Eddie Murphy shows you can evolve, apologise – and still be funny

<span>Photograph: Action Press/REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Action Press/REX/Shutterstock

Comedy is dying and political correctness is killing it. Nobody can joke about anything any more without triggered liberals screaming “racism” and “cancelling” them.

I’ll stop there because I’m sure you have heard this screed before. Conservatives love complaining about how millennial snowflakes can’t take a joke and don’t understand “edgy” humour. In September, for example, the comedian Shane Gillis was dropped from Saturday Night Live after footage surfaced of him making racist, homophobic and misogynistic gags. Gillis responded to the outrage with a non-apology in which he explained that he “pushes boundaries” and takes risks.

Comedians should obviously push boundaries and take risks. But punching down has never been remotely risky or funny. This isn’t a development of our “woke” era; it’s a principle the world’s best comics have always acknowledged. Just look at the 30-year-old video of George Carlin that recently went viral. In the clip Carlin criticises bigoted jokes made by his fellow standup Andrew Dice Clay. “Comedy has traditionally picked on people in power,” Carlin says. “Women and gays and immigrants, to my way of thinking, are underdogs.” He adds: “I think [Clay’s] core audience is young, white males who are threatened by these groups.”

Around the same time that Carlin’s comments were going viral, the New York Times published a new interview with Eddie Murphy, who is returning to standup. Murphy, 58, told the Times he isn’t afraid of current controversies over humour, pointing out that he was picketed for homophobic jokes he made in the 1980s. It took Murphy a long time to apologise for those jokes and the backlash was partly why he stopped doing standup for years. But you know what? He still has a career. What’s more, he says he cringes when he thinks of his old, “ignorant” material.

So there you are: Murphy is living proof that political correctness hasn’t killed comedy. He shows that it’s perfectly possible to apologise and evolve, even if it takes a while. I hope Gillis is paying attention.