Comedy and Politics

George Carlin’s classic comedy routine, Seven Dirty Words from 1972 is a tremendously powerful bit of audio that really causes one to ponder the actual significance and severity of ‘bad’ words in modern society. I’ve often thought about this, and a black comedian, Donald Glover has actually tackled this subject before in his stand-up comedy titled Weirdo. Donald Glover discusses the use of the ‘N’ word, and his goal through his show is to remove the power of the word by getting everyone to begin using it; black people and white people alike. Here is the specific excerpt from his show:

“Black people use the “n” word for everything. We use it for everything. Like mother, brother, sister, love, hate — we use it for everything. I called a seat belt a nigger earlier today. I called a seat belt the “n” word. I was putting on the seat belt, and I was like… [grunting] “Nigga, if you don’t…” It just needed a little flavor, so I gave it the “n” word. You never see any other minority — you never see white people just using it. You never see them just using it for everything. You’ll never go in IKEA and see two white undergraduates from NYU just holding up some rugs and being like, “what do you think?” “oh, stop being a nigga.” like, no. You’ll never see that. And that’s the problem. It has to become a bad word for everybody. I hate it when black leaders are just like, “oh, we’re getting rid of it. Everybody’s got to stop saying [it].” No, rappers will still say it because you told them not to. That’s what makes them badasses. Like, everybody’s got to start saying it. Everyone, like, white people, you guys have got to start saying the “n” word. You guys got to start saying it. We will lose some of you in the process. Not all of you will make it home. But you’ll be dying for a good cause. It’ll be great. (Source: Weirdo, Donald Glover, it’s at the 28-minute mark.)”

I do not know for sure, however I am sure that Donald Glover has heard Seven Dirty Words and has taken George Carlin’s words into consideration for his act. I think Carlin wanted to bring attention to these words, and the convention behind not being able to use these seven words acceptably in society. George Carlin’s brother, Patrick spoke on his brother’s defense in pointing out that “it showed the stupidity of picking seven words out of thousands (400,000 to be exact) and how they can’t be said.” It is certainly a blurred line, in that where should and should not the government have control and regulation? Who are they to define what language is acceptable and not?

I’m not sure if Carlin’s comedy bit was intended as a moral argument, however in hindsight it can certainly be used as such. In my own life, having grown up in a value-driven, Catholic family, I was raised to not speak with such language, however I have often wondered about why these words should remain unspoken. Clearly some have been infused with negative connotations over the course of history, however as Donald Glover suggests, we can substitute respective words meanings and take certain powers away from them. Subsequently, George Carlin’s bold comedy act resulted in creating a springboard for conversation concerning these words.

When asked about comedy covering serious material, and where to draw the imaginative line, Jon Stewart eloquently defends comedy: “I think I would flip the question, and say ‘is this the right time for murders and bombings and killings?’ What is a show? It’s a show! I mean, I think hopefully, what it does is establish the peramiters of what’s insane and what’s not…. Shouldn’t the question be to them (the government) where do you draw the lines? Not to Bassem!” His point is that comedy should not be at fault for pushing too far when these acts themselves, by mere definition are pushing the line, and that comedy is simply trying to bring attention to the insanity of these acts. Comedians’ goals seem to be first and foremost, entertainment. That being said, they have a really powerful pedestal upon which they reside, and many, especially those like Jon Stewart, John Oliver, and George Carlin, use these pedestals to push certain agendas forward.

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