When Kathy Griffin saw how many Americans were offended by the severed Trump head, she acknowledged that she went way over the line. Americans from both sides of the political spectrum agreed. As Melania Trump commented, it was very disturbing. Griffin posted an apology which seemed sincere. Nevertheless, there were consequences. Griffin was fired by CNN for the annual New Year’s Eve gig. Al Franken cancelled appearances with her.
With some of the commentary that has gone back and forth prior to the last election and since then, the line between decency and vulgarity seems to have disappeared. Profanity has become very common and the insults hurled between the right and the left are limited only by the imaginations of the people speaking them.
American comedians have been pushing political envelopes for decades. In the 1960s, Lenny Bruce was arrested several times for obscenity which would be considered quite mild now. George Carlin was charged for obscenity in 1972 for performing his Seven Dirty Words bit. Since then, many comedians have stepped over many lines. Others who come to mind for pushing it include Richard Pryor, Andrew Dice Clay, Andy Kaufman, Roseanne Barr, Chris Rock, Amy Schumer, Dave Chapelle, Daniel Tosh, Ricky Gervais, Carlos Mencia, Tracy Morgan, Gilbert Gottfried, and many more.
How does any of this apply to professional public speakers? It's a reminder that you have to be very careful about the jokes you tell. When telling jokes, it’s very important to keep the audience in mind and to avoid jokes that may be taken the wrong way and detract from the presentation. Just because a joke seems funny to you does not mean that most of the people in an audience will also find it funny. When in doubt, leave it out.
I used to tell one joke that I really loved. “I saw a bumper sticker that said ‘Meat is murder.’ Well, that must make me some kind of a sociopath, because I love the feeling of my incisors ripping through a nice juicy steak.” That joke rarely worked for me. If a joke doesn’t work the first time, try to figure out why and make any needed adjustments. If it doesn’t work a second time, you should really think about letting it go.
It’s refreshing to see that there is indeed a line which should not be crossed. Fake decapitations of President Trump are officially off limits. In my opinion, chatter about killing people with whom we disagree or wishing death upon them should be off limits as well. As I mentioned in my stump speech when I ran for Congress last year, the jokes have been getting uglier. It's hard to imagine an uglier joke than this latest stunt by Kathy Griffin. The time has come to Make America Laugh Again with kinder gentler jokes.
A liberal, a conservative, The Pope, and Kim Kardashian walked into a bar…
For tips on how to tell jokes, check out these previous posts.
Also, Humor 101: How to tell jokes for power, prestige, profit, and personal fulfillment is available on Kindle and it will soon be available in paperback. Check it out!