Stand-up comedy is the purest form of entertainment. Just one person making a one-way conversation to an audience and making them laugh. A lot of effort goes into those jokes. Comics who earn their living from their craft spend all day writing, and every night grinding, doing multiple sets a night with no nights off, trying over and over to see what works and what doesn’t work. It is a constant hustle for comics who feel pressure to stay on top of their game, stay relevant, try to make as many people laugh as possible, while also staying true to their art, communicating their original observations on the world around and sharing their most introspective moments with strangers.
Comedy, while entertainment, is also one of the last great bastions of free speech. However, there are some audience members who forget it’s also entertainment. In the increasingly politically correct world we live in, it is becoming easier for one to become offended by something a comic said during a live performance and take to social media to let everyone know how disgusted they were. Stand-up comedy has an exceptional track record for offending people, and thus, the following are 11 instances where stand-up comics in their effort to entertain happened offend a lot of people.
11. Doug Benson – The Red Eye Incident
On March 17, 2009, popular stoner comic Doug Benson, appeared on the Fox News program Red Eye, where he jokingly made anti-Canadian statements, joking about the quality of their military and stating that the United States should invade Canada. Coincidentally, these statements were made during a month when the Canadian military suffered a number of casualties in Afghanistan. Not only did the Canadian Government demand an apology from Fox News and Benson, but Benson was forced to cancel a show in Edmonton, Alberta, after the club received serious threats aimed at physically harming Benson. Unfortunate, as Benson seems like a genuinely nice guy, and Alberta, being the Texas of Canada, probably didn’t take too kindly to those words from that fancy-pants comedian.
10. Roseanne Barr – Butchered National Anthem
Roseanne was quite the superstar some time ago, as her foul-mouthed routine led to one of the most successful family sitcoms of its day, the self-titled Roseanne. Also, she was the voice of the girl baby in the very underrated film in Look Who’s Talking Too. On July 25, 1990, Roseanne sang the national anthem at a San Diego Padres game. She sang the anthem in a shrieky, not exactly on-key tone, spit on the ground and scratched her crotch during the performance. Suffice to say, fans of America’s greatest pastime did not appreciate Roseanne antics, with even President G.W. Bush calling her act “disgraceful.”
9. Ralphie May – Native American Insults
Just this year, Ralphie May caught a lot of flack for jokes he told involving Native Americans. Clips from the bit went viral, where he bad-mouthed Native Americans, exaggerating stereotypes and even stating “F— a whole bunch of Indians!”. A vast number of people were understandably offended by this, and he even had a few concerts on his tour cancelled due to protest. However, it could be conceived that a lot of people voiced their anger but heard the joke out of context. The premise of the joke was that Ralphie was upset that Dances With Wolves beat Goodfellas at the Oscars. Ralphie himself insists that many people just saw clips of what was seen as hate speech without hearing a premise or punchline, and notes that while he is racial in his comedy nothing comes from a place of hate.
8. Tracy Morgan – Gay Son Comments
In 2011 during a live performance, Tracy Morgan made a joke about his son being gay, and that if his son did not talk to him like a man that Tracy would, “pull out a knife and stab him.” The homophobic remark caused quite the stir, and got him some heat with higher ups and NBC and the producers of 30 Rock. Tracy apologized for the joke, saying that he had gone too far, and 30 Rock producer Tina Fey even put out a statement in support of Tracy’s apology.
7. Artie Lange – Twitter Fantasy Details
Very funny and very offensive former Howard Stern Show co-host, comic Artie Lange, got a lot of flack for a Twitter rant he made in November of 2014. Lange published a number of Tweets where he played out a sexual fantasy with ESPN personality Cari Champion, where he was a slave-owning Thomas Jefferson and Champion was his slave. While this humor may have been in good fun, and while everyone is entitled to a sexual fantasy, the public display of this violent fantasy caused Lange to receive a lifetime ban from ESPN. For more fun with Artie Lange, do yourself a favour and check out the 1998 film Dirty Work, where he co-stars with Norm Macdonald and explores more light-hearted and innocent jokes involving dead ladies of the night.
6. Larry Wilmore – White House Dinner Slang
The White House Correspondents Dinner is a White House tradition involving an evening with the press, where a comedian traditionally gives a good-natured roast of the POTUS. At the most recent White House Correspondents Dinner, Larry Wilmore, not only a comedian but also a critically acclaimed writer and political commentator, ended his set by exclaiming “Yo Barry, you did it my n—a!” While Obama seemed to genuinely enjoy the punchline, responding with laughter, embracing and thanking Wilmore for his set immediately after, many attendees sat in shock for the use of the racial slur and did not find the act funny in the least. Some public figures such as Piers Morgan have expressed their discontent for the line, but Wilmore defends what he said, reiterating to people that ending the word with not an ‘er’ but an ‘a’ is a term of endearment.
5. Daniel Tosh – R*pe Joke
Daniel Tosh rose to mainstream prominence with his routine of sarcastic, dark-humor, eventually landing him his television series Tosh.0. Daniel Tosh, during a live performance in 2012, pushed the envelope a bit too far by responding to a female heckler, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got r*ped by, like, five guys right now? Like, right now?” This got blogged about by the heckler and caused a massive online backlash against Tosh, as people protested his shows and petitioned to get his series taken off of the air, noting that the act condoned violence against women. Tosh did later apologize for the joke, acknowledged what he said was wrong and regretted how he handled the heckler. However, this incident is an important reminder when going to a comedy show, you should have an idea of who the comedian is, what kind of comedy he or she does, and know if you are likely to be offended by such humor.
4. Michael Richards – Racist Tirade
In 2006 at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood, Michael Richards, most popular for his portrayal of the character Kramer on Seinfeld, struggling through a set responded to hecklers by going on a racial tirade, shouting racial slurs at the men in a seemingly hateful manner. A clip of the incident went viral, and became one of the most popular offensive incidents of the year, parodied by a number of comedy entities such as South Park and Family Guy. Shortly after the incident, Richards appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman alongside Jerry Seinfeld, and apologized for the incident, claiming he did not know what came over him, stating “I’m not a racist, that’s what’s so insane about this.” Richards says that the incident still haunts him, and attributes it to his absence from stand-up. Looking back, this may be one of the most cringe-worthy, awful incidents in modern stand-up comedy.
3. Sarah Silverman – Jury Duty Remarks
In 2001 on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Sarah Silverman caught a lot of heat for telling one of her jokes from her act. In the joke, she notes that in an attempt to get out of jury duty she writes on an application form, “I love ch***s,” — a derogatory term for Chinese persons. Many were offended by the use of her racist term, including Asian anti-defamation groups. Silverman defended the joke, claiming that public outcry from anti-defamation groups was done with self-serving intentions.
2. Ari Shaffir – ‘Amazing Racist’ Sketch
Ari Shaffir, host of Comedy Central’s This Is Not Happening and his podcast Skeptic Tank, early in his career, shot a series of sketches for a National Lampoon DVD titled The Amazing Racist. These were sketches, done with actors, placing Ari in scenes performing racist acts, such as dressing as a clan member and trying to get people to put a little extra gasoline in his gas can for him, or going to hire Mexican day labourers only to drive them to Immigration and Naturalization Services. In the mid-2000s, these clips, taken out of context from the DVD, went viral on sites such as Ebaum’s World. Many people viewed these sketches without the context of them being from a sketch comedy DVD and believed the actions of the Amazing Racist to be real. As a result of the sketches, that many thought were real, Shaffir had some of his concerts protested and shut down by those who were offended, and received death threats for years.
1. Andrew Dice Clay – Profane Nursery Rhymes
No comedian has enjoyed more of a reputation for being offensive than the one and only Diceman. Andrew Dice Clay was a comedy mega-star by the end of the 1980s, touring major arenas, even selling out Madison Square Garden two nights in a row. His comedy was pure filth, filled with crude sexual imagery performed with bravado. Dice, whose jokes were so popular with his audience that they would shout the punchlines at him as he did the jokes, performed his “nursery rhymes” on an MTV Video Music Awards Show in 1989. The performance caused such an uproar with for his sexist and misogynistic humor that he received a lifetime ban from MTV. The ban was lifted in 2011, as Dice now on a sort of a comeback, with appearing in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine and starring on his own television series Dice.