Fortnightly logo

Comedy and Morality

What’s the relationship between comedy and morality? Is there one? Should there be? That’s the question we’ll explore in this talk, which looks at professional humor’s role in defining, and defying, society’s moral boundaries. From the satirists of ancient Rome to last night’s “Daily Show”, comedy has never been shy about taking on the moral issues of its time. In satirizing and illuminating society’s hypocrisies and immoral behaviors, though, comedians are frequently accused of “crossing the line”. Generally, they don’t care. George Carlin: “It's the duty of a comedian to find out where the line is drawn and then step over it.” But one thing is sure: wherever you draw it, your line won’t be in the same spot as your neighbor’s. So how do we as a society decide when comedy goes too far?

David Misch is an internationally recognized expert on comedy, if you count one interview with Radio Ireland as international recognition. But he is unquestionably the author of the award-eligible Funny: The Book - Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Comedy. David’s been a comic folksinger, stand-up comedian, and screenwriter. His credits include the multiple-Emmy-nominated “Mork and Mindy”, the Emmy-losing “Duckman”, the Emmy-ignored “Police Squad!”, the Emmy-engorged “Saturday Night Live”, and the Emmy-ineligible “The Muppets Take Manhattan”. He blogs for The Huffington Post and his play Occupied is scheduled to be produced later this year in Los Angeles. He’s taught and lectured at Columbia University, Oxford University, the University of Sydney in Australia, New York’s 92nd St. Y, the University of Southern California, and the New York Public Library.