“Real Time” comedian Bill Maher drew outcry on the internet earlier this month by comparing former One Direction member Zayn Malik’s likeness to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon bomber.
Fans of One Direction and those who have a bone to pick with the famously-outspoken liberal took to their keyboards to criticize him for comparing the Muslim Malik to a terrorist. The response was large enough to be covered by major news outlets like Time and The Guardian, and to elicit an on-air response from Maher himself. In a segment called “Explaining Jokes to Idiots,” he deconstructed the video in question, stating that he found out that Malik was Muslim after the joke and that it was predicated on physical likeness alone. This makes sense, as the two look alike.
Here is a case of a joke being taken seriously and political correctness being demanded in a situation where it is not needed and ought not to be desired.
I consider myself an ex-Bill Maher fan. I was drawn to his far-left comedy around the age of 16, but became bothered when he began taking what I observed to be an increasingly hostile stance towards Islam as a whole while critiquing extremists. In an October debate with Ben Affleck, Maher agreed with a guest’s statement that “Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas,” saying “it’s just a fact.”
This, frankly, pissed me off. Humor aside, Maher has a tendency to unfairly generalize the Muslim world and those who practice Islam. This, however, is not one of those times.
I stopped watching Maher because things he said in a serious context bothered me, not because I was offended by his jokes, which target various groups and individuals. The only two people in the world that have reason be offended by this joke are Malik and Tsarnaev. If Malik was offended by the comparison I would understand, and if for some reason Tsarnaev were as well, then at least some good came from all this. The opinion of anybody else in this situation is irrelevant.
Comedy exists to bring entertainment to people. At the end of the day, any messages or opinions carried in a joke, however important or grim, come second to its entertainment value. Humor complements meaningful discussion of any topic well because it paints the absurd as important and allows us to view the often less-than-joyful realities of the world without forcing us to confront them and their implications. Comedy, like Instagram filters, is for when you know something is not great or even remotely good, but it just needs to be shared.
In this same vein, you can think of political correctness as the jerk who calls someone out for using a filter. I hate filters and I think they ruin photographs, but if you like them, you do you. I am not in the picture.
If you do not think something is funny, you do not need to laugh; you do not need to be in the audience, just leave. If you ruin the fun for everyone else, you might soon become the joke.