Billy Crystal’s Thoughts On Comedy Today Are Raising Eyebrows

If anyone knows about comedy, it’s Billy Crystal. The veteran actor has been making millions laugh for decades, from his stand-up act to his stint on SNL to his roles in such classic films as “City Slickers,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “Monsters Inc.,” and “The Princess Bride” (“Have fun storming the castle!”) But not everyone is laughing about remarks he recently made about the state of comedy today.

Speaking to the New York Post for a story that ran on May 7, Crystal said of today’s humor, “It’s becoming a minefield, and I get it. I don’t like it; I understand it … I just keep doing what I’m doing and that’s all you can do right now. It’s a totally different world [now] and it doesn’t mean you have to like it.” 

The comedian was referring to the changing attitudes toward humor that targets racial, ethnic, and other identity groups — an attitude some feel is changing the face of the art form too radically. Some of the characters he took on years ago would be considered unacceptable now, such as his impersonations of Muhammad Ali and Sammy Davis Jr. Even his first major TV role, as the gay son, Jodie, in the sitcom “Soap,” might get some pushback today, as the industry considers whether LGBTQ+ roles should be played largely by members of that community.

Some argue that offensive comedy isn't so funny

Outrageous and offensive jokes have been part of comedy virtually since time began. Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Don Rickles, Chris Rock, Amy Schumer, Lewis C.K., Sarah Silverman, Dave Chappelle, and many other comedians have built their reputations on pushing the envelope of good taste. But in today’s climate, humor that relies on cultural appropriation or insults based on stereotypes is being called into question. Some say that mining racism for laughs isn’t so funny, while others are upset at the thought of “cancel culture” limiting what comedians can say.

Naturally, Twitter users on both sides spoke out. One user wrote: “People getting upset at Billy Crystal for saying that comedy is a ‘minefield’ is the exact reason why Billy Crystal is saying that comedy is a ‘minefield’.” 

Another added, “Lol, the reactions to this very, very benign (and accurate) statement are insane. He doesn’t go on some political rant about cancel culture. He literally just says he thinks it’s harder these days. My word.” 

On the other side of the spectrum were writers like this one, who tweeted, “Yeah, it’s a real tragedy that Billy Crystal can’t do blackface anymore.” 

Another wrote a long thread that read, in part, “Comedy is not ‘becoming a minefield.’ People just won’t accept racist [stuff] and punching down anymore. BTW, I like Billy Crystal. Very talented, funny man. But you have to be able to say, ‘We were much more ignorant and uncaring about certain things 20+ years ago.’ Not just him. ALL OF US WERE. “

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