Comedy and Cancel Culture: A Tale of Laughter and Controversy

Two new books explore the relationship between comedy and the ever-evolving landscape of cancel culture, shedding light on the historical context and the challenges faced by comedians in expressing themselves.

In the age of cancel culture, where public figures are held accountable for their past actions and words, comedians find themselves walking a tightrope between humor and offense. Two new books, “Outrageous: A History of Showbiz and the Culture Wars” by Kliph Nesteroff and “Comedy Book: How Comedy Conquered Culture — and the Magic That Makes It Work” by Jesse David Fox, delve into the complexities of comedy in the face of societal shifts and explore the notion that there has never been a worse time to be funny. By examining the historical context and the challenges faced by comedians, these books offer a fresh perspective on the role of comedy in our culture.

A Historical Perspective on Comedy and Censorship

Nesteroff’s “Outrageous” takes readers on a journey through the history of showbiz and the recurring clashes between entertainers and societal norms. From the early days of vaudeville to the present, Nesteroff reveals that comedians have always faced challenges in navigating the ever-changing landscape of censorship. By highlighting the voices of comedians throughout the decades who bemoaned the censorious climate of their time, Nesteroff illustrates that the perception of an increasingly sensitive society is not a new phenomenon. The book reminds us that the struggle between comedy and censorship is an ongoing battle that has shaped the evolution of the art form.

The Risk of Backlash and the Essence of Comedy

In “Comedy Book,” Fox tackles the question of whether political correctness has made comedy harder to perform. He argues that the risk of backlash is an inherent part of the comedy game and is what makes it exciting. Just as a football player must navigate obstacles to score a touchdown, comedians must navigate the boundaries of political correctness to elicit laughter. Fox’s perspective challenges the notion that comedy is being stifled by cancel culture, suggesting instead that it is the very tension between comedy and societal sensitivities that fuels its power. By embracing the risk, comedians can push boundaries and create thought-provoking, impactful humor.

Cancel Culture in the Age of Social Media

Both books recognize the role of social media in amplifying the perception of cancel culture. Nesteroff notes that while social media may give the impression that people are more irrational and humorless than in the past, historical evidence suggests that similar sentiments have always existed. The platforms may have changed, but the debates surrounding comedy and censorship have remained remarkably consistent. Fox acknowledges that social media has created a new level of scrutiny for comedians, with every joke subject to immediate judgment and potential backlash. However, he argues that this heightened scrutiny can also serve as an opportunity for comedians to engage with their audience, learn from their mistakes, and grow as artists.

The Power of Comedy to Challenge and Unite

Despite the challenges posed by cancel culture, both books emphasize the enduring power of comedy to challenge societal norms and unite audiences. Nesteroff’s historical account reminds us that comedy has always been a tool for pushing boundaries and questioning authority. From Lenny Bruce to Richard Pryor, comedians have used their craft to shine a light on social issues and provoke thought. Fox’s perspective reinforces the idea that comedy, at its core, is about connecting with people and finding shared experiences through laughter. By embracing the complexities of the current cultural climate, comedians can continue to push the boundaries of what is considered acceptable while fostering understanding and empathy.

Conclusion: The intersection of comedy and cancel culture is a complex and ever-evolving landscape. Nesteroff’s “Outrageous” and Fox’s “Comedy Book” provide valuable insights into the historical context and challenges faced by comedians. They remind us that the struggle between comedy and censorship is not new and that the risk of backlash is an inherent part of the art form. While cancel culture may present challenges for comedians, it also offers opportunities for growth and connection. Ultimately, these books invite us to consider the power of comedy to challenge societal norms, provoke thought, and unite us through laughter.






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