Magazine article Variety

Funny Now, but Will It Play in 2035?

Magazine article Variety

Funny Now, but Will It Play in 2035?

Article excerpt

For the season finale of ABC's "Black-ish" the writers wanted to use vintage ads to demonstrate the evolution of civil rights since the 1920s. "We looked up an original Jell-0 ad, with two black servants serving a white woman, and an ad of a man spanking his wife for using the wrong coffee," says Vijal Patel, the writer of the episode "Pops' Pops' Pops."

The network was not onboard, Patel says. "These were ads from the 1930s and '40s that were on billboards, and we can't even put them on television saying that they're racist and misogynistic."

Indeed, what is socially acceptable has not only changed dramatically in the past century, it's still rapidly evolving, particularly in regards to race, sexuality and gender issues. That poses a dilemma for comedy writers: What is funny today could, in less than a decade, be considered outdated or even derogatory.

The CW's "Jane the Virgin," for example, features as wide range of ethnically and sexually diverse characters, and its showrunner, Jennie Snyder Urman, often lets dialogue marinate to make sure it doesn't make fun of a cultural perception. "The first thing that comes to your mind is probably not the best joke because it's drawing on things that are either familiar or stereotypical," she says, adding that the characters are not meant to represent a particular group. "Every character makes different jokes based on their own person, and they usually do it at their own expense."

ABC's "Modem Family" avoids making political statements, instead mining laughter from its characters facing ordinary issues and dealing with them honestly - and imperfectly. "I think you're always asking for trouble if you get preachy or overly political." says executive producer Christopher Lloyd. "We have a gay couple, but they're not out raising the flag for gay rights particularly. We just show them raising a child in a loving way and hope that that makes whatever point that makes. …

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