Comedians on the hook online? Pixellated offenses don’t go away


Soon after “Saturday Night Live” (SNL) announced they were hiring Melissa Villaseà±or, their first Latina cast member, she deleted around 2,000 of her previous tweets that played on stereotypes of people of color and included racist comments.

Tweets like, “Coworker at Forever 21 dates black guys and said she will set me up on a blind date for valentines, I said yes but I’m scared” and “I hate those mexicans on bikes, they threw something at my car. The world doesn’t need them” have now been deleted from Villaseà±or’s account.

This is similar to what happened to Trevor Noah last year, before he took over “The Daily Show” following Jon Stewart’s retirement. Noah was under fire for some anti-Semitic and sexist tweets such as, “Almost bumped a Jewish kid crossing the road. He didn’t look b4 crossing but I still would hav felt so bad in my german car!” and “”˜Oh yeah the weekend. People are gonna get drunk & think that I’m sexy!’ – fat chicks everywhere.” were brought back up with many people calling for Comedy Central to fire him and find someone else as Stewart’s replacement.

Comedy Central issued a statement defending Noah, saying he “pushes boundaries … To judge him or his comedy based on a handful of jokes is unfair.”

Comedians have always gotten away with making bold statements for the sake of comedy. One reason is that sometimes comedy can be used as a tool to make people aware of pressing issues in a less serious manner than the news and statements from politicians.

In any case, it’s important to understand that comedy depends on context: both the context of the way the joke is expressed, and the context of current society and culture that determines whether or not the joke is funny.

Given the sociopolitical culture of this country and basic humanity, Noah’s tweets weren’t funny, and neither are Villaseà±or’s.

Both Villaseà±or and Noah probably thought they were doing what they were supposed to be doing. As comedians, they knew their audiences (in this case, Twitter followers), and thought their followers would appreciate their “jokes.” Only when they gained more attention following the announcements of the advancements of their careers, they received backlash due to their fame.

Twitter and the rise of other social media sites have led to people voicing their opinions on sensitive and controversial topics, so it’s just a given that some people are bound to get offended on almost anything. Consequently, it’s hard to collectively agree on what’s funny and what’s offensive. What can be agreed on is that when people have very strong opinions on certain jokes, comedians should use audience and critical reactions to their stand-up acts to alter their routine based on those opinions and societal context.

It’s safe to say that comedy is subjective, but jokes are often used as a way to generalize a group of people. While this is an easy way for comedians to appeal to one group of people while they insult another, sometimes they are taken too far and comedians face criticism for their words and actions. Take, for example, Tracy Morgan’s homophobic rant about how if he had a gay son he would stab him. Morgan received criticism from fellow actors and fans, and both the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation demanded an apology from him. He expressed his apologies, but this comment definitely tainted his image. He definitely has not been as successful after he said that comment as before he said it. His outburst may be the most aggressive of these, but many comedians get away with saying offensive things over time because people give them a pass for doing it for comedy.

While people may not think they’re being offensive, it’s important for everyone “” especially comedians and those in the public eye “” to stay educated on these controversial or sensitive topics. Villaseà±or, Noah and Morgan aren’t the only comedians who have faced backlash from their jokes, but it’s clear that racist, sexist and homophobic banter isn’t funny anymore.