I caught a few minutes of the old favorite “Laugh-In” and couldn’t help but notice all of the humor tv shows couldn’t possibly get away with today.
There were jokes about white people, black people, German people, old people, short people, disabled people, church people, political people, just about every sub-group you can think of.
Would a show like this have a chance at even being picked up by a Hollywood studio today? No way. The same is true for even Saturday Night Live, that bastion of comedy on late night NBC television. Would writers today be able to write a sketch like the one that Richard Pryor was part of in the 1970s?
You remember it. Richard Pryor was applying for a job and Chevy Chase was doing the interview. He had to take a word association test which included words that are off limits today. Words that inflame and offend people of color. Words like “spear-chucker”, “tar baby”, “negro”, and the other word that I won’t write in this space, but the writers got past the network censors and set up the hilarious punchline for the sketch.
On Laugh-In, I noticed all of the jokes about Germans. Arte Johnson played a German officer on the show, complete with the accent and full-metal gear. He’d peek out out of the bushes and say “very interesting, but stupid”.
Can you imagine that type of thing happening today? Of course WWII had been over for a few decades when Laugh In hit the air, but I doubt we’ll see an American actor on American television portraying a bumbling stupid Iraqi or even Muslim terrorist in future years.
Funny how our humor has changed over the years. Networks don’t want to offend anyone (with the exception of politicians and ego-driven celebrities). Even sketches that lampoon values driven families and church folks have been toned down since Election Night 2004.
It isn’t because certain things are now considered ‘sacred’. Viewers have changed. They can’t laugh at themselves anymore. Remember the old Murphy Brown sitcom ten or more years ago about political correctness? The show aired October 11, 1993 and was about a series of on-air comments made by Peter and Murphy which wound up getting the staff forced to attend a seminar on political correctness.
That episode revealed some of the absurdities of how easily people are offended by the slightest thing. “I’m not black, I’m African-American” one character complained. Another spoke up “I’m not African…I’m black”. “I’m not black…I’m brown!”
Networks have figured you can’t say anything without 0ffending someone, so they’ve largely decided to say nothing. And funny shows like SNL and Laugh-In have jumped the shark.