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Comedians, as a breed, aren’t well known for holding back. Now, many are sounding off, in blunt terms, about so-called “cancel culture.”
Cancel culture is a term used to describe holding public figures responsible (usually via social media) for problematic comments and behaviors — people threaten to “cancel,” or boycott people or companies in light of behaviors deemed objectionable.
The custom is often turned toward comedians because many of the most prominent and successful ones show unabashed disregard for political correctness.
Take Dave Chappelle, who recently spoke about cancel culture and its infringement on the First Amendment.
“Political correctness has its place,” Chappelle, 46, told The Hill just before accepting the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on Sunday. “We all want to live in a polite society; we just kind of have to work on the levels of coming to an agreement of what that actually looks like.”
“I, personally, am not afraid of other people’s freedom of expression. I don’t use it as a weapon. It just makes me feel better. And I’m sorry if I hurt anybody,” he said. “Yada, yada, ‘everything I’m supposed to say.”
During his acceptance speech, Chappelle spoke about comedians he knows to be racist.
“Don’t get mad at ’em, don’t hate on ’em,” he said, according to USA Today. “Man, it’s not that serious. The First Amendment is first for a reason. Second Amendment is just in case the first one doesn’t work out.”
Eddie Murphy expressed similar sentiments, saying that cancel culture isn’t hindering standup comedy’s growth.
“I think the art form is soaring higher than it’s ever soared,” Murphy, 58, said to Yahoo Entertainment. “Every now and then somebody might say something that ruffles somebody’s feathers or steps on somebody’s toes or whatever, but for the most part, it’s bigger and more global and more diverse than it’s ever been.”
Keegan-Michael Key suggested that there’s more to cancel culture than being offended.
“Sometimes we’re offended, but other times, are you offended, or are you afraid to hear something that maybe needs to be said?” he told the outlet.
Comedic actor and singer Tituss Burgess says that as long as you’re laughing, comedians aren’t going anywhere.
“It’s not going away. When you’ve got people like Dave Chappelle who offends the f–k out of me, but it’s funny, and I laugh. I think about what he said, it offends me, but what he said is funny. So f–k cancel culture,” Burgess told Yahoo Entertainment.
Jamie Masada, the founder of the famous L.A. comedy club Laugh Factory, believes he had something to do with the development of cancel culture. Masada banned Michael Richards in 2006 after Richards, who’d rocketed to fame as wacky neighbor Cosmo Kramer in the long-running sitcom “Seinfeld,” let loose a racist rant during a set at the club.
“I started the whole thing,” Masada told The Los Angeles Times. “He came out with hatred speech, and I thought it was not proper. I banned him from the club.”
However, watching friends like Chappelle and Kevin Hart — who was booted from hosting the Oscars after old anti-LGBTQ tweets surfaced — face cancel culture has made Masada change his tune.
“Comedians, they’re allowed to be able to have this freedom of speech,” Masada said. “All of that stuff is very important to our culture. … This poor guy they hired for ‘Saturday Night Live,’ they hired because he’s funny and he made people laugh. And the next thing you know, they fired him. They ruined this guy’s life.”
Masada was referencing the September firing of Shane Gillis, who was set to join the “SNL” cast until a video of him surfaced in which he’d used racial slurs. He was fired before the season began.
“I’m a comedian who pushes boundaries. I sometimes miss. If you go through my 10 years of comedy, most of it bad, you’re going to find a lot of bad misses,” Gillis said in a since-deleted tweet. “I’m happy to apologize to anyone who’s actually offended by anything I’ve said. My intention is never to hurt anyone but I trying to be the best comedian I can be and sometimes that requires risks.”
“SNL” alumni Rob Schneider spoke out in support of Gillis following the incident.
“Dear @ShaneMGillis as a former SNL cast member I am sorry that you had the misfortune of being a cast member during this era of culture unforgiveness where comedic misfires are subject to the intolerable inquisition of those who never risked bombing on stage themselves” Schneider tweeted.
“(The criticism) is perfect for them,” he joked. “You should condemn them and let me be No. 1.”
On a more serious note, however, he did note that “the culture was different” when Chappelle and Hart said things now deemed “offensive,” and that even legends like Murphy have faced backlash, making it “a little hard” to hold comedians responsible.
“You say something like that and you can’t work at a sketch show, but you can work at a lumber yard?” Burr, 51, asked.
“This is f—–g Millennials! You’re a bunch of rats, all of you!” he said. “None of them care! All they wanna do is get people in trouble!”
Jim Jefferies, also present on “Lights Out” weighed in as well, with Spade opting to “stay out of the fray.”
“This is just cancel culture, the guy shouldn’t have been fired,” Jefferies, 42, said. “It’s just a couple of things back in his history. Are we going to go through everyone’s history, or are we going to get rid of every sketch that ‘SNL’ has done that involved race?
While many comedians feel that cancel culture is unfair and unjust, there are some that feel it’s necessary and will help the art form grow.
“There are some bad people out there, and there are some really [bad] things to say,” she said. “There’s a line. Did you hurt someone? That’s the line.”
Another “SNL” alum, Bill Hader, spoke with the press after winning an Emmy for “Barry.”
“I just feel like you don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings,” he said. “In comedy, you do stuff six or seven years ago that wouldn’t be okay now, and probably for good reason. … You have to kind of grow, so I think it’s a good thing. I’m never interested in upsetting anybody.”
Craig Robinson, who co-stars in “Dolemite Is My Name” with Murphy, thinks that it will only help to develop the art form further.
“I think it’s going to force comedians to talk about different things and broaden their horizons,” the 48-year-old actor-comedian told Yahoo Entertainment. “But also force them to keep their edge in some kind of way.”