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Developments in the moral guidance of mainstream comedy

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With the rise of comedians like Louis C.K. and Bill Hicks, the complexity level of comedy has increased. Comedy is no longer three idiots poking each another in the eye or lighting their flatulence on fire . It’s no longer even just an irreverent and humorous dismantling. As religious explanations fall further and further behind the evolutions of society, comedians have stepped in to fill the gap. Comedians are the new preachers, comedy clubs are their churches, and the audience members that understand it are the frustrated moral progressives.

Comedy is a powerful medium for information delivery. Satire and wit serve to exhibit intelligence and bolster respect for the comedian while a jaded discontent on the part of a comedian taps into the restlessness of youth and challenges flawed power structures.

Traditionally, this form of information delivery has been used to poke fun and reveal the ridiculousness of behaviors, traditions, and social mores. In short, comedy improves society by breaking it down. Comedies like George Carlin mock religion, Lewis Black pokes fun at politicians, and Jim Gaffigan gets a chuckle from the horrors of food addiction. Until recently, moral guidance has been left to its traditional sources: religion and its ministers. But perhaps things are changing.

Unlike traditional moral guidance, behavior and language are shallow indicators of moral principle. Comedians understand this with their colorful language and perverse descriptions. This seems to be in line with the realizations of many liberated ex-religious. Leave puritanism to fossilized Quakers and Christians who, without the 10 commandments would apparently forget how to behave and eat each other alive. Life is more complex. “Purity and wellness are not as simple as doing and saying the right things” seems to be a common message.

Many comedy sketches are just vague attempts at progress; scattered ideas, and abstracts, but who has the answers anyway? Certainly not the people who claim to. Comedy is innocent of trying to know it all, avoiding cultural responsibility while still having an impact. This agnostic approach as well seems in-tune with the liberal culture majority.

Bill Hicks:

“The world is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down, around and around, it has thrills and chills, and it’s very brightly colored, and it’s very loud, and it’s fun for a while. Many people have been on the ride a long time, and they begin to wonder, “Hey, is this real, or is this just a ride?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and say, “Hey, don’t worry; don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.” And we … kill those people. “Shut him up! I’ve got a lot invested in this ride, shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry, look at my big bank account, and my family. This has to be real.” It’s just a ride. But we always kill the good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok … But it doesn’t matter, because it’s just a ride. And we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings of money. Just a simple choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one. Here’s what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defenses each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.”

Louis C.K.

“I’m bored” is a useless thing to say. You live in a great, big, vast world that you’ve seen none percent of. And even the inside of your own mind is endless. It goes on forever inwardly. Do you understand? Being the fact that you’re alive is amazing, you don’t get to be bored.”

[On suicide]

“I got my reasons to live, I’ve worked to figure out what they are, and I’m not just handing them over to you…. If you wanna tap out ‘cuz your life is sh*t, ya know what, it’s not your life, it’s life … Life is bigger than you, if you can imagine that. Life isn’t something that you possess, it’s something that you take part in.”


[On work and fulfillment]

You’re 20! from SchoolofMarvin on Vimeo.


What are some of your favorite funny yet insightful comedian quotes?

Tyler Samien has a BA in English/creative writing from the University of Tennessee. He enjoys writing everything from scathing online reviews of companies that displease him to nostalgic memoirs of childhood experience. His blog, ReluctantChauffeur, is about to get interesting as he travels the United States with his wife and goofy-faced puppy.
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