No Laughing Matter

It may seem surprising that even in the 1950s the nation was suffering a fit of outraged sensitivities, ready to take offense at an innocent joke.

Keeping quiet

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If there’s one thing we’ve always taken for granted in this country, it’s the fact that we can laugh. But can we? What’s funny anymore? Subjects we could treat lightly once are deadly serious today. Derision is taken for disloyalty. Political satire is extinct. Personal caricature is libel. Parody is illegal.

Remember Mark Twain’s caustic comment? “First God made idiots for practice, and then He made congressmen.” Today Mark Twain would be denounced as a subversive or a Communist.    We’re no longer able to laugh at ourselves — we’re losing our sense of humor at a time when we need it most. One by one we’ve herded all our sacred cows behind a high barbed-wire fence of patriotic or social or racial sensitivity. If a comedian trespasses inside, he is promptly punished.

We need to laugh today as we never needed before. Laughter springs from confidence, but the opposite is just as true: laughter begets confidence.

—“Are You Afraid to Laugh?” by Corey Ford, September 20, 1958

This article is featured in the March/April 2022 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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  1. Thanks Post editors for this feature in the current issue, but also here online, with the entire 1958 feature. This is a good example of something relevant from then being brought into the present thanks to computer.

    The fact it IS relevant was rather shocking, reading the original article. Somewhere along the line the situation improved, or we wouldn’t have had things like the Dean Martin Roasts with Lucille Ball, Don Rickles and so many more, years after that. I remember them from when I was a teen, and they could be kind of offensive, but stopped short of being “mean”.

    Perhaps the upsets of the 60’s almost forced the sense of humor to return in the 70’s on shows like that. I know that the political correctness that started in the Reagan Administration has gotten so out of control as full-on censorship, you have to watch everything said and written now to the point of near suffocation. Some of it in the beginning was good in terms of trying to be sensitive to those with handicaps through no fault of their own.

    Mentally or physically challenged is much kinder than the word it replaced as an example. Not everyone using that word meant it as derogatory. It was used as a way to describe an unfortunate condition by those who meant well, such as doctors or parents with a child affected by it. But it’s always jerks that ruin innocent, descriptive words in a punishing way (as a put down) to where they can no longer be used at all. As far a humor goes, it’s almost non-existent now per these times and the noose is only getting tighter.


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