We all live and learn, Seth.
What does comedy, the peppered moth, and President Obama's position on marriage equality all have in common?
They've evolved. But, as the saying goes, change doesn't always come easy.
Those moths had to put up with pollution. Obama had to deal with political pushback. And Seth Rogen was forced to come to the realization that some of his old jokes were actually pretty terrible, now that it's 2016 and all.
Rogen recently admitted that a few of his old movies totally crossed the line when it comes to offensive jabs.
In an interview with The Guardian, Rogen reflected on how his own comedy has changed to be more cognizant of how a joke can go too far:
“It’s funny looking at some movies we’ve made in the last ten years under the lenses of new eras, new social consciousness. There’s for sure some stuff in our earlier movies — and even in our more recent movies — where even like a year later you’re like, ‘Eh, maybe that wasn’t the greatest idea.’”
One movie that's particularly cringeworthy?
“There are probably some jokes in ‘Superbad’ that are bordering on blatantly homophobic at times,” he said, noting that the film had been trying to reflect the immaturity of high schoolers. But still, he said, the jokes were "glamorizing that type of [offensive] language in a lot of ways.”
His comments get at an important topic: the evolution of comedy.
Sure, comedy shouldn't be forced to adhere to anyone's rules. But isn't comedy best when it's actually relevant to the times?
Evolving comedic standards are why Eddie Murphy wouldn't strut on stage in 2016 and drop gay slurs at the expense of AIDS patients (like he got away with doing way back when). It's why Trevor Noah admitted to being an "idiot" for tweeting out sexist and anti-Semitic jokes in 2012 — "you should not like [the jokes you cracked] back then, because that shows that you’ve grown," he explained. And it's why Amy Schumer decided to confront her own racist routines from years ago.
In one of her old standup sets, Schumer told an insensitive joke suggesting Hispanic men are rapists. The joke resurfaced last summer, and many people weren't pleased. So the comedian dealt with it, head-on:
“I wrote this joke [two] years ago. I used to do a lot of short, dumb jokes like this. … Once I realized I had more eyes and ears on me and had an influence, I stopped telling jokes like that on stage. I am evolving as any artist. I am taking responsibility and hope I haven’t hurt anyone. And I apologize [if] I did."
“I caught myself a few years ago fighting ‘gay.’ I [said] ‘gay,' like, ‘that’s so gay.’ … And then I stopped myself and said, ‘What am I fighting? I have become the guy from 50 years ago who said, ‘I say colored. I have colored friends.’ … It’s not hard to change with the times, and I think it’s important."
Even Patton Oswalt — who detests political correctness — said he "gets to be wrong, and [he] gets to change" when it came to his own failures in grasping the nuances of why a particular rape joke (told by a different comedian) was a bit of a problem:
"There is a collective consciousness that can detect the presence (and approach) of something good or bad, in society or the world, before any hard 'evidence' exists. It’s happening now with the concept of 'rape culture.' Which, by the way, isn’t a concept. It’s a reality."
Comedy — like basically every other thing in the universe — needs to evolve to stay relevant.
It should be edgy. It should makes us uncomfortable at times too (Schumer just proved that sometimes uncomfortable comedy is exactly what this world needs).
But as Rogen hinted at this week, if you're punching down with a lazy joke that doesn't belong in 2016, you should probably ask yourself if the punchline's really worth it.