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Mel Brooks Calls Political Correctness the ‘Death of Comedy’

Mel Brooks
Emma McIntyre/Stringer, Getty Images

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a middle-aged white comedian sits down for an interview and starts complaining about the things he can’t say onstage. This isn’t exactly a new complaint in the stand-up industry. For years, the old guard of legendary comedians have argued that modern audiences are too sensitive these days to the detriment of comedy; and sure, while there are certainly those who look for offense in any commentary  —  no matter how benign  —  it’s more than a little frustrating to hear some comedians claim that their decades-old material isn’t funny anymore.

Take Mel Brooks. Just weeks after former Monty Python member John Cleese complained that American audiences were too politically correct for his tastes, Brooks opened up during a BBC interview (via Vulture) about political correctness and why he’d never be able to make a movie like Blazing Saddles today:

Maybe Young Frankenstein, but never Blazing Saddles. Because we have become stupidly politically correct, which is the death of comedy. It’s okay not to hurt feelings of various tribes and groups. However, it’s not good for comedy. Comedy has to walk a thin line, take risks. Comedy is the lecherous little elf whispering in the king’s ear, always telling the truth about human behavior.

Look, while I’d never disparage the importance of Blazing Saddles as both a comedy and an act of political dissidence, Brooks’ argument ignores one important thing: it’s not that we don’t want comedians to poke fun at minorities, it’s just that we want members of those minorities to be the ones making the joke. Right this moment on Netflix, you can watch incredible television shows and comedy specials by Ali Wong, Hasan Minhaj, Kumail Nanjiani, and Justin Simien, and each of those comedians will provide the context and nuance lacking in other, more generic comedy bits about their family’s culture and traditions. If this is the end of comedy as we know it, then I, for one, am excited to see what Nu Comedy has in mind for us.

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