Can you write comedy without offending someone?
Last week I sent a draft of my new play to a friend, a fellow theatre artist. I told him that I’ve never censored myself as much as I did while writing this play because I was afraid that I’d offend audiences.
This is never a good thing for any writer to be ‘afraid’ of anything – or to suppress their voice. To be frank, I’ve never been in this territory before. I’ve always written freely and openly without much worry or even care about how an audience or reader would respond to the play.
But how do we write comedy without offending someone in this politically divided country where there is so much outrage? Where awareness and sensitivity regarding sex, race, gender and religion are so heightened that our defenses are up and our skins have never been thinner.
Are the bumbling antics of Michael Scott from The Office still funny in the wake of the #MeToo movement? Is the bigoted curmudgeon Archie Bunker from All In The Family still funny today?
There is no doubt that these characters would be written differently if they were written today – but would they be written with as much honesty? My guess is no.
In the theatre much of the writing has become so careful, so politically correct that I’ve become a bit bored by it – or rather unsurprised by it. In order for writing to be alive I think it should be messy, a little reckless and maybe even off-putting at times.
To worry about offending audiences is a truth killer. We can’t tell stories in the theatre if we write casts of characters that only say what people deem kind and sensitive.
My friend’s advice to me: stop censoring yourself and tell the story you want to tell. If the jokes offend people – good! That means it’s funny.