Ultimately, diversity is an essential element in all walks of life. In government, CEOs of corporations, lawyers, in music, and even in comedy. Everyone deserves to be able to have someone to relate to, and generally have representation. However, what is possibly more important is how this is carried out. A lot of the time in media, it can be painfully obvious when producers or casting directors have stuck the classic ‘token black guy’ (and other variations of this be it any person of colour, a disabled person and so on). Especially in comedy, this can be extremely cringey and awkward for the audience when the reasons for their casting are so obvious. A lot of the time, jokes to do with their race or whatever that makes them ‘different’ to their probably white-cis-straight counterparts are rarely in their favour.
However, there are some TV shows at the moment which are able to encompass comedy and representation, creating good quality and important television. For example, Orange Is the New Black has one of the most diverse casts I’ve ever seen. Granted, the fact that it’s about women in a New York prison meant they didn’t have much room to not be diverse but it’s how the characters are crafted, and how funny they all equally are. Futhermore, their backstories are all given fairly similiar attention, as well as their continued dedicated storylines. And for all those ‘politically correct people are taking it too far’ losers, the show is very happy to make jokes about race and class; but it’s done with integrity and spoken by the characters of that race and that class. They are able to take the piss out of themselves without being intentionally inappropriate in their comedy. I think a key part of this is who is writing these jokes. The Orange Is the New Black writers (although not perfect), are not just white guys; there are an equal amount of men and women, ranging in ethnicities – aka representation, aka people who know what they’re talking about when it comes to these issues. Comedy doesn’t have to be about dragging other people down or making light of serious issues in order to make people laugh. I believe true comedy doesn’t need that tactic.
“I didn’t expect much of the FRIENDS producers given the time it was made. FRIENDS is a hilarious show, but there is no diversity”
Of course, I am no angel. Shows that I have loved for many years have had their problems. For example, FRIENDS had pretty much no black characters until season 9, and Charlie only got a few episodes. Contextually though, it was the 90’s and diversity and a range of people in sitcoms wasn’t really a thing. It’s still not great, but I didn’t expect much of the FRIENDS producers given the time it was made. FRIENDS is a hilarious show, but there is no diversity. But, I am a white-cis-straight person, so it is easy for me to forget that shows like FRIENDS may be quite frustrating for others.
Another show worth discussing is Little Britain, which is probably the most ridiculous, boundary-pushing show I’ve ever seen. It is full of stereotypes and makes a mockery out of so many people. But, I’m not going to lie about it, it has made me laugh lots of times. The character who lets her adult son breastfeed from her IS funny. And even the woman who throws up everytime she eats something made by someone not white-cis-straight is funny. It’s crude and wrong, but it did make me laugh. Which of course, is an example of my privilege, but due to its record broadcast statistics, I’m not the only one. But – and this is a big but (haha) – the show simply would not survive today. It is genuinely offensive; this has been pointed out by one of the stars himself, noting that “Basically, I wouldn’t make that show now. It would upset people. We made a more cruel kind of comedy than I’d do now … Society has moved on a lot since then and my own views have evolved”. If they were to ever make a revival, the inclusion of all these diverse people on- and off-camera would give it the chance to be something truly wonderful.
The best example I can give of representational, but slightly crude humour is Key and Peele. If you have never seen their sketches, I urge you to find some on youtube immediately. Pretty much every single one makes me laugh out loud. They play a whole range of characters and touch on a range of issues, but as they are both men of colour, they do so in a way that is not cringey, but representational and actually funny! And of course, the infamous Get Out, another great work from Jordan Peele, which again has geniunely good comedy whilst touching on things that matter.
Comedy should be a form of relief for everyone involved; no one should have to sit down from a long day and filter out the Netflix shows that doesn’t have anyone that looks like them, or actively makes jokes against them. Comedy should be fun, and could become a key example to other forms of entertainment, or general life in how to do representation and diversity right.