Opinion: Context is key in comedy

The response to Larry David’s recent monologue on “Saturday Night Live” was intensely negative. It garnered hatred across Twitter. Some claimed his jokes were in poor taste, others stated that his remarks were outright offensive. On one hand, this involves the same tired discussion which seems to never cease: Should comedians be allowed to tell “offensive” jokes? On the other hand, who is or is not allowed to tell certain kinds of jokes and in what context is vital to this conversation.

David made a joke about his love for women, and entertained a bizarre question: If he had been in a concentration camp during the Holocaust, would he still have tried to flirt with women? The immediate response via Twitter was volatile, but the question which arises from the question he entertained is an important one: Even amidst great suffering, can people still enjoy normal, human experiences? There is a dignity found in experiencing normalcy, even if it is brief and floating in a sea of trauma. Despite the objections of Jonathan Greenblatt — the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League — David’s remarks were not insensitive.

Classically, offensive jokes in comedy were allowed passes if they were made by members of the community which the jokes were being made about. Whether it be Dave Chappelle dressing up as a Klansman for a sketch or any one of Aziz Ansari’s countless jokes about traditional Indian culture, minorities making jokes about the experiences that come with their particular group — or even jokes that play off of their group’s historical suffering — have been accepted. When did this change?

David is a Jewish man making jokes surrounding the subject of Jewish suffering. I’m not entirely sure when that became off-limits. There’s a long tradition of minorities working their way through and coping with the suffering of their ethnic group through comedy. For some reason, large amounts of the viewers of his monologue have been unwilling to allow him to exercise that right without getting riled up.

The response to his crack about Harvey Weinstein was also one which incited hatred, and the context seemed to be entirely ignored by the angry Twitter users. As a Jew, David used his platform to discuss and to joke about the actions of morally bankrupt Jews like Weinstein. He mentioned how disheartening it was that there have been so many high-profile cases as of late in which sexual predators have been Jewish. He voiced his disappointment, expressing his wish that the image of the Jewish people in the public eye could be a more positive one — like that of Albert Einstein — rather than Weinstein. How a statement like this could be perceived negatively baffles me. He recognized a pattern which upset him, and stated his longing for things to be better than they are now.

In the end, there was nothing truly offensive in David’s bit. He criticized the actions of sexual predators, discussed issues of Jewish suffering from the position of his own Jewish heritage and he never once mocked the victims themselves in any aforementioned tragedies. Whether or not he was funny is entirely subjective, but whether or not he crossed any lines? That’s a little less subjective. Rather than leaping at a comedian’s throat immediately after they have spoken, viewers should take a step back to analyze the content, as well as the context the jokes are being told in.

Disclaimer: I myself am Jewish, and my views do not represent the perspective or the beliefs of the the Jewish community at large.


Lucas Waggoner

Lucas is a PPE major in University of Washington Tacoma, and he is graduating with a Bachelor's in philosophy. His primary interests are philosophy, politics, and law. He is currently working as a teacher at a secondary school while preparing to attend law school immediately following graduation.