Walking the Line

“It’s always funny until someone gets hurt. Then it’s just hilarious.” – Bill Hicks

In an attempt to be relevant and push the envelope of the Oscars, the producers tapped Family Guy and Ted creator, Seth MacFarlane to host the 85th Academy Awards on Sunday.

If you are unaware who Seth MacFarlane was before the Academy Awards, for the better part of 13 years, he has used his show to promote his particular brand of comedy that skewers stereotypes of all kinds, Asians, Irish, Jews, gays, the rich, the poor, men, women, mental retardation, handicapped, and politics.  He has built his career and amassed a rather impressive fortune (in 2008, he signed a $100-million deal with Fox) for being the kind of comedian who walks the line between humor and bad taste and the kind of comedian the Academy Awards’ producers obviously were looking for.

Billy Crystal has been good if not vanilla; David Letterman proved he is best seen behind his late night talk show desk, Ellen DeGeneres couldn’t recreate Emmy hosting magic, and Anne Hathaway/James Franco, who were brought in to attract younger viewers, failed to attract any viewers.

Not deterred by the dust storm of disaster that was the Hathaway/Franco debacle, producers remained steadfast in their plight to attract younger viewers this year which explains why MacFarlane took the stage Sunday night.  He brings with him an established and young fan base and he possesses the talent capable of keeping people at their TV’s (in 2011 his big band styled album got 2 Grammy nominations), two things the producers of the show have been desperately searching for.

The producers understood what came with a Seth MacFarlane as host. They should not have been surprised by any of the offensiveness or almost line crossing jokes that were made on Sunday.  In fact, the biggest surprise was MacFarlane never fell back on his ‘Stewie’ voice.  No matter what has spewed forth since the end of the show on Sunday, the producers could not be happier.  Sunday night the show reached over 40 million viewers*, its biggest audience in three years plus, three days later, the Internet is still buzzing with Oscar talk.

“You have to be able to laugh at yourself. That’s what I tell Asian people all the time.” – Sarah Silverman

Sunday night, MacFarlane opened with a joke about himself, then went on to sing about boobs, poke fun at Chris Brown and Rihanna; he made allusions to anorexia, used Nazi’s for punchlines, recreated movies with sock puppets, referenced someone else’s reference to Adele’s weight, and worked in a Ron Jeremy mention.

He had some groans (apparently, 147 years later, is still too soon to make an Abe Lincoln joke), he got some laughs, some jokes were a hit and some fell flat.  Par for the course for most hosts.

Yet, the next day, the Internet forgot about Kim’s baby bump for a moment and put on their lynch mob mentality as they labeled MacFarlane a sexist, misogynist, offensive, unfunny, and unfit to host a Wednesday night dinner theater production in Schenectady, let alone the Oscars.

The Huffington Post tweeted all day long, the top offensive jokes told, how those offensive jokes would not help as pickup lines, and the worst hosts of the Oscars.  Blog posts landed about how the offensiveness of Mr. MacFarlane’s jokes were a symptom of our society, they only served to set the women’s movement back, and on the vulture.com, one author was actually able to piece together how MacFarlane was referring to Roman Polanski.

How dare he make jokes about women, especially after some of the 18.2 million people* spent the first 3 hours of the red carpet show making fun of actresses and their dresses and Anne Hathaway’s nipples?  Who was he to make a reference to Adele’s weight, Salma Hayek’s beauty, or sing a show tune about breasts?  Who does this man think he is?

He’s a comedian.

He’s not a clergyman, he is not a politician, he is a comedian.  He is paid to create comedy, regardless of how offensive said comedy is considered.

And isn’t comedy bound to be offensive?  By definition, comedy is, “…the humorous aspect of life or of events.”  It is men and women standing on a stage with a microphone interpreting their observations about life, culture, and current events.  Their interpretations are varied, and at times, offensive.  It is them walking up to the line of bad taste and stopping just before they cross it.

Because of this, there is always going to be someone potentially offended by a joke.  Some group or party and most staunch Republicans, can all find offensive material lined within a comedian’s act. No matter what subject matter Mr. MacFarlane took to, was he not bound to offend someone?

The simple answer is ‘yes’.  But MacFarlane isn’t the only comedian to offend.

 “There’s nothing more awkward than going to the first birthday party of a little girl when you told her mom to get rid of her — because the kid can tell.” – Amy Schumer

Amy Schumer is making her career out of towing the line of offensive.  Her brand of comedy borders on the line of bad taste as it expertly and hilariously flaunts its offensiveness.  Ms. Schumer is not the first woman to hone her craft as such either.  She follows in the footsteps of Joan Rivers, Whitney Cummings, Lisa Lampanelli, Chelsea Handler, and Sarah Silverman, as women who ignored the old boys club of stand-up comedy and carved out their marks.

Joan Rivers has been a face for women in comedy since the late 1950’s (though her current face has only been in show business for about 4 years).  She is offensive.  She is brash, loud, and unafraid (or apologetic) about her act.  In the documentary, “Joan Rivers-A Piece of Work”, she says, “I hate children. Eww. The only child that I think I would have liked was Helen Keller because she didn’t talk.”  She then proceeds to berate an audience member (a man) who calls her out on the joke. Besides calling him an asshole, she lets him know, “Comedy is to make everybody laugh at everything and deal with things, you idiot.”

All of these women are extremely funny and talented and they all walk that comedic line like Nik Wallenda on a tightrope over a waterfall.

 “One standard will do just fine.” – George Carlin

Maybe we have a double standard?

Seth MacFarlane makes jokes offensive to (some) women on Sunday.  He joked about the women in the audience being able to fit in to their dresses and according to one blog author, blatantly ignored talent for beauty as he introduced women.

So where is the contempt for women who joke about the same sorts of things?

In January, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey hosted the Golden Globes.  Both women, oozing with comedic genius, reached near deity like reverence for their hosting abilities that included a joke about the ‘Hunger Games’ being a way to starve yourself in to a tight dress and dismissed George Clooney’s talent as a filmmaker and actor to comment solely on his good looks. They pretended to be drunk as they made no mention of Taylor Swift’s musical acumen instead joked about her many boyfriends and Michael J Fox’s son.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler received no angry blog posts from anyone about their obvious sexism (at least none of note) and Fey has already moved to the top of ‘Who should host’, next year’s Academy Awards.

What about other comediennes?

Sarah Silverman has joked about the Holocaust, rape, midgets, Asians, men, Jews, and anything else caught in her sights.  She sells out shows, has over 4,000,000 followers on Twitter, and within the last 48 hours has called Joan Rivers a whore and said Ang Lee has a sexy penis nose (the Ang Lee joke got 441 Retweets and 323 Favorites).  No outrage. No righteous indignation for calling another woman a whore or alluding to Ang Lee’s penis nose (as well there shouldn’t be).

Is the internet boiling with righteous indignation over what was said at the Academy Awards or by who said it?  MacFarlane, considering his comedy, would certainly be a celebrity well hated by many people. Did a developed dislike of the Oscar host help to formulate final conclusions about his character?  Why did those who watched both the Golden Globes fawn over Fey and Poehler’s jokes but sear with anger over basically the same jokes told by MacFarlane?  Not to mention the majority of disdain for MacFarlane stems only from accusations of being a sexist.  Nothing of significant note has been made about the gay jokes, Jewish jokes, and faux-Nazi’s that made their way on to the show?  Are we only partially outraged or did those jokes not bother us?  Is it ok to laugh at one group just not another?

 “I guess they’re tough jokes. But there’s lots of things you either laugh or cry at. And you just can’t cry.” – Sam Kinison

As a father of two girls, I have found myself keenly aware of anything that might somehow inhibit my children from achieving their full potential or degrade them in some way.  As sensitive as I am to that, I am also quite aware my children are going to need thick skin if they are going to make it in this world.

The line between humor and bad taste is moving every day.  Fifty years ago, Lenny Bruce was arrested for using the word ‘cocksucker’.  Today, CBS airs ‘2 Broke Girls’ (created by Whitney Cummings) which gets its laughs from jokes about rape and oral sex.

That line is not going to retreat backwards any time soon.  I would much rather prepare my kids than try to shelter them by silencing someone.  I want my kids to take a page from Joan Rivers, comedy is used to laugh at everything and to deal with things.

Sometimes in dealing with things, we step on toes or bring up an idea that others find offensive.  I want them to know it is ok to object to the jokes but in turn, they need to know the jokes are going to continue to come.  The offensiveness of a comedian’s words may even test their resolve and challenge their sense of humor but a joke can never slow down their progress, or their goals, or their strength as people and as women unless they allow them too.  Don’t allow them to.

“So many people have no sense of humor, whatsoever! Everyone knows that it is my job to tell the jokes, that’s what I do…” – Kathy Griffin

In the end, Seth MacFarlane was asked to do a job, and whether or not he did his job well is certainly subject to debate but what shouldn’t be up for debate is his character.  MacFarlane is no more a sexist or misogynist or anti-Semite or racist or bigot than any other comic, man or woman (well, with the exception of Michael Richards).  If he is, then so are Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Lewis Black, Sam Kinison, Sarah Silverman, Lisa Lampanelli, Joan Rivers, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler (to name a few).  Seth MacFarlane is a comedian who, like so many of his peers, is neither afraid nor apologetic for his comedy no matter the proximity to that line separating humor and bad taste that he walks.






*viewership based on Nielsen ratings


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About jetts31

Husband, father to two girls, dog walker, living with male pattern baldness. In addition to writing on his own site, Jimmy contributes to DadsRT, COAL.com, and the Southern Berks News. He is the world record holder in his house for 'Best Hiding Spot' during Hide and Go Seek.

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  1. Ha, I saw that Ang Lee penis nose joke. Pretty sure I was one of the RTers.

    I thought he did a surprisingly good job, and that comes from someone who’s not a fan of Family Guy (or of Ted).

  2. Daddysincharge says:

    There is always going to be someone that gets offended by something. It’s easier to take a stand against a man than it is a woman. It’s always been that way and it will always be that way. I am thankful that there are different comedians doing different things. Stuff that I don’t find funny, others might. The outrage over what a comedian says is ridiculous. Don’t like it, don’t watch it.

    • I find it ridiculous that anyone would put so much importance on to the words of a comedian. And why just one comedian? Why aren’t the people so angry with MacFarlane angry with every comedian who offends them?

  3. Brickwade says:

    Nice piece. Oscar producers knew what they were getting and got it. Your statement about people still talking about it is right on point. It’s all about publicity. No such thing as bad publicity. And people offended over comedy need to find a hobby.

    • Good point Brick. You know EXAACTLY what you’re gonna get with Seth. There were no surprises with him as host!

    • No surprises and the producers are licking their chops at their choice…as the world continues to talk.

  4. Andrea says:

    Great article. I love how you relate your view of comedy to parenting: “I would much rather prepare my kids than try to shelter them by silencing someone. I want my kids to take a page from Joan Rivers, comedy is used to laugh at everything and to deal with things.

    Sometimes in dealing with things, we step on toes or bring up an idea that others find offensive. I want them to know it is ok to object to the jokes but in turn, they need to know the jokes are going to continue to come.”

    We all have to live in this world. Some people will always have something to complain about.

    • Hi Andrea! Thanks for reading. I’m of the opinion, just as I wrote, words and people can only hurt you if you let them. When the words come from a comedian, you really can’t let them hurt you. They are social commentators wrapped around vulgarity and humor. They are bound to offend just from the nature of their business and we can’t let it get to us.

  5. Part of the problem is likely the simple fact that he isn’t particularly funny. When you try desperately to be offensively funny and the funny fails, what are you left with? Seth MacFarlane.

    • I find him to be funny along with a lot of other comics in his vein of comedy. But that’s also the great thing about comedy, it varies as much as our opinions about it. I have no problem with anyone thinking he wasn’t funny because I think most of his talent was wasted (should have sang and danced more) I took issue with the prevailing thought on the Internet now that he is somehow responsible for the downfall of women or he is sexist or misogynistic.
      Appreciate the thoughts Brian!

  6. Abby says:

    You make some excellent points. I have to say, while my husband is a huge fan of McFarlane, I am not so much. It seems more like “guy humor” to me. That said, I do think many of his jokes are funny because he does push the envelope and is equal-opportunity offensive to all groups. I feel like Oscar hosts can’t win no matter what because it’s such a tough crowd. You’ve got the Hollywood egos, the people in middle America, the vultures picking apart every joke on the internet. I was actually surprised he was as tame as he was. He could have been much, much more offensive, and some people are complaining THAT’S why he sucked. Poor Seth. At least he can fall back on his millions of dollars and thriving movie, TV, and music careers. 🙂

    • I agree. He is sort of a ‘frat guy’ type of humor which, not surprisingly, is right in my wheel house. It is a totally thankless job for those reasons you just said. Hollywood egos, middle America, and online vultures will find something to pick apart.

  7. Mlegreenberg says:

    Well said! I am getting so weary of hearing the rants of people who believe that they have some kind of right to never be offended. If it offends you fine, be offended for a moment, then move on. To attack someones character because you found something they said offensive is weak. Consider what they said and if it does not fit in with your beliefs, simply toss it out. To be outraged by the joke of a comedian takes this overreaction to an even more ridiculous level. When did people start holding comedians to such high standards of moral conduct and speech? Why is a joke grounds for launching an attack just because you are offended and/or do not find it funny? Everyone is entitled to an opinion but move on, let it go, get on with your life.

    • That’s what I couldn’t understand? Since when do we look at comedians with such reverence that their words affect the way we live? I have no issue with anyone who was offended but I love what you said, be offended for the moment then move on.
      Was he funny? That can be for debate. Were you offended? Same. Did his monologue set back any movement or empowerment of a group of people? If it did, you need more power.

  8. James Hudyma says:

    I hate those comments where all the reader does is compliment the writer but seriously Jimmy, this is an amazingly well-written and thought-provoking piece.

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