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Comedy & Racism

Updated on July 27, 2011

Racist Comedy

Ever notice how most of the stand up comedy you watch is mostly based on race and heritage? Some comedians are scrutinized for their jokes while others are accepted because they are funny. Where is that line drawn and who made it up?

I've recently watch a stand up comedy show on Netflix streaming from my Xbox360. The comic was Sarah Silverman and the airing was called " Jesus is Magic ". I had admired Sarah for stints she had done across network TV but when I saw her special I was disgusted by her personality. Once again a comedian was thriving off of racial jokes and no one seemed to care. Racist remarks have been a stronghold in comedy for so many comedians that I have heard it all. If you watch Sarah Silverman's " Jesus is Magic " you'll come to notice that she doesn't like black people. She uses the N word and admits on her show that she only uses it mostly when there are no African Americans around.Throughout her stand up comedy hour she would sporadically say something degrading about black people and other minorities.

Why is it that comedians feel a need to bring up racist jokes to make people laugh? Is degrading another race really a necessity for the sakes of laughter? What is the limit to these racial dissing?

On November 17, 2006 AT the LA Laugh factory an enraged Michael Richards started calling members of the audience the N word. Here's part of his quote "You can talk, you can talk, you're brave now motherf**ker. Throw his ass out. He's a n*****! He's a n*****! He's a n******! A n*****, look, there's a n*****!" Richards (formerly known as Kramer from Seinfield) went on publicly to announce that it was anger and not racism that fueled his remarks. So Richards took the approach of the angry comedian but I don't buy it. If you even have it in you to rant about other races in a demeaning way then you are prejudice.

Where to draw the line? Well it seems that if you are funny then it's alright. Now white comedians are not the only prejudice funny people. Every type of race seems to have some dialogue in which they compare their traditions and race to others but to what extent is it demeaning? Why do most comedians even feel a need to involve race comparison jokes? Is it really that entertaining? While some comedians who joke about other races are not prejudice, some are and spread their prejudices through their stand up comedy.

Recently we have seen a trend of corporate sponsors relieving their sponsored comedians for their racist (suppose to be funny) remarks. In March 2011, Aflac Insurance fired Gilbert Gottfried for remarks he made about Japanese people on his Twitter page. Gilbert Gottfried was the voice for the Aflac duck.

Now if you ask white people then they would name a bunch of blacks or Jews they thought were racist and vice versa. I mean a joke is a joke, but an angry comedian might be something else. An angry prejudice comedian has the right to be just that. Our freedom of speech allows you to say anything to you wish to make people laugh but where do you draw a line? Please answer my poll to get a feel for how you feel about comedy and racism.

Are prejudices jokes really funnier?

See results


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    • DRG Da Real Grinc profile imageAUTHOR

      Felix J Hernandez 

      5 years ago from All over the USA

      Answered like a champ Alexander thank you.

    • Alexander Mark profile image

      Alexander Silvius 

      5 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      Where is the line? I think it's okay to make fun of stereotypes as long as you're not degrading the stereotype. I can already hear the clamor of arguments saying it's the same thing, but that is a matter of opinion, and I think it is small minded to say it is the same thing.

      Our problem today is that I hear a lot of accusations from leftist acquaintances and friends that there is racism on the right. Yet I hear no racist comments or attitudes from right wing sources and my right wing friends.

      So my answer to this is that racism, although certainly still a problem, is a much bigger problem when people make an issue out of it. If we keep scratching the scab, it will never stop bleeding and it will never heal.

      I am very curious to see what you think of the movie, "History of the World (Part 1)," by Mel Brooks, who made fun of black and Jewish stereotypes and made even more fun of racist people. Stereotypes are merely cultural differences that cannot be completely accepted by the outsider.

      I wonder if the black identity in America in particular, hasn't evolved in our time from a need for people to separate themselves from whites in order to find their identity, but in doing so have created a deeper divide between whites and blacks and partially separated themselves from the very things that also make America great.

      I think you asked a great question though - where is the line? I think it's like the relationship between brothers who insult each other but it is an expression of love. When the intention turns mean, when it gets serious, then it's time to stop.

    • DRG Da Real Grinc profile imageAUTHOR

      Felix J Hernandez 

      5 years ago from All over the USA

      Wow. I'm glad to have gotten you so engaged. So I know you sense where I was coming from. Sarah Silverman was the reason I even thought to write this Hub. Thanks for the feedback, it was good to get another perspective view.

    • maggs224 profile image


      5 years ago from Sunny Spain

      I enjoyed reaing your hub it made me think about something that I had not given much thought to in the past.

      I like gentle humour, that is humour that is not designed to hurt or put down a person. Any humour that sets out to do either of these two things to me is not funny at all.

      I had not heard of Sarah Silverman before reading your article so I went to YouTube to see what she is like.

      I watched a very short clip that I knew from its title had some racist humour in it, I wanted to see what your were talking about with this comedienne.

      Her remarks were aimed at Martin Luther King, which I found to be embarrassing.

      I was not embarrassed by her but embarrassed for her.

      Sarah seems like a fairly intelligent young woman, very pretty but the level of her comments that were supposed to be funny was what I would expect from a ten year old trying to insult another ten year old.

      Her remarks were not clever not witty and certainly not funny, just embarrassing.

      As a Brit I must admit that jokes about the British I generally find very funny as often they have a little bit of truth in them.

      The jokes are based on cultural stereotypes which of course are an exaggeration, but I do not find them offensive even if I recognise myself in the joke because I fit in the category.

      I think that if the intent behind a remark or a joke is to belittle or hurt then that in my book makes it unpleasant and not funny.

      I know that I find some of our cultural differences inherently funny, I remember watching a clip that had an Arab and a Brit talking to one another in a party setting.

      The video was designed to illustrate the difference between the amount of personal space needed by two different cultures.

      We British need at least two to three feet between ourselves and other people the Arab is most comfortable having half of that space.

      Every time the Arab got to his comfort zone the Brit became uncomfortable as he felt his personal space was being invaded.

      Every time the Brit moved back away from the Arab the the Arab became uncomfortable and felt his sense of personal space was being violated.

      They wanted to talk to one another but this cultural difference was so funny to watch.

      The pair could not find that middle ground where they were both comfortable and so as they talked they chased one another round the room.

      I would not call that raciest, and there are lots of incidents where our cultural differences are apparent in the community which lead to funny situations.

      Such differences can be funny in certain circumstances when people from different backgrounds face the same task or situation and tackle it a way that highlights those differences.

      voting up

    • DRG Da Real Grinc profile imageAUTHOR

      Felix J Hernandez 

      6 years ago from All over the USA

      Great way to look at it Lifes 2nd chances.

    • Lifes 2nd Chances profile image

      Colleen Lyon 

      6 years ago from Kansas City, Missouri

      Great hub, I have often wondered about this topic myself. It's one of the reasons I rarely watch stand up comics. Between the racist remarks and the inability of so many to avoid being down right vulgar, I would just as soon skip the show. My saying is "the only color I see is the color of the soul". :-)

    • whoisbid profile image


      6 years ago

      I guess what is inside their heart is most important. Some people make racist remarks but are not racist and some never make them but are most racist

    • Kaitlyn Ulmer profile image

      Kaitlyn Ulmer 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin, U.S.

      For some reason it seems to be okay if the comedian is making fun of his/her own race. It's always easier to laugh at yourself, I guess.

    • Dim Flaxenwick profile image

      Dim Flaxenwick 

      6 years ago from Great Britain

      There is no excuse for racism.

      If , suddenly we were invaded by aliens from another planet, no one would care to what race you belonged to other than the Human Race and we´d all stick together against the invaders.

    • justmesuzanne profile image


      6 years ago from Texas

      Very thought provoking and interesting HUB! Voted up and useful! :)

    • DRG Da Real Grinc profile imageAUTHOR

      Felix J Hernandez 

      6 years ago from All over the USA

      Good point Nikki, not to say all comedians that do not use race as a punch lines are intelligent but it shows creativity.

    • nikkiraeink profile image


      6 years ago from So. Cal.

      I've never cared for racial jokes, although I will admit if it is aimed at my own race I'm a little more lenient. I have to admit I love comedy but I am drawn more towards physical comedy. However, those that don't rely on race to be funny are often much more intelligent, if you ask me. Making a joke about a particular race seems like the easy way out. Perhaps that's why I like Ellen Degeneres.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Having not nearly enough information to have a blanket opinion, I'm not speaking for all comedians here, but I think a lot of the time the subject matter of stand-up routines is not necessarily racist, but rather an exaggerated reflection of reality. Successful comedians who use race-oriented material are successful because people find them funny, and to achieve that, the audience must be able to find some aspect of it to be true. Something that they themselves have noticed - maybe even subconsciously. Humour is largely based on shared experience, after all.

      So, because the material comedians use will always be based somewhat on reality, as long as we, the audience, continue to allow racism to exist, it will be a recurring theme in stand-up acts. The line is, quite simply, drawn by how aware of racism you are and can't necessarily be a single line that speaks for the entire population. It's a different line for everyone and because we value free speech so very much in our country, it's unfair to expect there to be one clear line for everyone. Free speech is applicable in both positive and negative aspects, so as long as you want to be able to express your disdain for racism, racist people will have to be allowed to express their hatred.

      I answered no to your question, by the way. I don't think that racist or prejudiced jokes are funnier, but I do think that jokes that mock racism and comment on it are. Sometimes we need to hear shocking words or ideas to make us really understand how things are.

    • camaroon profile image


      6 years ago from Utah

      I do believe that some comedians are over the line but if we ignore race it just engenders more hatred

    • WillStarr profile image


      6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      As long as we keep racism alive, it will always be with us.

      When Richard Pryor first appeared, he talked about life in black neighborhoods, but there were no racist jokes, and he was hilarious. Later, he got into racism, and audiences nervously laughed at it because it was new and shocking. Today, many comedians mimic Pryor's racism comedy, never realizing that his earlier, non-racist work was far funnier.

      In fact, the early Pryor was following the lead of Bill Cosby, who never got into racism comedy.

      Very good Hub!

    • Alma Cabase profile image

      Alma Cabase 

      6 years ago from Philippines

      @Glass Exactly. I find some comedians making the racism issue very funny but he certainly crossed the line. Nonetheless, it still depends on a person's point of view about this issue. IMO, we are all brothers and sisters in the eyes God and we live in one earth. Its better to appreciate the things we share rather than what made us all different.

      This is a very interesting hub.



    • glassvisage profile image


      6 years ago from Northern California

      To me, the line is clear. Michael Richards clearly crossed the line. Other comedians can be somewhat racist and make it funny and acceptable. Most of my favorite jokes involve race. It's hard to deny that many people of the same race share the same behaviors, and it seems to be funnier when comedians focus on those shared behaviors that people identify with most and have pride in them.


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