Sarah Silverman has made a name for herself by pushing the limits of “acceptable” comedy. And her willingness to offend has made her millions of fans (not to mention millions of dollars).
As such, she’d be the last comedian you’d expect to stick up for the toxic, politically-correct culture that has (supposedly) taken hold on college campuses. But in a recent interview with Vanity Fair (see the video below), Silverman did just that, claiming that comedians who complain about hyper-sensitive students might just be showing their age.
“To a degree, everyone’s going to be offended by something, so you can’t just decide on your material based on not offending anyone,” Silverman said when asked about complaints from Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and Bill Maher. "But, I do think it’s important, as a comedian, as a human, to change with the times. To change with new information… I think it’s a sign of being old if you’re put off by that.”
Silverman went on to describe her own attempts to adapt, and discussed how she no longer uses the word “gay” as a pejorative term.
“[Now] I don’t even think about it,” she said. “It didn’t take long to get used to it.”
To an extent, Silverman has a point. At the end of the day, it’s the audience’s job to decide what is funny, not the other way around. A comedian can either adapt, or go home.
But there’s still a big difference between a comedian choosing to drop a term that many consider outdated or offensive (the pejorative use of “gay,” in Silverman’s case), and being told what topics are off limits. Chris Rock isn’t complaining because comedians can’t get on a college stage and carelessly use racial slurs without a backlash. He’s complaining about the fact that comedians are increasingly expected to ignore the the subject of race (and other hot-button issues) altogether for fear of offending.
Sarah Silverman has described the laugh that comes with a “mouth full of blood”—the hearty laugh from the person who understands your joke not as a critique of some vile notion but as an endorsement of it. It’s the essential peril of comedy, as performers from Dave Chappelle to, most recently, Amy Schumer understand all too well. But to enroll in college and discover that for almost every aspect of your experience—right down to the stand-up comics who tell jokes in the student union—great care has been taken to expose you to only the narrowest range of approved social and political opinions: that’s the mouth full of blood right there.
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