Editor’s Note: The content below contains language that some may find offensive. For more comedy, watch “Colin Quinn: Red State Blue State” on Monday May 27, at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
Here are six times when comedy broke barriers, shocked audiences and nudged society forward
George Carlin: "I like to find out where the line is drawn, and then drag the audience across the line with me"
There’s only one rule in comedy, most comedians will tell you. It must be funny.
But those on the listening end don’t always agree. Take what happened to comedic screen siren Mae West in 1926 after she dared to write and star in a Broadway play titled “Sex”: She was sentenced to 10 days in a woman’s workhouse and fined $500 on obscenity charges.
Of course, times change. Some 70 years later, there was so much “Sex” happening in the city that an entire television series was devoted to it.
As comedian Patton Oswalt puts it in CNN’s “The History of Comedy,” ” ‘Off limits’ is not a permanent address. You couldn’t say ‘pregnant’ on TV when Lucille Ball was pregnant on ‘I Love Lucy.’ So to anyone who says, ‘Well, it’s off limits’ … enjoy the next 10 minutes because that’s about as long as that’s going to last.”
Like mischievous children, comedians have long pushed boundaries to see what they can get away with. And if it weren’t for the Mae Wests of the world, we may never have had the cultural breakthroughs that led us to where we are today.
Here are six times when comedy broke barriers, shocked audiences and, in the process, changed the way we live.
1. Lenny Bruce convicted of ‘word crimes’
What happened: When Bruce came along in the 1950s, he stunned audiences with his unfiltered routines about drugs, race and religion. His material outraged the era’s moral crusaders, who banned Bruce from several cities and tried to shut down his act.
In 1964, undercover police secretly recorded Bruce