The world of comedy has always been a progressive one, its main players constantly pushing the boundaries of acceptability by interacting with ideas that are unpopular among the majority. Lenny Bruce helped change the civil rights movement through his rants on race and his controversial use of the word nigger; George Carlin bashed the conservative right and spoke out against fundamentalist religion; Louis C.K. continues to influence people with his honest appraisals of race, sex and family issues. But a funny thing has happened over the years—nearly every topic that used to be considered progressive has slowly found its way into the realm of the accepted and mainstream. Abortion is legal, racism is dwindling, women are graduating college at a higher rate than men, and atheism is skyrocketing. This is all fine and good, but now what do comedians have to be mad about?
Given the current political and cultural climate, to question why black kids are graduating at a substantially lower rate than white and Asian teenagers; to think the Obama administration isn’t all that great; or to advocate the opinion that women are, on the whole, not as funny as men is actually to do a much more subversive type of comedy. Unfortunately, the few comedians who are actually saying anything along these lines are lambasted as bigots, racists, homophobes and, God forbid, right-wing nut jobs. What the hell happened? I thought comedians were supposed to challenge people to rethink their beliefs, or, at the very least, to entertain ideas different from their own. Apparently, that’s only true of comedians who fit into a certain mold. Liberals believe that everyone should listen to their opinions, but if a comedian happens to be anywhere right of Barry Bonds in the batter’s box, he is relegated to the dustbin of funny and ridiculed as ignorant.
That’s what I hate about the new left. It’s all about expressing yourself and being open-minded until someone disagrees with you. Rolling Stone’s recent list of the 50 funniest people now seemed to exclude all comedians who are known to hold unpopular opinions regarding social and political norms, like Dennis Miller’s take on global warming or Bill Burr’s bit on this country’s epidemic of gold-digging whores. I’m not saying they needed to include any of the guys from The Blue Collar Comedy gang, but how about a few people who don’t ascribe to the same bullet points as their constituency? Aren’t comedians supposed to be social critics? Observant, opinionated and brutally honest storytellers? Now it’s just Bill Maher sitting in a leather chair telling hack jokes about Sarah Palin and Lena Dunham getting a bunch of entitled bitches to talk about butt plugs. In my opinion, the funniest people are those who are doing interesting material while pushing the envelope in new ways, and right now, those are a rare find.
Now of course, I probably come off as some idiot who’s upset because his favorite right-of-center comedian didn’t make it on the list. I understand that in the past, it was the conservatives who did the judging, the boycotting and the How-could-you-say-that routine. But can we, as a society, learn to be more mature and listen to something before we judge it? Can we consider both sides of an argument before we criticize? Or hell, laugh at something we don’t even think is true? It’s a little disconcerting that Rolling Stone doesn’t seem to think it’s within the realm of possibility.
Over the next several days, I’ll be releasing my own list of The 50 Funniest People Now, to supplement Rolling Stone’s list and to attempt to fill in its gaps, or highlight the funny and influential comedians I believe they skipped. I’m going to formulate my list using the same rules and format as Rolling Stone did with theirs, and try to be as objective as possible. The ranking will be based on an amalgamation of each comedian’s general level of fame (do they have their own show?), work ethic (what are they working on right now?), and just how funny each comedian actually is—this will be the unavoidable subjective part. After all, that’s the problem with most Top lists—they adhere more to the tastes and opinions of the listmakers than those of the general public. Rather than trying to be edgy, unpredictable, or a dictator of taste, I hope my list will not merely feature the comedians who are the most unexpected or those that agree with my worldview; but rather, the comedians who are the most deserving.