They’re all pretty funny to me. However, this is making me think.
The term “offensive” is more meaningfully understood as being about the offendee, not about the offending material.
There are some things that are so universally experienced as offensive, across most cultures and most history, that we can easily lapse into using “offensive” as an adjective to describe the subject matter.
But that’s a mistake.
“Offensive” means offensive TO someone. Which means it’s inevitably pretty subjective. In particular, and these examples are great cases of it – the measure of what’s offensive is simply going to change over time. To pick your favorite example, Apu is probably seen as more offensive by more people in 2018 than he was back in the dark ages or whenever the character was first introduced.
Sorry, “offensive” isn’t fixed, immutable: it changes with culture, and over time.
This principle was famously recognized in Jorge Luis Borges’ story about the man who set out to write the world’s greatest novel. After thought, he decided that the world’s greatest novel was Don Quixote. So he set out to write Don Quixote.
Having finished writing it, he waited for the adulation of the world – but it didn’t come to him. On which he realized that the Don Quixote he had written, in the 1970s, was simply not the same Don Quixote that Cervantes had written centuries before – the cultural and historical meaning of all the words, concepts and phrases had changed.
Which meant, of course, that he had failed, because he had NOT written the world’s greatest novel. Whereupon he feel into a deep depression and ultimately killed himself.
The same is true in humor, maybe especially so. You can’t watch 1980s Eddie Murphy talk about faggots and not cringe a little; I’m sure he does. Comedians’ job is to walk right up to the line, and cross it just a little bit. Too much and you end up in Michael Richard’ or Kathy Griffin’s situation.
So the survey of whether this or that ethnic joke is funny is really just a sociological survey. It will vary depends on who fills it out, but more importantly it will change over time. It’s just a survey at a point in timne.
The ultimate judge of whether it’s offensive or not has very little to do with the actual content. You can’t find great humor in content, you’ve got to find it in context, and context always changes.
(Oh and it is simply impossible to imagine the Sheriff’s role being played by any other than a black man. Context is everything. It’s not only not funny, it’s inconceivable to have that role played by a white guy. Cleavon Little didn’t just happen to be black, he HAD to be for that role to work).