In Comedy, Punching Up Does Not Eliminate Racism by Elana Stanger, L.C.S.W.

Colors of Brothers  St. Angel (c) 2016

As someone who enjoys improv and comedy, I am often disappointed by displays of humor that poke fun at one group or another, displays which, in all honesty, aren’t that fun for the person or group being poked.  As I had been thinking about this disheartening regularity in both stand-up and sketch comedy, I was listening to a radio broadcast and I heard the interviewer say that in humor, it is better to “punch up”.

Punching Up is the pseudo-progressive idea that someone making a comedic joke should take shots at those who have power in society rather than those who do not.

We could not be a racist society if those in power did not also have an inferiority complex of some kind.  Feelings of inferiority run rampant in our culture.  Put-downs are common and praise is rare.  This unfortunate circumstance often begins in the parent-child relationship, carries on to the teacher-student relationship, and the supervisor-employee dyad.  We are all familiar with the scenario of an employee being wounded by his or her supervisor’s insult at the office, and then going home and lashing out at a family member.  The bottom line is, when we are put-down ourselves, we are more apt to put down somebody else.

Alternately, when others are kind to us, and speak words of love and appreciation, we are more apt to also be kind and speak words of love and appreciation to those in our midst.

Our souls are longing for kindness from others and to express the best in ourselves also.  We and our society grow further into the light when we eliminate hateful speech, e.g. put-downs, from our lips.  Of course, to do this we must also eliminate hateful feelings and thoughts from our hearts and minds.  Here I am speaking of put-downs toward the underdogs in our society as well as those who appear to be the top-dogs.

Why?  Because anyone who wants to dominate another person in the society we all share together is suffering in some way that is not at first glance visible to the naked eye.  We would do best not to rub salt into the place already wounded though it appears to be clear of blemish or scar.  For that wound to heal, we must pour in compassion, love, faith, and our belief in that person’s ability to transform him or herself to join with the rest of humanity.  When we pour in the love of our hearts, we will help these  persons who had previously been in the one-up and isolated position return to earth, get their grounding, get their souls back, and begin again to love their fellow human beings as themselves.

We would not have racists in our society, if we did not punch them.  We will eliminate racism when we see through the racism and love the human being, though we may also reject the racism and find it reprehensible.  After we show our love and commitment to the person and we have listened compassionately to understand their own story of oppression in which they will disclose their own experience of having been punched already in life and the suffering caused by the punch they received previously, their racism will fall away, and the human being will be standing there, ready to greet you and return some of the love you have shared.  At that time, you might endeavor to ask the person about their feelings toward people of any other group.  After they have been heard by you with loving compassion, they will express less anger, less hatred, less animosity and less of a need to dominate other groups of people.

When we punch in any direction, it means someone is being hurt.  The goal of comedy should not be to hurt others.

Our laughter should not be associated with another’s pain or misfortune.

When we lift others up, we too, are lifted.

Therefore, let us not “punch up”.  Let us lift up.  Let us unify all human beings in love.