Last week, my friend and I were reeling from the latest celebrity gossip: The breakup of Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson. The breakup came as a shock to many fans, including us, and people flooded the internet with theories on why the couple called it quits. Many people believe that the breakup was caused by Pete Davidson’s controversial jokes. Pete has been known to joke about 9-11 and the Manchester Bomb attack at Ariana’s concert. In one controversial joke, he made recently, he stated that he was switching Ariana’s birth control pills with Tic Tacs in order to “make sure she doesn’t go anywhere”.
Are comedians like Davidson in the right when they joke about sensitive topics?
In my opinion, comedy can be used as a powerful tool to poke fun at certain people and situations. Many people love Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump impression, but no one actually thinks Alec believes the bigoted things he is saying. That is because he is playing a character. Impressions of politicians can help to point out the problems with the person, by exaggerating their personalities. Another reason that many people love impressions of politicians, is because it reinforces their notion that the politician is someone to laugh at. So while the actors may be saying offensive things, the audience knows that it is just part of the act, and not how the comedian really feels.
This is the problem with Pete Davidson. He has made his most controversial jokes while not in character. Does his offensive humor stand up?
In my opinion, context is the main thing to consider. Who made the joke? When was the joke made? Where was the joke made? A joke about race made by a person of color would be read completely differently than one made by a white person. As a queer person, I am a lot more likely to laugh at a queer joke made by someone from the LGBTQ community, than one made by a straight person. Why is that? This is because the joke would come from a place of knowledge and bonding instead of a place of misunderstandings and assumptions. For example, a coming out joke made by Hannah Gadsby — a famous lesbian comedian — reads a lot funnier to me than the straight comedian, Louis C.K spitting out gay jokes and using “f**” casually on his show (which is a word that many gay people don’t even feel comfortable using).
Another thing to consider: Does the joke heal or hurt? When Pete Davidson made a mockery on the Manchester bomb attack that occurred at one of Ariana Grande ’s concerts, many people were upset and offended, as 22 people were killed. For the families that were affected, this joke would be very upsetting and hurtful, especially because of how soon it was.
By contrast, Saturday Night Live did a sketch in which they reenacted the Brett Kavanaugh hearing, airing only days after. So how is this different? Pete’s joke was made simply to shock people, while the SNL skit was made to shed light on how crazy the hearing was. The SNL skit was defending Doctor Ford, not putting her down, or belittling her problems like Davidson’s joke did.
Thinking about intent, did the comedian mean to offend or shock the audience? Or did they simply make a mistake? When comedians step out of line with a joke and apologize, some people may choose not to forgive them. This is something that the comedian has to live with.
In my opinion, the comedic line comes when a comedian makes a joke that offends the people who are the subject of that joke. But I recognize that this definition is vague because that line varies for each person. When looking at a joke keep in mind the reactions of the people that it was targetted at. Do they think it was funny? If not, the joke has probably gone too far.