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Political humor needs to get out of the proverbial gutter
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

I like a good political joke even if it lampoones a position or politician I support.

But what is being passed off as political humor in recent years is a different animal. People seem hell-bent on morphing poking fun, wit and sarcasm into unadulterated viciousness with a heaping of insensitivity and vulgarity piled on top.

I cringed whenever I heard jokes or saw them on social media attacking President Obama that delve into the cesspool of ethnicity "humor." I do the same when I come across other attempts at humor involving President Trump alluding to him performing a sex act with another world leader or a visual of him being decapitated on social media.

Comedians - and those who think they are - always play to the crowd. I get that.

Growing up, I used to think Rodney Dangerfield was the funniest man alive. Then in my 20s I got a chance to take in a live show in Reno. I don't consider myself a prude, but I don't think I laughed more than five times at the vulgarity and crudeness he packed into his stage act. At the same time the rest of the room roared with laughter non-stop for almost an hour.

A casino nightclub crowd got an entirely different set of Dangerfield jokes than the viewers of Johnny Carson when Dangerfield was a guest.

When I was a kid, more than a few classmates thought I was Italian. This was when Italian jokes were all the rage. There isn't a drop of Italian blood in me.

A couple of particularly obnoxious kids were getting frustrated because they couldn't get my goat with their Italian jokes. So they escalated their attempts at humor by diving into the gutter. Their Italian jokes because extremely, filthy, and obnoxious as only 13-year-old guys with raging hormones can get. It irked me each time they told a joke that that was filthier than the previous but it didn't enrage me.

Finally one of them asked a friend why I wasn't getting ticked off. He told them I wasn't Italian. That tidbit of information led him to find the contributing blends to me being an American and substituting different ethnicities in his Italian jokes.

But he still failed to get me angry. The reason was simple. It was clear to me as a 13-year-old at the time that his goal wasn't to get laughs or be funny but to essentially provoke me. He was basically acting like an idiot.

There is a difference between joking and taunting.

Over the years I - like many others - thought people were losing their sense of humor and ability to laugh at themselves. But now I think there is something worse in play. There is a growing trend of equating shock value with being witty.

Racist and sexual innuendoes don't qualify as highbrow humor even if you are a Republican lawmaker and the president is Barack Obama or if you are a late night TV show host making six figures and the president is Donald Trump.

As for Kathy Griffin, what was she thinking? Give her credit though for realizing what she did with the likeness of Trump's head wasn't funny and crossed the line. She was human enough to admit it wasn't appropriate by civilized standards.

In the overall scheme of things maybe we haven't slid into the sewer with humor.

Will Rogers - one of America's greatest humorists and social commentators of all time - was of an era where mass audiences were reached through the written word or via carefully scripted radio shows that weren't driven by an instantaneous world.
There seems to be no second thoughts today before plunging the proverbial knife or pondering how something would play in Peoria.

We now live in a world where Howard Stern is no longer a shock jock as the Internet and the insane drive to rack up "hits" entices people to keep repeatedly punch holes through the envelope.

Americans have a long, rich history of employing sarcasm and wit in political debate. We also have a history of wallowing in the gutter at times with political humor.

The gutter humor probably had as much slime or worse than it is today.

The real problem is people aren't playing to contained targeted audiences any more. Even if they are nobody checks their smartphone at the door.

Dangerfield knew to set perimeters of his humor based on the venue.

The unfortunate thing about today's state of American political humor - at least the subterrian level - is that social media has amplified it so much that it is likely to end up driving such huge wedges between people that the damage will be beyond repair.

Whether you are liberal, conservative or somewhere in between there is plenty of political material out there to generate sharp, biting, and funny jokes without rolling in the pigsty.

Comedians don't need to dive into crudeness and offend. That is what we have politicians and talk shows for.

What we need is to be able to laugh together even though our political views vary.

Laughter is the best medicine but keep in mind arsenic sickens people. No one needs to back off, but they need to tone it down at least when it comes to political humor for public consumption.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.