minded optimists. Phil’s favorite comedy club is The Stress Factory in New Brunswick, NJ and his favorite comic is Robert Kelly. No I haven’t been paid to say it- it’s a really great place!!!