Humor is — or at least can be — a difficult process in this era of correct speech.
And that, for the most part, is a good thing. We should all be sensitive when referring to those parts of society that have long been unrepresented (or at least under-represented and often even misrepresented) in the larger cultural conversation.
But where does satire fit into this picture? And when does satire cross over into objectionable commentary? Did the critics of Jonathan Swift have standing to criticize his call to solve Ireland's economic problems by selling Irish babies — as food? What about Lenny Bruce's pointed use of profanity? Would we even remember George Carlin if he hadn't used his comedy to tackle the dark aspects of American society?
And, speaking of the dark side, what about Anthony Jeselnik, who performed Thursday night at the Bing Crosby Theater as part of his Funny Games 2018 World Tour? What can we say about a comic who intentionally pushes just about every hot conversational button he possibly can? Buttons that involve – just to name a few controversial topics — dropping babies, domestic violence, murder-suicide (along with just plain old murder) and, as a capper, his driving a friend to an abortion clinic?
I wasn't sure how Jeselnik's humor would play in Spokane. Some member of the not-quite-sellout crowd that showed up on Thursday clearly had never heard of him. And not every one of his jokes hit comedy pay dirt.
But credit Jeselnik with being a polished professional. Whatever you might say about his material, he is a master at delivering it. Not only did he put a few obnoxious hecklers in their place — one of his specialties — but he stalked the stage with an affected air of arrogance that dares anyone not to appreciate his work, a comic pretense that is a main part of his onstage personality.
His humor is so outrageous that he dares you not to laugh. And hardly anyone on Thursday night took that dare.
I didn’t even try. At times I felt like wincing, and I groaned more than once, but I ended up laughing as much as I have in a long time.
Then again, that's no surprise. I’ve always thought Jonathan Swift’s culinary suggestions were hilarious, too.