Satire and stand-up comedy have served as a tool for uncovering audiences’ implicit biases for years, and that should not change.
For years, comedy and satire have created dialogues about implicit biases by portraying them as silly. Cancel culture has brought a new challenge to comedy — especially when the jokes are aimed at marginalized groups. Shows like “The Boondocks” and “South Park” regularly come under fire for their harsh critiques of marginalized groups, while comedians like Kevin Hart and Dave Chappelle have been cast as bigots and homophobes.
Cancel culture has begun to serve as a moral gatekeeper. When a person with a platform makes a racist, homophobic or demeaning remark, the moral gatekeepers — in most cases social media users — call for their removal from their platform. The current news cycle has featured Chappelle as the latest target for cancel culture’s online crucifixion. Multiple civil rights groups have called for his special “The Closer” to be removed from Netflix.
In his special, he critiques a variety of groups. One notable joke that has sparked outrage involved the rapper DaBaby and the LGBTQ+ community. Chappelle recalled DaBaby being canceled for making disparaging comments about the LGBTQ+ community and noted that prior to his comments he was involved in the shooting death of a Black man.
“Nothing bad happened to his career,” Chappelle quipped. “Do you see where I’m going with this? In our country, you can shoot and kill a [explicit], but you better not hurt a gay person’s feelings.”
This is one of many jokes that sparked controversy, and while it can read as shocking, it forces the audience to think. Why was DaBaby never brought to the gates of moral Twitter in regards to his role in a man’s death? Why are some actions of entertainers acceptable while other actions that are just as bad aren’t brought up?
“The Closer,” like many of Chappelle’s works, forces audiences to have those conversations. Following the release of the special, Netflix employees who identify with the LGBTQ+ community voiced their anger over Netflix’s refusal to remove the special.
A few took matters into their own hands: one employee barged into an executive-level meeting she was not invited to and another released confidential information about the special to the public. Both were reprimanded — causing even more outrage despite the employees being in the wrong.
Satire serves a purpose in the same way that mass media does. If done correctly, satire is a comedic tool used to shed light on societal issues. Whereas media members positively mirror society, satirical comedy plays the role of the dirty mirror. Satire is that spot on the mirror that takes your attention away from the cute lip gloss you just put on and makes you notice that pimple forming on your nose.
Sacco’s tweet didn’t do that. Her tweet didn’t poke at a societal issue or call for her followers to help Africa. She wasn’t making a point about hypocrisy or even American judgment.
Comedians like Dave Chapelle and series like the “Boondocks,” “South Park” and “The Office” use humor to make audiences think about the parts of society they often cast away. Satire normalizes taboos and uses jokes and analogies that are outrageous, yet funny, to make audiences see how ridiculous some common implicit biases are.
The animated series “The Boondocks,” has over a dozen real-life parodies, from the ignorance of BET to the return of Martin Luther King. The most notable episode of the show came in its first season. The episode is centered around the trial of R. Kelly — a man clearly guilty of statutory rape but defended by Black culture because he makes good music.
“South Park” has used numerous wayward analogies to shine a light on how silly some of society’s norms and reactions are, including the town ignoring a demonic man-bear-pig creature eating humans as a representation of the world ignoring climate change.
The sitcom “The Office” uses the character Michael Scott to represent the ludicrousy of implicit biases. In the episode “Benihana Christmas,” Michael continually mistakes the Benihana waitresses for each other stating that they all look the same. The audience knows it’s ridiculous, but is forced to think of a time they held the same implicit bias.
Satire and stand-up comedy open audiences’ eyes to new ways of thinking. To create new rules and boundaries of what’s acceptable in that realm is to dismiss the purpose of comedy altogether and, as a result, slows growth through conversation.