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On the 44th anniversary of Steve Martin's debut of his now-famous "King Tut" skit on Saturday Night Live, a video clip of the bit hit social media over the weekend.

And because social media is social media, naturally there was collective hand-wringing and faux outrage of a white comedian dressed like an ancient Egyptian.

Never mind that the genesis of that hilarious satire was Martin's take on the commercialization of a national tour of Egyptian artifacts at the time. It was not a takedown of the artifacts or ancient culture. Never mind that it was more than 40 years ago. And never mind, well, never mind.

Our society has lost the ability to take a joke. Whether it's Chris Rock taking a Will Smith right-hand, or the decades-later reassessment of what is funny, it's outrage first, conversation later.

It also got me thinking that man, stand-up comedy is in a dangerous place.

"The way that society is going, stand-up comedians are the last bastion of free speech," Michael Alfano, owner of the Comedy Catch, said this week in a phone interview.

Stage fright might be the mildest fear joke tellers face these days.

"I think Dave Chappelle is trying to prove that," Alfano said. "With what he's done [on Netflix], I think he's going out of his way to prove that. And if that goes away, then they have done away with free speech."

Alfano was quick to note the danger of overreaction and the blurred space between cancel culture and the consequences of one's words or actions. Alfano had not seen the social media morality mob's reaction to Martin's 1978 Saturday Night Live skit, but he wondered how comedic geniuses of the previous generations would fare today.

"Can you image Don Rickles or Joan Rivers in this culture?" he said. "Go all the way back to Groucho Marx. What about Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks or George Carlin? Maybe they weren't politically correct, but they were so truthful."

When asked about the future of stand-up comedy, Alfano said our little corner of Southeast Tennessee is better than most.

"I think Chattanooga, in general, is not as sensitive, not as woke," he said. "We have not had anything like the Chris Rock reaction, but I get a few emails when people are offended.

Alfano noted that self-deprecating humor — he used Louie Anderson making jokes about weight as an example — is part of a trending approach to humor these days.

Still, there is one wide-open target.

"Everyone can say whatever they want about Republicans, you know," Alfano said with a laugh.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6273. Follow him on Twitter @jgreesontfp.

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Jay Greeson
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