If you take a look at the recent issues surrounding Trevor Noah (who replaced Jon Stewart on The Daily Show), you are actually looking at a fairly common issue among comedians regardless of their tenure as an entertainer.
The issue that I am referring to can be summed up this way by the comedian:
“I am a comedian. And what I have to say and the way I want to say it is solely up to me without further regard because I have reached (insert level, title, etc.) as a comedy artist.”
Trevor Noah came under heavy fire for some offensive social media activity and I highly suspect that this sort of mentality plays a role in the issue.
Unfortunately, this sort of approach to comedy completely ignores the 800 pound gorilla in the room, one which can jerk opportunities away from a comedian in the blink of an eye which is…
I’m talking about audiences — the #1 most important aspect of any comedian’s career.
It’s almost as if some comedians feel that because they have reached some level that they have some sort of “magic shield” that will allow them to say anything they want without repercussion.
Not only does that “magic shield” not exit, but if a comedian deeply offends, wounds, or otherwise severely disgusts their audiences, it can have a rapidly negative and lasting impact for that comedian.
What some comedians can’t seem to grasp is:
1. Audiences are not stupid. Collectively, they are as smart if not smarter than the comedian.
2. In everyday life, if you try to use your sense of humor and in the process manage to severely offend or disgust the person or group of people you are talking with, the reactions are NOT favorable.
That doesn’t change just because a person has the label of comedian and is in front of audiences.
And when I refer to audiences I mean ALL audiences whether they be live, social media users or TV viewers.
When it comes to social media, sometimes I think comedians forget that there are real people using those Facebook and Twitter accounts. And make no mistake – they can be as collectively offended or turned off just like any other audience.
Don’t get me wrong – I strongly believe that comedians have the widest berth when it comes to the types of material they choose to entertain audiences with.
And as long as they take the right tact, angle or perspective with their stand-up comedy material, they can literally talk about virtually ANYTHING and entertain audiences.
The very best example of this can be found in the first 5 minutes Dana Gould’s stand-up comedy show called I know It’s Wrong.
Near the beginning of his act he basically says that a comedian can talk about anything as long as it is in the right context.
So he proceeds to say that he will start off with an aids joke, a rape joke and a 9/11 joke (typically “taboo” topics). Then he delivers 3 funny bits about these things that are from a non-offensive perspective and hilarious.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
A comedian’s primary responsibility is develop and deliver the highest level comedy entertainment product possible whether that be in the live performing setting, using social media or on a TV show.
To do that, they must consistently deliver material that audiences can relate to and/or appreciate.
Outside not getting laughs, the fastest path to downward mobility as a comedian is to severely offend or disgust a majority of any audience while hiding behind the “Well, this is my art” sort of mentality.
It will always be audiences that make a comedian a rising star or a non-entity.
While a comedian can’t (nor should they try to) please everyone, it is wise to always consider the possible negative impact that could be generated by the comedy material they choose to entertain audiences with – no matter what tenure or status they may have in the business of stand-up comedy.