On Dec. 17, 23-year-old comedian Bo Burnham released his newest special, “what.” on Netflix, YouTube and iTunes. Having been a fan of Burnham for a long time — I saw him live in Royal Oak in 2010, back when he was a budding star known for the comedic songs he released on YouTube — I was excited to spend an hour watching it.

However, early into the viewing Burnham joked: “Yo fellas, don’t you hate when you’re blowing a guy and he ends up being a faggot? Am I right?”

Let me start by saying that I think Bo Burnham is brilliant and the rest of the special was hilarious. The songs he writes prove that he has a distinct understanding of society that most people his age don’t. Just listen to “Art Is Dead” or “From God’s Perspective.” But this “joke” instantly made me uncomfortable. It was supposed to be funny, I guess. Yet it also struck a chord with me. Why make this joke, using that word? It is offensive, wrong and, frankly, outdated. It’s also worth mentioning that the rest of the show was sprinkled with “fag” comments.

Now, I know that comedians often intentionally cross the line to make jokes — saying “faggot” is commonplace for many comedians — and Burnham is known for being a satirical writer. His material often goes to extremes to make a point about society’s pitfalls. However, the byproduct of his satire is the ambiguity as to when he’s being serious and when he is satirizing something — a non-issue in most cases. Actually, it’s encouraged because his show is an act, much like Stephen Colbert and his ostensibly conservative persona. It’s clear that most of what he says, sings and complains about isn’t what the real Bo Burnham believes.

But I see nothing satirical in this particular joke. He’s clearly not trying to make a point about gay rights through the use of this derogatory term. It’s a cheap attempt to get laughs in a show that Burnham said took him three years to write. It’s an inappropriate, insensitive cop-out for someone as creative as he is.

So much of comedy is about making fun of people. However, we should be at a point in society where we don’t need to offend people, especially entire groups of people, to be funny. I know the difference is subtle and the line can be hard to draw, but it’s crucial not only for comedians but in every conversation. I admit it’s something that I often struggle with, but I see the need to change.

Bill Cosby, who’s on the opposite end of the age spectrum at 76 and is famous for his curse-free comedy, agrees with me. In a Nov. interview on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” he expressed his dismay with Stewart’s use of vulgarity at a charity comedy event saying, “the people were laughing so hard because you were swearing and cursing … from whenst I cometh, when people cursed, the next thing is somebody was going to hit you.”

Cosby might be taking it to an extreme — he’s definitely old-school — because I think that appropriately placed profanity can be effective. But certain derogatory terms like “faggot” should never be used recklessly. On the other hand, Macklemore’s use of the word was appropriate in “Same Love” because it was used as a call for gay rights and equality.

There’s no denying that 2013 was a big year for LBGTQ rights; notably, the Defense of Marriage Act was ruled unconstitutional. But there were too many instances in which athletes and celebrities, such as Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty, made truly offensive comments.

So while it’s true the law is moving in the right direction, the real change begins with how we treat and talk about minority communities. Though it’s unlikely that comedians will change their language anytime soon, we can simply stop laughing.

Derek Wolfe can be contacted at dewolfe@umich.edu

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