Roseanne and Samantha Bee bring new life to old discussion: in comedy how far is too far?

Roseanne Barr

Hollywood doles out double-standards for similar sins

It has been three days since Roseanne Barr sent out the infamous tweet about Valerie Jarret and President Obama that caused her show to be canceled. In the time since this happened ABC pulled the show from its press page, removed it from Emmy consideration and there have been threats to pull it from syndication as well.

However, the question isn't whether Roseanne Barr's tweet was at the very least, in very bad taste if not much worse, and very few people are attempting to defend it, it is what constitutes a joke?

What is the difference between a joke and hate speech?

Even before Samantha Bee committed her faux pas regarding Ivanka Trump, people have been asking where is the line for comedians?  What is okay for a comedian to say?

People often say that political correctness is killing comedy, but where are the lines now?  How far is too far? Are public people allowed to be ridiculed?  Where would editorial cartoons and late night hosts be if that wasn't the case?

Which words can be used? Is a woman allowed to call another woman names? Is it okay for a man to call a woman a bitch, whore, etc? Are all subjects of race, class, culture, education, economics, religion and sexuality, taboo?

We know we aren't supposed to make fun of people for how they look, but we do.

Freedom of speech does not mean that you have to agree with everything that a comedian says, but that comedian should have the freedom to be able to try to make that funny. It's the attempt that I'm trying to defend so hard, not necessarily the execution. ~Brad Williams

And some people are going all-in with the First Amendment.  If something is said that is racist, sexist, classist or just plain mean, can it be said?  Probably.  But should it? It depends.

The audience decides whether or not they find a joke funny and some comedians make a point of being controversial.  If a comedian offends too many people and isn't considered to be funny, then they don't have an audience, but if they offend just the right amount, make people laugh, then they have buzz and perhaps fans.

George Carlin may have expressed difficulty with what you can and can't say; today as the list is far more than seven words.

Now everyone's mistakes are more public and way too many people have an opinion about them.

While it has been said that the best way to let evil win is for good people to do nothing, however in situations such as Roseanne Barr, Samantha Bee and Kathy Griffin, just about everyone had an opinion and all three women took their lumps but fought back.

And the fact that women are at the crux of these recent issues makes you wonder why haven't the men been getting blasted so much for comments that they have made that are similar?

The trajectory of Roseanne's tweet

Within hours of the tweet, Hollywood erupted with cast members condemning Barr and ABC acted swiftly and put out a statement that read:  "Roseanne's Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show."

Many members of the cast and crew chimed in on Barr’s tweet with the sentiments that range from disappointment in her words and actions much stronger language such as unforgivable, disgusting and abhorrent.

Michael Fishman, who plays DJ Connor wrote a Twitter essay condemning Barr.

She responded with a tweet to him that read:  "i created the platform for that inclusivity and you know http://it.ME. You throw me under the bus. nice!"

John Goodman, who plays John Connor was one of the last people to comment by wisely saying to Entertainment Tonight, that he would rather say nothing than to cause more trouble.

Even Barr condemned herself. She tweeted for people not to come to her defense as what she did was indefensible, even though she said the tweet was a mistake caused by not thinking while Tweeting late at night on Ambien.

She originally vowed to stay off social media, but she was back on within a few hours.

Hollywood hypocrisy

Most people are not defending her tweet, not even Barr, but some people are not as quick to join in the “condemn her” bandwagon. And, the punishments for similar sins is not the same across the board.

Roseanne dominated the talking points of many Fox News shows where they are calling out Hollywood on its hypocrisy and quickness to condemn one of the few vocal conservatives on network TV. Their argument is that liberals are allowed to say terrible things about conservatives without any negative ramifications.

Megyn Kelly joined in the dialogue by tweeting that it was considered acceptable for Samantha Bee to refer to Ivanka Trump as a  “feckless c–t” without any serious fall out from her network.

Coincidentally, all of this happened almost a year to the day when Kathy Griffin was under serious fire for her controversial photo shoot with Tyler Shields.  She faced extreme backlash and issued a public apology, that she has since rescinded.  However, many of the same celebrities who called her photo disgusting, such as Debra Messing, also are chiming in to condemn Barr.

Griffin joined into this discussion as well and had a lot to say to Chris Cillizza from CNN.

Perhaps this entire episode can be a teachable moment.  Not just to Roseanne Barr, but to anyone who wants to put ugly words and thoughts into the world, but Barr was energized by the support she has received from fans and on Wednesday Tweeted:  "you guys make me feel like fighting back. I will examine all of my options carefully and get back to U."

Roseanne
ABC/Robert Trachtenberg

But the rules of comedy are changing.  Partially due to #MeToo and TimesUp, but also because of a fine line between a joke and something that fosters hate. However, in order for comedy to work, there has to be a victim.

Perhaps the rules of comedy need to be redefined, but most comedians walk a fine line between funny and mean.

Audiences are quick to call out comedians with words with an ist at the end of it: racist, sexist, etc., but if you don't like a comedian's brand of comedy, then don't watch them.

The future of the Roseanne reboot is unclear with rumors circulating that it will stay canceled, it may come back without Roseanne, but these are all speculation for now and it is nowhere near over.

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Michelle Tompkins

Michelle Tompkins is an award-winning media, PR and crisis communications professional with more than ten years experience with coverage in virtually every traditional and new media outlet. She is currently a communications and media strategist and writer, as well as the author of College Prowler: Guidebook for Columbia University. She served as the Media Relations Manager for the Girl Scouts of the USA where she managed all media and talking points, created social media strategy, trained executives and donors and served as the organization’s primary spokesperson, participating in daily interviews with local, regional, and national media outlets. She managed the media for the Let Me Know internet safety and Cyberbullying prevention campaign with Microsoft, as well as Girl Scouts’ centennial Year of the Girl To Get Her There celebration in 2012, which yielded more than 800 million earned media impressions. In addition to her extensive media experience, Michelle worked as a talent agent in Los Angeles, California, as well contracting as a digital content developer and her writing has appeared in newspapers and online. She is passionate about television, theater, classic movies, all things food and in-home entertaining. While she has lived and worked in NYC for more than a decade, she is from suburban Sacramento and gets back there often to watch the San Francisco Giants on TV with her family.

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