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The disappearing laughter on TV

In the last year, it’s gotten harder and harder to laugh.  We’re sad, disillusioned, physically isolated, and tired.  Now, more than ever, we need a reason to laugh.  Unfortunately, comedies are disappearing from the TV landscape.

So when ABC announced their new sitcom, United States of Al, I was thrilled.  An Afghanistan interpreter who has found political refuge in the States was perfect to highlight today’s problems of stereotypes and culture clashes.  Perhaps, like the old Mork & Mindy series, this legal “alien” would give viewers life lessons – or at least, a better perspective on themselves.

So far, US of Al has avoided any political incorrectness with the most liberal, socially-openminded characters in the entire US of A.  Not a single “Karen” in the bunch.  And frankly, the humour has suffered.

Of course, many new comedies struggle to find a home with viewers.  But today’s political correctness brigade is truly limiting their voice.

It wasn’t always this way.  Remember All in the Family?  Even today, Archie Bunker is still one of the most offensive characters on television.  But his prejudiced beliefs and rude language was used to highlight the issues of the day.  Of course, the writers gave equal treatment to his whiny liberal/socialist daughter and her freeloading “Meathead” husband.

Yet, despite the ongoing reverence for that show, today’s viewers seem to have lost their ability to separate the intent of the humour with the words themselves.  After decades of insensitivity – racially, culturally, sexually – we’re now more socially aware of the harm words can do.

However, comedy is, by definition, always at the expense of someone.  But the best kind also serves a higher purpose.

US of Al could be timely and hilarious if it would just take a chance, push a few boundaries and question some cultural beliefs. What are the writers so afraid of? Cancel culture? Getting the axe?

Because, ironically, now is definitely the time for some “gallows humour” – originating from those about to be executed.  Although usually no one’s literally on the chopping block (except perhaps a writer or two), gallows humour or black comedy or dark humour is simply highly irreverent “witticism in the face of a hopeless situation.”  It’s used by many to get through life’s toughest moments.

Police, health care workers, funeral directors, or anyone who deals with death on a daily basis is likely to manage stress with this kind of humour.  It’s somewhat rude, often inappropriate, and definitely politically incorrect.

But it serves a purpose when used judiciously.  Like taking the lid off a steaming pot, it alleviates the pressure and lets the bubbles decrease before spilling over and making a mess.  And boy, is society in a mess right now.

We need more opportunities to laugh.  Not less.  So what’s wrong with some slightly irreverent, politically incorrect humour at the end of a tough day?  Especially if it opens the door to change.

Amid a year of pain, death, and general unrest, 30 minutes of uncensored laughter could do us all a world of good.