Bill Maher, a political comedian, jumped on the circumcision bandwagon to his dream world of pretty pink pleat-less penises. I was half expecting him to follow his same line of thought with something like “more nose jobs for Jew babies,” or a rousing monologue on the delicate flavor of a vagina once doused in acid, but it turns out the act concluded only with a jab at intactivists. We have some of the same choices as always:
- Get offended
- Laugh, agree, and move on
- Laugh, disagree, and move on
I choose the third option because I don’t take comedians seriously—which is what they say they want. Jokes don’t offend me, but double standards, emotional manipulation, and unaccountable personalities sure do.
For that reason there is one thing I do take seriously about Bill Maher, and it’s the same thing that I take seriously about John Oliver, Larry Wilmore, Lewis Black and many other political comedians: They want people to take them seriously right up until someone calls bullshit.
Have you ever seen comedians use comedy as an excuse to dodge responsibility for saying what they think while not joking, only to turn to their polarized audiences and act as if they’re courageously honest in the face of scumbags like you for taking them so seriously? Because it was never about the comedian being serious during his political rants, nor was it about the audience taking the comedian’s points seriously by agreeing loudly. No, only critics are serious, those free-speech-opposing overgrown children!
Thankfully, there have been times when political comedy giants point out the elephant in the room:
[The jokes we do on The Daily Show] provide a little catharsis or perspective, but most of the stuff we complain about never changes. The point is don’t you use our jokes as evidence that the thing you hate must be stopped cause I’m sure when we joke about shit you like, you’re more than happy to agree.
—Jon Stewart, in response to media backlash over his coverage of ObamaCare
Although Stewart and company are not neutral, they have talent. The problem is that political comedians equivocate on the nature of their humor depending on if fans are engaging them at the time. Bill Maher only affirms the beauty of the below procedure around applause, because men like us wanting their dicks to look more suckable, right?
The best way to challenge folks like Bill in this case is not to get offended, but to play the game. If the caterwauling studio audiences only laugh at jokes that trivialize what matters to their political opponents, then as far as I’m concerned, they can take what they dish out. Political comedians are often as manipulative, slimy and unaccountable as politicians, but they exist because of smug prigs who act like getting their opinions from Comedy Central and HBO is a qualification. Mock them back. Comedy needs jokes of all kinds, not monopolizing agendas masquerading as jokes.
Obviously, jokes on sensitive topics like rape, acid baths, circumcision and your mom are not serious because they are jokes. But if political comics and their fans take issue with certain kinds of humor on topics they find sacred, then they admit that they were only pretending to joke to hide an agenda. At that moment, political comedians will become funnier than ever, but not for reasons their fans want to hear.
This post originally appeared on Zen Men.