So Funny It Hurts? Comedians Who Go Too Far

When Tracy Morgan delivered an anti-gay rant during a recent comedy show, he joined a legion of comics who are more hurtful than hilarious.

Tracy Morgan; Paul Mooney (Getty Images)
Tracy Morgan; Paul Mooney (Getty Images)

As comedian-actor Tracy Morgan continues the apology tour he embarked on after the public uproar over his homophobic comedy routine, there is something he said in the media that stands out for me.

“I don’t believe that anyone should be bullied or just made to feel bad about who they are,” he said.

Some comedians don’t think Morgan should have apologized, because they believe that in the world of comedy, all is fair game. I disagree.

I love to laugh, and I love a clever comedian. What I dislike are comedians who become bullies with a mic. Those are the ones whose routines go beyond just jokes. They’re the ones who ridicule someone or some group in a manner that is mean-spirited and vicious. And Morgan is not the only offender.

The only thing most people remember about this year’s Golden Globe Awards was how mean the host, British comedian and actor Ricky Gervais, was to celebrities in attendance. The Los Angeles Times described his jokes as “snotty and abusive.”

In response, Gervais was unapologetic on Piers Morgan Tonight after the January telecast. “There’s nothing you shouldn’t joke about,” he said. “It depends what the joke is. Comedy comes from a good or a bad place, and I like to think that mine comes from a good place.” He added, “Just because you’re offended doesn’t mean you’re right.”

In another memorably mean-spirited moment in comedy, Paul Mooney joked about Diana Ross’ highly publicized DUI at the 2005 BET Comedy Awards. He went on to talk about Ross’ ex-husband, who had recently died in a mountain-climbing accident.

While Ross wasn’t in the audience, her daughter, actress Tracee Ellis Ross, was there and had to listen as Mooney disgraced her mother and stepfather. It was so bad that the evening’s host, Steve Harvey, took the stage after Mooney, told Ellis Ross to hold her head high and encouraged the audience give her a round of applause.

Mooney’s fans know that what he did onstage that night is his performance style. But it’s his attitude about hurting Ellis Ross with his words that’s the most disturbing. After his performance, he was asked if he knew that Ellis Ross was in the audience.