There comes a time in many conversations where humor is used to ease tension, or to get a reaction, or just as a natural response to a topic or point that's been mentioned. Many people choose to make light of some very serious issues through humor, addressing race, drug use, sexual harassment, and other controversial topics. When these topics are addressed through humor, however, there is a serious debate over what constitutes appropriate humor, but I, and many comedians would argue that humor is a way to approach challenging subjects and to initiate discussion rather than to incite any ill-will.
For example, internationally beloved comedian Chris Rock made jokes ranging from heavy racial humor to 9/11 jokes- on a Saturday Night Live monologue, (primetime). Though mainly well received, some take issue with racial humor, even when used by members of the target group. Many comedians would argue that in making light of the issue, they are making it easier to cope with, compacting a traumatic event or controversial expression into a palatable joke, so that people do not allow the perceived negativity to cloud their view of the situation. Furthermore, this is a coping method used by victims of serious crime or injustice, such as people who deal with mental illness making suicide jokes. Many friends of mine make light of these issues, having fought their own battles against depression.
Critics of humor that pushes the line of what is socially acceptable argue that it enforces stereotypes and misconceptions. They express that "it's just a joke" does not sufficiently justify humor at the expense of certain groups or events. I feel that view holds value to a point, but the point of humor is to not be taken seriously. Hannibal Burress, a well known comedian, called President Obama "my n***a" at the white house correspondents dinner. This turn of phrase was relatively well received, as seen by its viral nature and good interne karma on top of the massive round of applause, despite some critics and media outlets expressing distaste. The bottom line is that most people who are extreme racists will state their views plainly, not under the guise of humor. People at rallies carrying confederate flags do not make jokes about their intentions.
Humor is in and of itself an art, one that takes many forms, requiring an awareness of the topic. The truly difficult issues often tackled through humor often aren't viewed as anything more than shock material. That being said, humor is designed not to incite hate or injustice, but to even the playing field by taking the weight from behind a serious topic. This makes it less scary. The bottom line is that jokes ARE jokes despite what many people might claim. Racism, sexism and many other issues are not exacerbated by humor, they are made palatable and relevant without making the issues too intense..