Commentary

Can You Take A Joke? Stand-up Comedy On TV Changing With Chappelle, Rock Highlights

Live stand-up comedians have always had a point of view. And it can sometimes be upsetting or uncomfortable for their audience.

How is that portrayed on TV? We got a hint of that a few weeks ago on “The Oscars.”

Now we are seeing audience members taking on specific issues with actual attacks. Most recently, on Tuesday night at the Hollywood Bowl, this happened when Dave Chappelle was attacked and knocked to the ground by a 23-year-old man who was soon discovered to have a gun with a knife-blade attachment. Chappelle was not injured.

This comes just weeks after Will Smith came onstage during the live airing of The Oscars on ABC and slapped Chris Rock over a comment he had made about Smith’s wife.

Chappelle’s Hollywood Bowl performance -- where Rock was also performing -- was part of the "Netflix Is A Joke Fest" event, an 11-day stand-up comedy festival backed by Netflix and intended to air on Showtime later this year.

Now what?

For decades, stand-up comedians had to deal with drunken club attendees who could interrupt their acts with inappropriate comments. But rarely did this lead to physical altercations.

Stand-up comedians are now increasingly hesitant about appearing in certain venues such as colleges over the past few years --- due to material that some believe has been politically and socially hurtful.

Even Jerry Seinfeld, who does mostly a "clean" act everywhere, has expressed concern over ever performing again on college campuses due to the more intense political environment.

Chappelle’s attacker reportedly had rage issues in reaction to the comedian's act, coming from Chappelle’s Netflix comedy special and jokes around the transgender community.

So what now? How do TV networks -- ad-supported, premium cable channels (like HBO, and Showtime) -- adjust to this perhaps new and potentially violent environment?

Bill Maher of “Real Time with Bill Maher” said this may be a growing problem for comedians and their audiences.

The bottom line is: how can we navigate this and honestly laugh at ourselves? Well, it does still happen: One noted Oscar-winning actor was, in fact, initially laughing at a comedian’s joke with regard to his wife. 

Right after Chappelle’s Hollywood Bowl incident, when the attacker was taken away by security, Chris Rock came onstage and said: “Was that Will Smith?”

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