Comedy Central struck “Diversity Day” from a recent chronological broadcast of episodes from the “The Office.” Asked by The Federalist why the episode did not air, Comedy Central declined to respond.
Barstool Sports picked up on the episode’s absence during a Sunday broadcast of the show’s first season. An archived version of Comedy Central’s listings for that day confirms it started airing the season with the pilot episode, then skipped straight to “Health Care,” which originally aired third. “Diversity Day” did not appear on the network’s Sunday schedule.
Sports Illustrated writer Jim Traina noticed the same pattern last year, tweeting that Comedy Central removed “Diversity Day” from its rotation during a broadcast of “The Office’s” first season.
Looks like Comedy Central has pulled the “Diversity Day” episode of “The Office” (Season 1, Episode 2) from its rotation. pic.twitter.com/ZhPxP39leH
— Jimmy Traina (@JimmyTraina) August 6, 2020
This is obviously intentional and absurd but not remotely surprising. “The Office” previously edited out a scene from “Dwight Christmas” in which Dwight appeared in blackface during an attempt to celebrate an authentic Pennsylvania Dutch Christmas. It was scrubbed from Netflix and Peacock.
The point of the scene, of course, is to showcase offensive behavior. If we didn’t all agree Dwight was behaving wrongly, there wouldn’t be a joke. The effect is a reinforcement of our cultural boundaries regarding right and wrong.
Sarah Silverman often argues otherwise. Asked about her own use of blackface on “The Sarah Silverman Program,” she apologized and told GQ in 2018, “That was such liberal-bubble stuff, where I actually thought it was dealing with racism by using racism. I don’t get joy in that anymore. It makes me feel yucky.”
That argument cancels out a lot of very powerful comedy, including just about every episode of “All in the Family.” Nearly three years ago, Steve Carrell contended “The Office” could never be made today. Here’s what he said in an interview with Esquire:
…apart from the fact that I just don’t think that’s a good idea, it might be impossible to do that show today and have people accept it the way it was accepted ten years ago. The climate’s different. I mean, the whole idea of that character, Michael Scott, so much of it was predicated on inappropriate behavior. I mean, he’s certainly not a model boss. A lot of what is depicted on that show is completely wrong-minded. That’s the point, you know? But I just don’t know how that would fly now. There’s a very high awareness of offensive things today—which is good, for sure. But at the same time, when you take a character like that too literally, it doesn’t really work. (Emphasis added.)
The wrong-mindedness, as Carrell says, is the point. Is the cost of offending people higher than the benefit of making a point about the wrong-mindedness of racism?
Jokes predicated on mocking bigotry don’t always get it right. Comedy is subjective. But it’s supposed to be offensive. It needs to be offensive.
Take “Diversity Day.” It’s one of the series’ most brilliant episodes, using Carrell’s character to make casual stereotypes and the racism they perpetuate look repulsive. When Kelly slaps him, the audience is cheering for her.
It’s pathetic that a network dedicated to comedy lacks the courage or will to air sharp satire like “Diversity Day.” Maybe they’re scared of social media backlash (which only represents a real public relations crisis to the extent lazy websites aggregate isolated tweets). Maybe it’s a decision made by ViacomCBS. Hopefully, however, it’s reflective of a dying attitude towards comedy’s artistic boundaries.