I don’t think political correctness is killing comedy, but Mel Brooks does

So a friend of mine on FB recently linked to a 2017 article in which Mel Brooks declares PC is killing comedy: “Comedy has to walk a thin line, take risks…Comedy is the lecherous little elf whispering in the king’s ear, always telling the truth about human behaviour.” Brooks said his Blazing Saddles could never be made today because PC would kill it.

As someone who thinks too many people equate “politically incorrect” with “I have the right to be a sexist, homophobic jerk and not get criticized by the PC police for it” (similar to the discussion here), I am automatically skeptical about arguments like this. As witness the article at the link (which linked to Brooks’ original interview) argued that “We reflect various religious backgrounds and political ideologies. Naturally, we also reflect the traits and tendencies of those cultures, beliefs, and groups. If we have eyes to see these “stereotypes,” they really are quite amusing.” Umm, depends which stereotypes: black people being shiftless and lazy? Women being stupid? All Italians being mobbed up? I agree they’re amusing to some people, but not usually the target, and not because they’re true (contrary to Avenue Q, we don’t laugh at ethnic jokes because they’re based on truth). Which may not be what they meant, but I’m a cynic.

Now, as to Brooks, a few thoughts:

•Political correctness is an awfully vague term. Applied to comedy it could mean anything from “I referred to my dog as a pet instead of a companion and PETA organized a boycott of my show” to “I told a superfunny rape joke about the pretty blonde in the front joke and the little snowflake walked out!” Brooks acknowledges limits to what’s acceptable (“I personally would never touch gas chambers or the death of children or Jews at the hands of the Nazis,”) so where exactly does he want us to draw the line? What, specifically, is PC supposedly blocking comedians from saying?

Blazing Saddles, as far as I know, is still a popular movie. It hasn’t been “cancelled” or forgotten, though I imagine younger generations aren’t as fond of it as my era (for someone born in 2000, it’s the equivalent of something from the early 1930s for me, and not everyone my age liked 1930s films). So what makes Brooks think it couldn’t get made? I hear a lot that “X couldn’t be made today” but I’d be more impressed with examples of films that literally were not being made — e.g., someone pitched a Blazing Saddles remake and the studio lost its shit in fear of PC outrage.

•Comedy doesn’t always tell the truth about human behavior. Comedy about women being incompetent drivers (a staple on sitcoms in my youth and for years before), or rape being a fun experience doesn’t speak the truth.

•A lot of comedy gets made that isn’t massively offensive. The Marx Brothers were hysterically funny mocking the rich, the powerful and the pompous but they didn’t need to punch down to get laughs. Comedy doesn’t have to punch down.

•Someone on FB said that comedy should be equally offensive to everyone, but that’s just bonkers. Rapists and rape victims do not deserve equal mockery, nor do Nazis and their victims, or white bigots and their victims. The oppressed deserve better treatment than the oppressors (hence the whole “punch up, not down” thing).

•While I agree there was lots of stuff that pushed the envelope in the 1970s, that doesn’t mean the envelope went away. Would Brooks have been able to make Blazing Saddles back then if he’d made Sheriff Bart and the Waco Kid a nonswishy gay couple?

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1 Comment

Filed under Movies, Reading, Writing

One response to “I don’t think political correctness is killing comedy, but Mel Brooks does

  1. Pingback: That notorious letter and the free speech debate | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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