Although humor is frequently dismissed as low entertainment, engaging laughter, seen as the shallowest of emotional responses, comedy actually functions in important ways for a society. Whether in the form of fools, clowns, or tricksters, comedians have played a role of defining moral boundaries since ancient times. In Pueblo society, clowns are often the only ones who can touch delicate issues within the community. For example, at a ceremonial dance, a clown might pull to the center of the crowd a married man of standing and the mistress that he is having an affair with, put a bike tire innertube around the couple, and perform a mock marriage ceremony to publicly shame the two.
Now Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak, has created a video examining this phenomenon. In it he astutely unpacks a joke Louis C.K. opened SNL with concerning pedophilia, looking at multiple responses to performance and establishing it as part of a tradition in which society gives slack to comedians to talk about delicate subjects in the interest of testing the moral walls of that society. The joke itself may initially seem in poor taste, but it ultimately reframes a conversation about a repulsive drive in some people that most people don’t want to think about much less examine.