Jokes about transgenderism reportedly made by legendary comedian Dave Chappelle during a standup set this week inspired a predictable round of outrage.
That's fine. The jokes in question were deeply unpolitically correct, so it's reasonable for people to be offended, though I may disagree. But amid all the backlash, one headline struck me in particular. The Advocate's story on the matter was innocuously titled "Dave Chappelle Tells Transphobic Jokes But Says Trans People Deserve Respect."
The implication, of course, is that it's not possible to joke about a subject for which you simultaneously have respect. People can debate how that applies to Chappelle specifically, but this is a sentiment that's seemed ascendant in recent years. By logical extension, it turns almost every comedian into a person without respect for any of the communities about which they may joke, a dangerous attitude that will increasingly leave more and more comedians branded as purveyors of hate.
As that continues, expect the boycott campaigns and campus censorship efforts to escalate, though both are already far too common.
Consider the career of Joan Rivers. Rivers was an early supporter of the gay community in word and in action, raising millions of dollars for people living with HIV/AIDS and making no secret of her firm belief in LGBT equality. Yet Rivers' repertoire was filled with jokes about gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals, something for which she would never apologize. The iconic comedian actually called then-first lady Michelle Obama a "tranny" in 2014, but rest assured she would be the first person to tell you transgender people deserve all the respect in the world.
Of course, that's just an example of one subject matter covered by one comedian. But if you asked a group of humorists, you would probably find that many of their most frequent targets are actually the people for whom they care about the most deeply (like Rivers and her husband, Edgar, or her daughter, Melissa).
Again, this is not an argument about Chappelle's jokes in particular, but about the general trend of lowering the bar for what constitutes disrespect to the act of telling an offensive joke. Certainly, there are those who joke about people and communities for whom they have little to no respect. That's inarguable. But we should be careful not to automatically presume disrespect on the basis of a person's decision to make a joke, if even that joke plays on stereotypes and feels offensive.
Disrespect is not the necessary wellspring of every offensive joke. That's all I'm saying.
In the immortal words of Joan Rivers, "Life is very tough. If you don't laugh, it's even tougher."
Emily Jashinsky is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.