I love stand up comedy. I grew up on Bill Cosby, George Carlin, and Eddie Murphy. I relish the arrival of new stand up routines by my current favorites; Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, and Louis C.K.. Comedy, when done right, can be better than sex (or maybe that’s just me). Comedy, however, is not always feel good, and stand up comics, as a community, are notorious for sparking controversy and debate with their routines. Be it politics, religion, or pop-culture current events, talented comedians have a way of editorializing while also entertaining.
This leads to the question: Is comedy absolute? Is there such a thing as funny regardless of what others may think? Is comedy 100% subjective? Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, is comedy in the ear of the listener? If the vast majority of people think something is not funny, then, by definition, is that thing not funny? I really struggle with this because comedy – more correctly, comedic writing – is something that’s firmly planted on my dream landscape. Yes, I want to one day trade in the spreadsheets and PowerPoint files for sitting at a table in the ‘Writers Room’ and working on a sit-com or the next great romantic comedy. I’d love to sit in on the creative process of someone writing a stand-up routine or, like Dave Barry, be a part of writing jokes for an award show.
To me, comedy is personal. It’s an insight into the dichotomy of the human condition. It’s as varied as flavors of ice cream, while still being something of a universal ideal.
All that being said, I don’t know what to do with the comedy of Anthony Jeselnik. I will admit, I’ve never really watched his show. I have, however, watched enough clips on YouTube to know his style is not for me. Whereas I feel comedy should endear, Jeselnik must think comedy is a tool to outrage and offend, as if pushing the line of comfort and decorum is something to be celebrated. To me, his comedy schtick the equivalent of farting loudly in church and then congratulating yourself with clapping and a rambunctious, “Yeah!”
Insensitivity to the feelings of others is part of what makes up Jeselnik’s niche as a comedian. But how far is too far when it comes to comedy? Is there a line, or is comedy an art form that exists without boundaries? That question may, on the surface, appear to have no real answer. However, when you look at the tweet Jeselnik sent on Monday evening, mere hours after the terrifying and tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon, I think the answer becomes quite clear. Maybe I’m showing my age. Perhaps I am applying my personal sensibilities as a father and husband. It could be the world of comedy has simply changed and I missed the memo. But when it comes to the death of innocent people, and specifically when one of the fatalities is an eight year-old boy, comedy must always take a back seat to human decency. This tweet can be described as offensive and inappropriate, yet when most of America was tweeting about praying for Boston, I find it shamefully sad that Anthony Jeselnik chose to prey on a tragedy for his own personal gain. And there’s absolutely nothing funny about that.