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Good Question: When Is A Joke Really Offensive?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
Jason DeRusha filed his first report for WCCO-TV on April Fool's D...
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By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s hard to make a joke and not offend someone. Make fun of dog, dog owners are upset. Make fun of Catholics, Catholics are offended. Make a joke about race, look out.

So what’s the difference between offensive but funny and just plain offensive?

It’s a question KDWB’s Dave Ryan in the Morning Show found itself in the middle of this week after airing a parody song about Hmong families performed by the show’s producer.

The song talked about a family of 24, sleeping on the floor. And it included the lyric, “Hmongs get pregnant early.”

The station apologized to those who were offended, but reaction on the show’s Facebook page ranged from people who thought the song was racist and offensive to those who thought it was funny.

“I think it’s whatever people hold near and dear their heart, they will get offended by,” said Chad Daniels, a Minnesota comedian performing at Acme Comedy Company in Minneapolis. “I do toe the line with that kind of stuff, people look at me and say there’s no way he could be that serious with that sweater on.”

Daniels pointed to certain danger topics, like race, politics, and religion.

“Religion is a big one,” he said, telling about a time he told a joke that started talking about Jesus.

“I was telling a story and before I was able to make my point, 10 people walked out. They tore my poster down,” said Daniels. “Well, before that they smeared shoe polish all over it and then ripped it down.”

At DeBlog, Ashley wrote that “We are much too eager to take an ‘offensive’ comment and turn it into a soapbox.”

But Willie from Eagan argued, “Odd that we seem so sensitive at the same time popular media are desensitizing us to violence and sexual related jokes. We appear to be both insulted and entertained by a range of material that wouldn’t have been allowed of the back room just a decade ago.”

“I think if people’s intent is to be hurtful, obviously that’s not funny,” said Daniels. “You can’t just come up here and just be racist.”

But, when he performs in Baltimore he said he gets two crowds: largely white at 8 p.m., largely black at 10 p.m. When he does racial material at 8 p.m., “they squirm,” he said. At 10 p.m. the same material makes the “crowd jump out of their seats and laugh.”

So who’s right?

“That’s a good question. I guess the group the jokes are about get to make that call. So it looks like I win,” he laughed.

It’s hard to make a joke and not offend someone. Make fun of dog, dog owners are upset. Make fun of Catholics, Catholics are offended. Make a joke about race, look out.
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