Use your own standards

Published 3:44 pm Monday, October 8, 2012

What makes us such an offended society?

I’m not sure the answer to that, but I am sure we have often become a society that moves straight to being outraged and offended rather than thinking things through.

I pride myself on being one of the most open-minded people I know. I believe everyone has a right to their opinion and, even if I don’t share it, I don’t want to take it from them.

As Voltaire said, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

Anyone think they’re immune to the temptation of offense? Maybe you are, but I found out I’m probably not.

I love comedy. The roasts broadcast by Comedy Central are often my favorite things on television. They remind me of the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts (the complete series of which I own). They make me laugh even when there are times I know I shouldn’t.

I remember a comedy skit from Redd Foxx where he said “These people ain’t gonna die for you, why are you gonna let them tell you when you can laugh?”

I’ve always kept that in mind and I’ve found myself laughing at a variety of punch lines even when the jokes were sometimes questionable in taste.

My co-worker Patrick Bryant and I laugh about the jokes from the roasts all the time and we’ve had several discussions about the nature of comedy. We both comedians that make some people uncomfortable – people like George Carlin, Eddie Griffin and Christopher Titus.

Recently a couple of comedians got a lot of flak for their jokes. Daniel Tosh made a reference about rape that he apologized for and Dane Cook made a regrettable joke about the situation in the Colorado theater shootings. He also later apologized.

While I didn’t think the jokes were funny, I wasn’t sure how I felt about their apologies. Redd Foxx , Don Rickels and a lot of other comedians from the old school joked about everything.  We didn’t expect them to apologize and they wouldn’t have if they’d been asked.

During the last celebrity roast – of Roseanne – a joke was told that made me flinch. I usually don’t mind whatever the joke is; even if I don’t find it tasteful, but this one got to me.

If you’ve read this column before, you probably know that I’m a big John Ritter fan and I’ve written about supporting the John Ritter Foundation for aortic health. That’s why Anthony Jeselnik’s joke cut.

“Katey Sagal, you are an incredible actress,” he said. “You worked on ‘Married with Children,’ the show that changed comedy, ‘Sons of Anarchy,’ the show that took comedy to a whole new level, and ‘8 Simple Rules,’ the show that killed John Ritter.”

Though I’m no big fan of Jeselnik, I thought he was at his best during the Roseanne roast and I had been laughing quite a bit. Then that joke came. I stopped – immediately.

I don’t think what I felt was offense, but I know it wasn’t a joke I wanted him to tell again. I didn’t want him to apologize for it either, though. I thought he got the punishment the joke deserved – I didn’t laugh.

Maybe the lesson I learned is that its okay to be offended, just as long as you don’t hold other people to your standards in what they are offended by.


Thadd White is Managing Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be reached via email at or by telephone at 332-7211.