What has happened to authentic comedy?

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons | Comedians like Bill Hicks were part of a generation of comedy not focused on “owning.” their opponent.

Zach Petroff | Opinions Editor

Sept. 8, 2022

I am obsessed with the absurd.

I think it is fair to call me a comedy snob. The ability to make one laugh and think has always been an admirable trait to me. I enjoy watching people causing havoc on perspectives by shedding light on the absurdity. I grew up admiring Tom Green, Andy Kauffman and Bill Hicks, all making fools of themselves only to reveal the foolish ways of us all.

I also tend to judge people based on their favorite comedian. When someone mentions Dane Cook, Joe Rogan, the Impractical Jokers, the Blue Comedy Tour or anyone on TikTok, I immediately know that person is not my type of funny.

Comedy has taught me the importance of never taking myself too seriously.

I have always admired someone who is able to get on stage, and with just a microphone, be able to make a crowd laugh. The ability to captivate, humorize and even challenge an audience is an intimate experience.

I have also really enjoyed the romanticism of comedians. There’s a level of envy for those tortured souls spilling their insides to an unwilling crowd as they revel in the fact that they are in a world they do not belong in.

The ability to show an insight to the world in a humorous manner has been an admiration of mine for such a long time.

Yet, I’m struggling to find the generational type of humor that has stimulated the national conscience that has existed since the art of storytelling.

I don’t think the cynicism of the world around me has left me without my ability to laugh. I have found that the type of humor that I grew up on, the type I employed among friends or to ease tension, is still plentiful. I think one could argue that the more bleak a situation is, the more humor one can find. Some of my darkest moments in life were highlighted by the raw sense of humor at what can only be deemed an inappropriate time.

Comedy has become so political, so formulaic and so mean-spirited that it’s suffering from redundancy. We don’t laugh at the content; we push air out of our noses while we scroll on our phones because we found something that might align with our own rhetoric.

The long-standing tradition of humorists and comedians using their insight to challenge the status quo and, in a way, stick up for the disenfranchised has fallen by the wayside.

I am fully aware there has always been an element of what is referred to as “punching down,” a concept where a comedic take is used to essentially pick on someone. However, it has become more and more apparent that is becoming a mainstay.

In other words: It’s hacky.

This is not a cancel-culture rant, and this is not sticking up for a bunch of old-hack comedians that go on podcasts and complain that they’re being canceled by an industry because audiences are sick of hearing disenfranchised groups be the repetitive punchline of white men.

This is a rant that our comedic output is being dumbed down for an audience that obsesses on “owning” the other side, rather than shedding a level of light on common truths that we all know. The comedic truths are being ignored in favor of pleasing a rabid fanbase that appreciates nothing but hearing their own misguided thoughts constantly on loop throughout their entertainment consumption.

While this tendency to constantly try to “own” the other side seems to be a playbook from the alt-right, the left has also found a way to unsuccessfully mold comedy into a political narrative. Late night shows, known for their tepid and universal joke styles, have transformed into horrible reiterations of the former “Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” making most of late night television unwatchable for everyone except centrist Democrats.

Every stand-up special has now found a way to get the comedian to shoehorn their often incorrect political beliefs, as if it is a standard for speaking to a mass audience.

I believe the comedians are the storytellers, and they are the people who most accurately can put a mirror to society and make us all look at the absurdity of what we are or what we are becoming.

Their words, carefully crafted and purposely placed are a reminder of how dangerous it is when we take ourselves too seriously.