George Carlin was ahead of society. He led freethinkers, skeptics, others. Think of all those clips from George Carlin routines that we play today as reference to important, vibrant, current ideas. Those clips are always years old, sometimes decades. Something similar could be said of Louis Black. Ellen. There are others.
Recently we have seen a rash of something very different happening. The comedian who offended everyone at an atheist conference in Australia earlier this year comes to mind. Recently, when Daniel Tosh suggested that it would be really funny if a woman in his audience was gang raped by five men, almost everyone responded with one big giant “WTF?” There were those who decried criticism of Tosh … “Comedy is subjective, man, leave it alone.” … and one apparently well known comedian of whom I’ve never heard, Louis C.K. came to Tosh’s defense as well.
These are comedians whoa are not ahead of society, but rather, are lagging well behind, languishing along with their clueless neckbeard fans in a long gone era.
Now, here’s my question. Is this a pattern, and if so, what is the pattern? Here are a few ideas:
1) Oscillation. The degree to which most/mainstream comedians (or more generally, comedy) leads vs. follows cultural and social evolution simply varies back and forth over time, and oscillates because it varies…movement one way potentiates movement in the opposite direction as opposition emerges, or opportunities arise for shifting the comedic center. This would be much like shifting fashions where there is a simple spectrum or binaries: dress length, mustache or no mustache, that sort of thing.
2) Selection bias and culling. The comedians we remember are the ones that led society. There were morons like Tosh and CK 30 years ago, we just forgot.
3) It is all random. That would be funny.
So, what is it? Between all of us we must know.