After All, Isn't It Funny?

It's impossible to put limits on humor

"Gregorio Duvivier surpassed the limits of disrespect in today's article. Rubbish that offends thousands of readers. Freedom of expression also means respectfully treating one's freedom of belief. I will never buy Folha again."

This message I received summarizes how some readers felt about Gregorio Duvivier's column published in Folha on Wednesday (11).

The text of the humorist ("Sorry my Aramaic") responded to the protests against the Christmas special of the comedy group Porta dos Fundos, "The Last Hangover," considered offensive by some. Duvivier is a member of the Porto dos Fundo comedy group.

The special, aired by Netflix, is set at Jesus Christ's surprise 30th birthday party, at which time there are two major revelations: Jesus is the son of God, not Joseph, and that he had a relationship with a man.

In response to demands to remove the episode from Netflix, Duvivier once again embodies the son of God to tell critics that Jesus is a joke.

In addition to being offended, some readers even asked the newspaper to remove the column from the site.

Is there a limit to humor? Can being offended be considered a safe limit?

The question is not simple. The argument that freedom of expression also implies treating one's freedom of belief with respect is sound, but broad enough to limit humor in the extreme.

Who will say what disrespect is? In this sense, Pedro Arantes's documentary "Laughter of Others" helps us to think through the question.

His work reveals testimonials of comedians and excerpts of their presentations. For some of these comedians, humor, in short, dialogues with the "preconceptions" of society.

The task of getting laughs ranges from jokes that deal with the usual stereotypes, thus serving to reinforce long-shared views, to the transgression of ridiculing those in a position of power.

In a way, this was the goal of the Porta dos Fundos special. It used a mythical figure, a symbol of established power, to share with the viewer society's ills.

By showing on screen the family who pretends not to understand who their son's "friend" is, it exposed reluctant homophobia.

Some have even said that showing a gay Jesus pits people against each other — a beaten artifice not to face the fact that it is homophobia, not humor, that fulfills this role.

Duvivier says the accusation that the Christmas special is offensive for portraying gay Jesus is itself homophobic.

As for the limits of freedom of expression, he says that if the limit is what is sacred to others, it will be impossible to overcome this limit without being ethnocentric or downright racist.

"Everything is sacred to someone," he says. "My column and our (Netflix) special are deeply Christian because they portray a loving Jesus, as in the Bible," he said.

I watched the special. Did it hurt sensitivities? Certainly.

The point is to understand that humor always carries a dose of cruelty, so someone will be offended. Therefore, its limit cannot be offense, and the answer to it cannot be censorship.

Debate is a useful tool for giving voice to those affected, even if some artists feel persecuted because today, "it is not possible to make fun of anything else."

Perhaps this perplexity has another source. People are still free to make fun of the usual targets (the black, the fat, the gay, the woman). But how others react to it is what makes the news.

It is legitimate to dislike something and debate it. Trying to shut someone up - or delete offensive text - is not.

A reasonable limit is a violation of the law. Vinicius Mota, Folha's Editorial Secretary, says that "Folha does not interfere with the free expression of authors of opinion texts, except in case of committing a crime."

Mota also says the column sounded offensive to a portion of its readers, but the newspaper's way of dealing with it is to post critical reactions to the columnist's text, as it did on Thursday's Reader Panel (12).

This is not the first time the reader has spoken out about what he or she thinks is not funny. Comics occasionally get harsh criticism from readers who think the comic strips have become "indecent." Interestingly, the complaints are addressed to the comic strips of Estela May and Fabiane Langona.

I plan to address the criticisms they receive, but I suspect that the fact that they are both women — young and out of place — would explain much of this discomfort.
Humorous speech is not neutral, and whether or not you find a joke funny says a lot about who we are.
In the name of plurality and freedom of expression, however, it is not possible to establish who will be able to exert humor over who or what. An excellent punishment for the humorist is not to be funny.  

Flavia Lima

A reporter specializing in economics, she holds a degree in social science from USP and a law degree from Mackenzie. She has been an ombudsman for Folha since May 2019.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon