Two comedy stars have staked opposing views over whether sensitivity to marginalized groups helps or hurts stand-up comedy.
"We're in the cancel culture now," Steve Harvey said Tuesday during a Television Critics Association panel for his new ABC comedic adjudication series "Judge Steve Harvey." The star — whose career includes the 1996-2002 WB sitcom "The Steve Harvey Show" and hosting the daytime talk show "Steve Harvey" and the game show "Family Feud" — asserted that a stand-up comic no longer "can say anything he wants to. Chris Rock can't. Kevin Hart can't. Cedric the Entertainer can't. D.L. Hughley can't. I can go down the list. The only person that can say what they want to say onstage is Dave Chappelle because he's not sponsor-driven, he's subscription-driven."
While other stand-up stars — including Massapequa-raised Jerry Seinfeld and Long Beach-raised Billy Crystal — have long performed and continue to tour without taking aim at marginalized groups, Harvey, who turns 65 on Monday, said he believes "political correctness has killed comedy," adding, "Every joke now, it hurts somebody's feelings. What people don't understand about comedians is that a joke has to be about something. … We can't write jokes about puppies all the time."
Meanwhile, veteran comedian Margaret Cho on the CBS daytime panel-discussion show "The Talk" Tuesday embraced awareness of comedy's power to affect and influence.
"What is happening, I think, with cancel culture, is society is trying to be fair," said Cho, 53. "We're realizing that we have problems with language, we have problems with race, with sex, with gender, with all of these things. So, we're trying to correct that by thinking about what we're saying when we tell a joke …. It's just trained us to be more thoughtful about people who are not us, the other, whoever is the other."
She acknowledged that "comedians get frustrated because we just want the easy way out, but, really, it just teaches us to be more nuanced and thoughtful about what we're saying." Comics, she said, "know what it means for jokes to be unfair, to feel all awkward in a room. … So I think it's just teaching us to be better as people, and I'm grateful for it."