‘Sensitivities that seem out of all proportion with the joke’: ‘The Office’ co-creator blasts cancel culture

British comedian Stephen Merchant, co-creator of “The Office,” has joined the throngs of comedians speaking out against cancel culture.

His first observation, made to The Guardian in an interview published Sunday, was that cancel culture is being driven entirely by the left.

“Well, it seems to me that there’s always been policing of comedy, of there being guardrails,” he said. “I think the difference is that it used to feel like it was the right that was policing it. It feels like it’s the left that’s doing it now, and it’s allowed the right to become the arbiters of free speech. Which does feel like quite a significant shift.”


He continued by saying he’s not necessarily against changes in standards but suggesting that maybe the standards have gone too far.

“Sensitivities that seem out of all proportion with the joke — I’ve noticed it in standup, how you’re more cautious because you don’t want to spend weeks on Twitter trying to justify a joke you were just experimenting with, because putting out the fires is exhausting,” he said.

“But I’m also aware that sensitivities shift over time and that people are allowed to criticize and query things, and we do look back at old comedy and think we wouldn’t do that any more. I have no objection to the sands shifting. I think that makes sense and I’m loth to become a kind of ‘old man of comedy’, railing against the younger generation. But you do feel like there’s a sensitivity to the words before they’ve even heard the joke or the context. And that is inevitably a straitjacket of sorts – it quashes experimentation,” he added.


But sadly, Merchant couldn’t resist throwing some leftist identity politics into the equation, as he then began talking about his “white male, heterosexual” identity (rolling of eyes).

“That’s easy for me to say as a white, heterosexual middle-class bloke, but it used to feel like the things you weren’t allowed to joke about were the very things you should,” he said. “So for the older generation like me, you do feel a bit like there was a freedom there.”

“And that it was your own conscience and judgment that meant you were the arbiter of your own taste. And that didn’t mean people weren’t offended or that you didn’t make mistakes. But now it does feel like there’s a danger, that there’s a prescriptive list of things you can joke about. Everything else is off limits, which is a hard thing to navigate when you’re trying to be creative,” he added.

And controversial:

Merchant remarks come a month after legendary comedian Jerry Seinfeld condemned cancel culture, blaming the death of TV comedy on “the extreme left and PC crap and people worrying so much about offending other people.”

As a result of cancel culture’s effect on TV comedians, Seinfeld argued in an interview with The New Yorker, fans of comedy are now instead “going to see stand-up comics because we are not policed by anyone.”

“The audience polices us,” he explained. “We know when we’re off track. We know instantly and we adjust to it instantly. But when you write a script and it goes into four or five different hands, committees, groups—’Here’s our thought about this joke.’ Well, that’s the end of your comedy.”

Seinfeld went on to cite an episode of his famous sitcom, “Seinfeld,” that probably wouldn’t be aired these days because of cancel culture.

“We did an episode of the [‘Seinfeld’] in the nineties where Kramer decides to start a business of having homeless people pull rickshaws because, as he says, ‘They’re outside anyway,'” he said. “Do you think I could get that episode on the air today?”

“We would write a different joke with Kramer and the rickshaw today. We wouldn’t do that joke. We’d come up with another joke. They move the gates like in the slalom. Culture—the gates are moving. Your job is to be agile and clever enough that, wherever they put the gates, I’m going to make the gate,” he added.

Vivek Saxena


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