Op-ed pick: Why no one should be off-limits from jokes

Are we too careful with comedy these days?

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele think so. The stars of a namesake show on Comedy Central wrote an op-ed for TIME’s Ideas Issue arguing that American TV and movies are timid.

Today it seems that we live in a world of extremes. On one end of the spectrum, we have anonymous Internet trolls looking for opportunities to dole out cruelty with impunity. But in mainstream culture, it often seems we’re drowning in a sea of political correctness that lapped up on our shores a couple of decades ago and has yet to recede.

You may think nothing is lost if we don’t hear jokes about folks with disabilities or the differences between races or whatever we find uncomfortable to discuss in polite company, but Key and Peele argue that something is lost.

To not make fun of something is, we believe, itself a form of bullying. When a humorist makes the conscious decision to exclude a group from derision, isn’t he or she implying that the members of that group are not capable of self-reflection? Or don’t possess the mental faculties to recognize the nuances of satire? A group that’s excluded never gets the opportunity to join in the greater human conversation.

Key and Peele say they “make fun of everything” and that’s a good thing. Read their column here and watch clips from their show here. Note: I make no guarantee that these are safe viewing for work.

  • Gary F

    “The scariest people in the world are free people who hate freedom” Kayne Robinson.

    Russell Brand is a Marxist blowhard.

    People come in rafts across the shark infested waters of Cuba to get here to have the right to vote.

    • reggie

      Gary, Russell Brand is certainly a blowhard, but he’s not a Marxist. Show real Marxists a little respect.

      I think the scariest people are those who jingoistically hide behind “freedom” while avoiding the responsibilities of it.

      • Jamie

        I’m going to go ahead and assume we have a different definition of “those who avoid the responsibilities of freedom.”

      • Jamie

        “I think a socialist egalitarian system based on the massive
        redistribution of wealth, heavy taxation of corporations…I think the very
        concept of profit should be hugely reduced” ~Russell Brand in the above interview. That’s Marxist enough for me to call him one.

        • Fred Garvin

          I doubt that Russel Brand knows much of anything about Marxism, wealth, taxation, or corporation or acting for that matter.
          If one were to waste time asking Brand about his words that you quoted, I doubt that he would recognize his own words.
          And I cannot believe that I am writing about Russel Brand and what he said.

  • Sue de Nim

    Of course not. Ironically, Russell Brand sounds a lot like Tea Party activists. The title of P.J. O’Rourke’s book, Don’t Vote! It Just Encourages the Bastards, was an obvious quip by a noted satirist, not serious political analysis. But like so much Tea Party rhetoric, Brand seems to have taken satire (his own satire, even) about government incompetence seriously and turned it into a political stance. No, a broken political system is mended by more people voting, not fewer. Australia’s policy of compulsory voting is a good idea. It would never pass in America, though. The 1% like having large segments of the population being too apathetic to vote.

  • Rich in Duluth


    The political system isn’t broken. There are individuals in Congress who are keeping the system from working and it’s the responsibility of the voter to get them out of Congress. The problems in Congress are not the fault of a broken political system, but of the voters who want everything their way and send people to Congress who will not compromise.

    The type of thinking that results in a person saying all “politicians are frauds and liars” is flawed. It is stereotyping and ignores the fact that we are the people who sent them to Congress. Even if you don’t vote, you are voting.

  • reggie

    Of course the system is broken, but not because of voting. The problem is the money, and the SCOTUS has pretty well kicked that floodgate open.

    Voting is the minimum involvement we should expect from every citizen. Maybe if we had more participation, we’d eventually get better choices.

    • Jamie

      Informed participation only, please.

      • Fred Garvin

        Amen, and that’s the problem and has been for some time.
        Today’s voters by in large, do not care to become more informed because each recognizes that his vote is cancelled out by the votes of folks like Russel Brand. The time & effort to become more informed is one of diminishing returns.
        And it’s not about money, since voters often vote against their interests (protectionist tariffs for exampe).
        There is NO ONE to blame exept the voter for the broken system we have.

  • Jim G

    Using the questionable labeling from the title of P.J. O’Rourke’s book, if you don’t at least vote for your bastard, the wealthy will buy your bastard as they already have ten others in their bag. Anyway, the people I vote for aren’t bastards. Isn’t that right, Governor Dayton? Amy? Al?

    • Jamie

      Well, at least not in the historical sense of being born out of wedlock ;~)

  • PaulJ

    Reasoned voting lends legitimacy to government. Apathetic voters don’t get politics “for the people”. It is not as though the big turnouts in totalitarian regimes mean anything. See you at the polls on Tuesday.

  • Philip Benson

    At this time, voting supports a broken political system. Perfect representation demands we give everyone an equal voice and not pursue a louder voice than others. If a republic does not command that everyone be given an equal voice, we inherit an inconsiderate, self-righteous, disrespectful, disrespected and rebellious republic.

    The voices of the rich, the active, the loud, the talented, the organized and the popular appear louder than the voices of the poor who cannot contribute money to a cause, the inactive who do not write to congress, the polite who do not impose, the untalented who cannot articulate quickly, the unorganized who lack amplification and the unpopular who fear condemnation.

    The poor and the inactive could give us conservation; the untalented could give us simplification; the polite could give us civility; the unorganized and the unpopular could give us revelations.

    I for one am tired of being disparaged and repressed by talented and organized people popularizing the pursuit of money and activity. People who value freedom do not wish to be commanded; people who value both people and freedom do not wish to command.

    One possible way to form a more perfect republic would be to add branches of representatives filled with people randomly. This could approximate us while not overthrowing familiarity with less accurate systems of representation. It might even be a fun change for the media who currently broadcast only the loud and fantastic.

  • Fred Garvin

    Voting does support a broken political system because the American voter is largely disinterested in the process and too lazy to make an informed vote–and they do not care to make an effort to become more knowledgeable. So, uninformed voters give us a broken political system.

    See: Bryan Caplan’s “The Myth of the Rational Voter”

    • KTN

      I hear this often, the electorate is uninformed and ill-equipped to understand politics, and their vote is irrelevant because of it. Over at Volokh, Ilya Somin has a series of posts about this subject if you are interested in reading more from his Libertarian position.

      My question to you is: what metric(s) would you use to determine if a voter is informed. What level of involvement would you like to see.

      Mine would be simple – what is the constitutionally defined size of DC? (without looking, do you know) If you can’t answer that question, you lose your right to vote – everyone should know this right.

      • Fred Garvin

        Caplan goes into measuring or assessing relevant electoral information and political involvement, mostly from an economics standpoint.
        He does speculate that his conclusion (that voters largely do not vote rationally) would be similar from other academic angles, and argues that other researchers should look into it.

  • http://www.dubiosity.net/ BevansDesign

    It is broken, but not necessarily the way that Brand is saying (although I do agree with him on a couple things.)

    Our normal system of voting (usually called “First Past the Post”) naturally skews our choices, so that only two parties have any chance of winning at any given time, and forces extremism by those parties as a strategy for winning. This isn’t philosophical, it’s statistically true. If we want fair elections that actually result in officials that represent the wishes of the people, we need to move to a different voting system, such as Approval Voting, or even IRV.

  • Jeff

    What we need are politicians that break the mold of the 2 political party system, most people today are socially liberal and fiscally conservative. The problem is we are forced to choose between two bad choices…does the general population betray their political beliefs when it comes to social issues or fiscal issues? It’s a bad choice all around.

    In the end the issues that matter to each person differs depending on their age and income…younger people tend to be Democrats because they don’t have much money, property or care all that much about the economy. Meanwhile, those same people see the social issues up close and personal…they’re at the age where an abortion is a real decision, they are more likely to be involved with people of different background (to encounter GLBT individuals) and they are more likely to need government support. With older people it’s quite the opposite; more likely to have built up wealth, have more to lose, tend to have higher income and less likely to interact with different groups of people…which is why they tend to be conservative.

    Give us the real choice…the socially liberal and fiscally responsible politician that wants to make realistic cuts to government, slight increases in revenue (using the elimination of tax deductions/credits), lower tax rates, allowing gay marriage on the state level, legalizing marijuana, allowing states to determine abortion (to the point of the Supreme Court allows) and keeping an eye towards business and the economy. If we can get a politician that feels that way on all those issues then we will finally have what the vast majority of the population desires.

  • Bill

    Voting is supporting a broken system. The spending by our “system” is way out of control. Homeland security, NSA, Pentagon, War for Israel, Aid to Israel, Government Representatives that are not part of ObamaCare, ObamaCare, War for the sake of War, the list goes on and on. Waste is rampant, broken.

    • Byron

      Yeah, and Israel is the ONLY nuclear power in the Middle East, and our government won’t even recognize that they have nuclear weapons of mass destruction. We give them money and technology because of the strong lobby and control that they have over Congress. The Israeli lobby controls our Waring and most of the waste in that area.

  • seismic

    Corporations are not people and money is not speech. Corporate money determines the candidates, THEN the people vote. Technically, voters have a choice. Choosing heads or tails is pointless when the coin is the problem.

  • KTN

    Really like these guys, and their work. Makes me uncomfortable at times, but that is the beauty of being challenged – rethinking or even thinking about issues in a different light, with a different slant. The Substitute was fu*ing hilarious.
    They mention Blazing Saddles, which even Mel Brooks said recently that it could not be made today – sadly, this overarching political correctness has implications beyond the absurd.