As a lifelong fan of stand-up comedy, I’ve noticed that over the past two decades that comedy has become "safe." Comedians are encouraged to avoid jokes that might offend. Material about race, religion, height, and weight draw eye rolling and groans. Sitcoms have been cleaned up as well. While the occasional risqué joke does get through, most networks don’t want to risk a barrage of protests.
Before political correctness, American audiences weren’t so sensitive. People knew when a joke was a joke, regardless of whatever social unrest happened to be going on. Stereotypes were enjoyed instead of ignored, and comedians could perform without some special interest group attempting to pressure advertisers into withdrawing.
Of course, there are several older comedians whose work has survived throughout the years, such as George Carlin and Andrew Dice Clay. For the most part however, an entire generation of American humor has been lost, swept away by the P.C. police.
We have today largely grown up thinking that the over-exaggerated expressions of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis are the apex of comedy.
The following is a list of five American comedic geniuses that would probably be too harsh, real or politically incorrect for audiences today.
Warning: The following clips should be considered NSFW!
One of the earliest insult comics, Rickles loved people, and he loved finding the humor that everyone exuded naturally. Famous for his appearances on late night television on the Dean Martin Roasts, Rickles still performs today. He even got in a bit of trouble after a joke he told about President Obama. Thankfully, he shrugged it off.
How unfortunate it is that more people know her from her red carpet broadcasts than for her stand up comedy. Joan Rivers is a true American original. In the 50-plus years that she has been performing, her act has never changed. Only the world around it has, and she has never stopped ripping every bit of it to shreds. Not for the faint of heart, Joan River’s stand up is clever, witty, and absolutely brutal. If you can make it through 10 minutes of a Rivers clip below, you're probably not offended by much.
While largely known for his incredible time performing at USO shows (which was always admirable) Bob Hope was another groundbreaking comedian who enjoyed needling the establishment. When he wasn’t performing family friendly material, he loved to needle politicians, which he often worked into his many television and movie appearances.
Pryor’s particular form of stand up comedy took America by storm. While African American comedians like Bill Cosby had already been performing for years, Pryor gave people dose of something they had never seen before from a black comic: honesty. He told you what he really thought, and he never tried to make people feel bad for who they were. He knew that in every racial situation there was a laugh to be had, and never once failed to leave his audience in stitches.
Known largely as a writer and director, Mel Brooks truly how to make people laugh. From Blazing Saddles to Spaceballs, Brooks proved that nothing was ever above making fun of. He made fun of everyone through his movies. While parody’s today rely largely on sexual humor or the gross-out factor, Brooks preferred to work with stereotypes of all kinds. He’d be hard pressed to get one of his flicks through Hollywood today.
And there are others that today are largely unknown to young people today. Rodney Dangerfield, Red Foxx, Milton Berle, George Burns, The Marx Brothers, Lenny Bruce and John Belushi all were absolutely brilliant. Whether clean or dirty, they told jokes without worrying about who they would offend.
After two decades of clean television there are finally some shows making waves. Shows like 2 Broke Girls and Louie have begun to reintroduce American audiences to the concept of laughing at something that is not politically correct.
For over two centuries, the American people came together over humor. Many people may not realize just how much culture and truth is passed down through something as simple as a joke. To learn about funny people from all ages is to learn more about the culture that we come from.