Tracy Morgan: When Does Edgy Humor Go Too Far?
Late last week, 30 Rock star and comedian Tracy Morgan made headlines for a stand-up performance he gave in Nashville that seemed to encourage violence toward gays.
According to one audience member, Morgan said: “If my son was gay, he better come home and talk to me like a man and not [mimicking a gay, high pitched voice], or I would pull out a knife and stab that little [Nig***] to death.”
Morgan went on to say that gay people were “pussies” for complaining about bullying, which he minimized as not that bad.
Another comedian, Christopher Titus, also got into trouble last week for saying he would “hang out on the grassy knoll all the time” if Sarah Palin is elected president, “just loaded and ready.”
Both comedians apologized for crossing the line, but that raises an interesting question: What, exactly, is the appropriate line for comedians? Surely, comics and social satirists should have more license for politically incorrect humor than, say, a politician. But where, exactly, should the line be drawn?
My opinion is beneath the following survey; please cast your vote before reading my opinion so my own views don’t sway yours!
My View: I‘m a strong believer in free speech and want comedians to have the right to express their controversial and occasionally ugly views, regardless of whether or not I agree with them. But yes, there’s a line, and violence directed at a specific group crosses that line most of the time.
“Joking” about killing a gay son in our post-Matthew Shepard world has consequences, giving tacit approval to those who would commit violence against homosexuals.
And “joking” about killing a politician in our post-Gabrielle Giffords world is cringe worthy at best, if not outright dangerous.
Tracy Morgan deserves this fallout, and I hope other comedians take note. They may have the “right” to say violent things – but I hope their careers suffer for saying them. And just to be clear, I don’t want their careers to suffer as a result of government censorship, but rather from audience rebellion.
That’s a lesson Seinfeld’s Michael Richards learned the hard way.
Related: Charlie Sheen: Why #Winning Isn’t Funny
Related: Five Types of Political Humor: The Good, Bad, and Ugly
P.S. The below video features an interview with audience member Kevin Rogers. Watch until the end – I found the end quite moving.
The answer to hateful or offensive speech isn’t censorship but voicing our objections to that speech.
I’m in complete agreement with you (unless the speech encourages acts of violence, in which case it’s appropriate for authorities to step in).