The Harm Caused by Comedians

Before this class, I never had a problem with comedians joking about stereotypes. I would always say they were just making jokes that are not meant to be taken seriously. However, I now realize that comedians play a huge role in perpetuating stereotypes. Whether we realize it or not, we are internalizing the stereotypes they present, and those stereotypes influence our behavior.

For instance, in this video, Daniel Tosh is making very sexist jokes:

People may play off these very offensive stereotypes as jokes, but they do not realize they are unconsciously internalizing these messages. People start to believe women are, in fact, worse at math, driving, and running a country. This affects their behavior towards women and their expectations of women.

Here, Ricky Gervais talks about fat people:

Again, people may say he is just joking, but think about the message he is sending to the audience: all fat people have no self-restraint.

People would never say these stereotypes to others because it would be deemed offensive. However, it becomes acceptable to make stereotypes in comedy routines. This is where the problem lies, and I think comedy can be very harmful. Comedy becomes our exposure to stereotypes, and even though comedians are trying to play it off as a joke, the audience unconsciously adopts these stereotypical ideas.



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2 Responses to The Harm Caused by Comedians

  1. alicial2012 says:

    I agree with your analysis of the role which comedians play in reinforcing and perpetuating stereotypes, and I would just like to add another example of the alarming way in which comedy can not only be offensive, but dangerous to women. A few months ago Comedian Daniel Tosh made a joke about rape in his stand-up routine, which can be viewed here:

    Tosh trivializes a woman being violently sexually assaulted and tries to insinuate that there could be humor in sabotaging a woman and making her helpless to a sexual predator. When a female in the audience called him out for the insensitivity of the joke, he responded “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by, like, five guys right now? Like right now?”. He invites his audience to trivialize rape, laugh at a woman’s concern about desensitizing people to such a real and tragic event, and then goes so far as to encourage the violent sexual assault of the woman as if she “deserved” it for finding his joke unfunny. What’s even more disturbing is that 1) his jokes about rape receive much more laughs than criticisms from the crowd, and 2) his audience is large young men and he knows it. Tosh’s message reaches men who are constantly getting told from ads, television, movies and other forms of media that women are sexual objects, and now this is being reinforced by Tosh’s message that violence against women can be trivialized. Perpetrating stereotypes and trivializing violence against women should be fought against, but rather it is laughed at and embraced by comedians and their fans, with potentially tragic results.

  2. giuliai says:

    I agree with you. Comedians definitely play a role in perpetuating stereotypes and can’t really be called out on it because any criticism would be seen as censorship limiting their freedom of expression. Jokes are seen as something that shouldn’t be taken seriously, but this does not mean that they can’t end up being harmful or offensive.

    Since you already mentioned Daniel Tosh, I thought it would be fitting to bring up an episode that took place a couple of months ago and created a lot of controversy on this matter. Apparently, during a stand-up show, Tosh started making some jokes about rape and, when a woman in the audience reacted negatively to it, he replied “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now?” (the whole story is reported here, and the woman’s original blog post can be found here

    Personally, I think that rape is not something you can easily joke about without being downright offensive and gross, and I really have a lot of trouble understanding how a joke about a girl being gang-raped could possibly be considered funny by anyone. However, Tosh defended himself saying that a comedian has the right to make jokes about any subject, however awful it might be.

    Is there a line that even comedy should not cross then? Can we do something to prevent comedians from perpetuating harmful stereotypes or, in Tosh’s case, rape culture?
    I think that this blog post ( makes some valid points about the whole Tosh controversy and the legitimacy of rape jokes. I agree that freedom of speech goes both ways, so, while comedians can keep arguing that they are allowed to make jokes about whatever they want, it does not mean that they should just reject and dismiss any criticism they might receive for what they say. Also, I think that stereotypes, and even controversial or triggering topics, can be used in comedy in a successful and non-offensive way if the comedians, instead of reinforcing the stereotypes, make fun of how integrated they are in our society and deconstruct them.

    PS: If anyone needed further proof that Daniel Tosh’s “jokes” are simply sexist and offensive here is another video that I found very disturbing (especially in the final punch line).

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