Don’t go there? Standups on Weinstein, taboos- and the gags they regret
Is it ever OK for comedians to joke about sexual assault? Is there such a thing as too soon? Margaret Cho, Doug Stanhope, David Cross and other fearless comics on the fine line between funny and offensive
Last month, as accusations against Harvey Weinstein began to inundate in, James Corden stepped on stage at a black-tie event in Los Angeles and joked about the cinema producer’s alleged sexual assaults.” It’s a beautiful night here in LA ,” he said.” So beautiful, Harvey Weinstein has already asked tonight up to his hotel to give him a massage .”
Two days later, after a onslaught of criticism, Corden apologised. He is one of many comedians who have attempted to engage with a contentious topic only to have the move wildly backfire. It requires huge skill to take on a taboo topic and even then it’s still a minefield. Lenny Bruce was arrested many times for transgressing obscenity statutes, for saying things like” jack me off” and “motherfucker”. He was eventually convicted in 1964. One routine, which suggested that men will cop off with anything, included the phrase” run come in a chicken “. In 2003, he received a posthumous pardon.
So how do comedians approach taboo? Is there such a thing as too soon? Margaret Cho is addressing the Weinstein scandal in her latest display: so what does she think went wrong for Corden?” As a general rule ,” says the San Francisco-born comic,” if you haven’t suffered sexual abuse, you probably shouldn’t talk about it .” An abuse survivor herself, Cho says:” My compassion about the questions is built in because I am also the questions. It’s about compassion and experience, rather than talking as an outsider, like James Corden .”