Some words on humor, jokes, and comedy.

On November 27, film critic David Edelstein was fired from his job at “Fresh Air” for a remark he made on Facebook. I will have much more to say about this going forward. He made a joke about butter, a reference to “Last Tango in Paris,” after Bernardo Bertolucci died. I am thinking about something Edelstein said in his apology for the remark: “I . . . would never make light of rape, in fiction or in reality.” This is a fair statement, but it also suggests you can’t make a joke about rape, period, and it suggests jokes and comedy “make light of” things. The joke didn’t work because the target seemed to be Maria Schneider, who had famously made public the engineered humiliation she had experienced on the set of “Last Tango” when she was 19. Jokes and comedy do not necessarily “make light of” things. Jokes and comedy can tap the most serious feelings we have about ourselves and the world. Brando, too, said in interviews he had felt humiliated by Bertolucci. It was cold during the shooting of his one, full frontal nude scene, and his parts shrunk. The scene was scrapped. Schneider said she thought Bertolucci was in love with Brando and that originally her part was supposed to be played by a boy. I think you can tell a joke about anything if you find the frame that does not beat up the people who have already been beaten up. Edelstein could have made an excellent joke involving butter about Brando’s cold-weather weenie and Bertolucci’s crush on Brando. If he had thought in these terms. It’s the not thinking in these terms that is not funny because it is so commonplace and generally unremarked upon.

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