Comedians Who Took Their Joke Too Far

Making a living as a comedian is no easy job. If you're doing stand-up, it's about constantly seeking approval from the audience with a laugh, or figuring out what to do when the crowd isn't amused. If your comedy is on TV or online, it's moved on to a whole new level of scrutiny.  

In a climate where fans often call for celebrities to be "canceled," it seems that for comics, no matter what the joke is, somebody is bound to cry foul. This naturally begs a few questions. Is a "woke" joke an oxymoron? Can our "political correctness” suck the life out of humor?

All of the comics in this article have pushed the envelope with their comedy, and the consequences they paid — or didn't pay — may surprise you.  As you unpack these stories, see what you think. Should some topics be off limits? When it comes to cracking jokes, how far is too far? 

Gilbert Gottfried joked about the tsunami in Japan

The late Gilbert Gottfried was famous for his comedic chops and his button-pushing, crude stand-up routines, per Variety. In 2011, the comic, known to many as the voice of the Aflac insurance duck, bit the hand that fed him. According to CBS News, in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the former "SNL" cast member made a series of offensive jokes on Twitter that tanked his lucrative gig.

"Japan is really advanced. They don't go to the beach. The beach comes to them," he tweeted (via The Hollywood Reporter). In another since-deleted tweet, he wrote, "Japan called me. They said 'maybe those jokes are a hit in the U.S., but over here, they're all sinking." There was no way for Gottfried to duck the flack over the controversy. One user tweeted about his jokes, "I Didn't Even Want To Mention The Guys Name They Were So Distasteful." Another person wrote, "Gilbert gottfried + Japan earthquake = twitter suicide."

Gottfried was axed by Aflac, according to a statement obtained by TMZ. The funnyman's apology, telling The Hollywood Reporter that he "meant no disrespect" came literally a day late and a dollar short. The "Beverly Hills Cop 2" actor previously quipped about another tragedy: 9-11. In a 2016 interview with Vulture, he said, "When I do a joke about September 11, or the Japanese tsunami, what's funny is that it shocks the audience." Well, maybe not.

Roseanne Barr called her racist tweet 'a joke'

Sitcom legend Roseanne Barr is known for some bizarre behavior trying to get a laugh. In 1990, her screechy, spitting, crotch-grabbing rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" at a San Diego Padres game was booed and blasted by fans. In 2018, Barr had just returned to her eponymous series after 20 years. When people saw a tweet she posted about Valerie Jarrett, a top aide to President Obama, most were not amused, per The New York Times.

She wrote that if the "muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj." As the Twittersphere lashed out, Barr tried to do damage control. In a since-deleted tweet, she wrote, "I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans... My joke was in bad taste." By then, ABC had already pulled the plug on her show. Sara Gilbert, who played Roseanne's daughter Darlene and served as an executive producer on the show, wrote that Barr's comments "are abhorrent and do not reflect the beliefs of our cast and crew or anyone associated with our show."

In a 2019 interview with The Washington Post, Barr, who claimed earlier to The New York Post that "ambien tweeting" was the reason her show got canceled, shifted the blame to Gilbert's retort. "[Gilbert] destroyed the show and my life with that tweet," she said. "The Connors" star, who still considers Barr "family" said, "I knew that Roseanne, the person, was unpredictable at times, but she told me this [reboot] was her redemption. I chose to believe her."

Amy Schumer made 'dumb jokes involving race'

Amy Schumer is one of the busiest women in comedy. Known for her bold, feminist take on a host of controversial subjects, Variety called her "an unapologetic voice for women." In a since-deleted 2015 Twitter exchange, the progressive comedian did express remorse for a racist joke from one of her stand-up shows. "I used to date Hispanic guys, but now I prefer consensual," she quipped in the routine, according to The Hollywood Reporter. But wait, there's more.

In another stand-up set, the "Trainwreck" star said, "Nothing works 100 percent of the time, except Mexicans," per The Washington Post. When Schumer hosted the 2015 MTV Movie Awards, she made yet another racially-charged crack (via Refiney29). Talking about the movie "Gone Girl," she explained, "It's the story of what one crazed white woman — or all Latinas — do if you cheat on them." After The Guardian published a piece claiming the "Life and Beth" star had a "shockingly large blind spot around race," Schumer responded in a since-deleted tweet. 

Asking fans to give her the benefit of the doubt, she wrote, per The Wrap, "I go in and out of playing the irreverent idiot. That includes making dumb jokes involving race ... playing with race is a thing we are not supposed to do, which is what makes it so fun for comics." The comedian added that she wasn't planning on sticking to "safe material" anytime soon. "Trust me. I am not racist," was her final note.

Joan Rivers joked about Cleveland kidnapping victims

Joan Rivers, the sharp-tongued queen of one-liners, took potshots at anybody or anything for a laugh, per USA Today. Case in point. In a 2014 interview on "Today," the "Fashion Police" host was whining about the size of her bedroom in the house she shared with daughter Melissa. "I'm still in the same stupid little room. I mean, those women in the basement in Cleveland had more space," she said, "I mean, it is just the worst."

The comic was referring to the case of three women in Ohio who were kidnapped and abused for years. In a statement obtained by The Plain Dealer, attorneys for two of the victims lashed out at the comic, calling her comments "hurtful" and demanding an apology. Not one to mince words, Rivers refused. "I'm a comedienne,” she said. "I know what those girls went through. It was a little, stupid joke ... Calm down."

When Rivers was asked to address the plight of the ticked-off victims, the tireless jokester told TMZ their situation wasn't that bad. "They got to live rent free for more than a decade," she said, suggesting maybe they should just chill out. "One of them has a book deal. Neither are in a psych ward. They're okay. I bet you within 3 years one of them will be on Dancing with the Stars."

Louis C. K. poked fun at child molesters

In an interview for PBS, Louis C.K. told Charlie Rose, "Saying that something is too terrible to joke about is like saying that a disease is too terrible to try to cure." When the risk-taking comedian hosted "SNL" in 2015, he put that theory to the test in his opening monologue. Per The Guardian, he touched on some hot topics, including racism and the Middle East, but things went sideways when he landed on the subject of child molesters.

"There is no worse life available to a human than being a caught child molester and yet they still do it. Which from, you can only really surmise, that it must be really good," he said, losing some in the audience when he compared how delicious he finds Mounds bars to the taste of a young boy. Yikes! Viewers sounded off on Twitter, with one user writing, "Louis C.K on SNL joking about racism and child molesters I am about to throw up good god."

Another person bashed the haters, writing, "The same people who were furious over Louis C.K.'s child molestation SNL jokes are now Josh Duggar's biggest supporters." But not everyone was fuming, with one user tweeting, "Best SNL opening monologue ever." Toward the end of the monologue, C.K. said, "This is my last show, probably," assuming he wouldn't be asked back. But in 2017 he returned, kicking things off with a racist chicken joke, per Billboard. Maybe that's what people tuned in to see.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

Chris Rock was a repeat offender at the Oscars

At the 2016 Academy Awards, Chris Rock, in his opening monologue, poked fun at Jada Pinkett Smith, who spearheaded the Oscars boycott over the lack of Black nominees.  "Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna's panties. I wasn't invited," he joked. The "Girls Trip” star was targeted again when Rock, who was presenting another award, spotted Will Smith and Jada at the 2022 Oscars.

Noticing Jada's shaved head, the comedian quipped, "Jada, I love you. G.I. Jane 2, can't wait to see it." The "King Richard" nominee marched on stage and slapped Rock across the face. Smith returned to his seat and yelled at Rock, "Keep my wife's name out of your f***ing mouth!" The "Men in Black" star apologized on Instagram, explaining he was offended by the crack about his wife, who suffers from alopecia, writing that "a joke about Jada's medical condition was too much for me to bear." Though Rock hasn't commented publicly, his brother Kenny told People, "I know that if he knew that she had alopecia ... he wouldn't make a joke about that."

So, did the jokes make Will do it? According to People, the Oscar winner may still be stewing over that 6-year-old joke. An insider says, "Will was still mad about that." Per the New York Post, Will was already on edge, after repeated digs at him and Jada about their marriage. A source said, "They have felt more exposed these past few years and it's taken its toll."

Kevin Hart was blasted for homophobic tweets

In 2019, Kevin Hart made a startling announcement. The comedian, who was scheduled to host the Oscars, backed out after homophobic tweets from his past resurfaced, per The Hollywood Reporter. "I sincerely apologize to the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words from my past," he tweeted, saying he didn't want to be a "distraction" on a night that should be a celebration. This came after he claimed on Instagram that the Academy demanded he apologize for the tweets, or pull out.

He replied, "If you want to hold people in a position where they always have to justify or explain their past, then do you. I'm the wrong guy, man." In one of the since-deleted post from 2011, Hart wrote, "Yo if my son comes home & try's 2 play with my daughters doll house I'm going 2 break it over his head & say n my voice 'stop that's gay." In another, he described a person's profile snap "like a gay bill board for AIDS" (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Celebs shared their concerns on Twitter, with Billy Eichner tweeting, "What bothers me about these is you can tell its not just a joke-there's real truth, anger & fear behind these." In 2021, the "True Story" star told The Times he wants to put it all behind him. "You're looking at a younger version of myself," he said. "A comedian trying to be funny and, at that attempt, failing ... I look back and cringe. It's about growth."

Trevor Noah's tweets fired viewers up

In 2015, Jon Stewart announced he was stepping down as host of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show.' When South African comedian Trevor Noah was named to replace him, some fans weren't sure the network picked the right guy. This came after questionable tweets from Noah's past came to light, per The Guardian. "A hot white woman with a** is like a unicorn. Even if you do see one, you'll probably never get to ride it," Noah wrote in one of the since-deleted posts.

After seeing another tweet involving stereotypes about Jews and rap billionaires, some folks were fired up, with one user writing, "It's not remotely funny. It's poor form 2 use 4 ugly tweets." Another user wrote they were lukewarm about Noah, but "His Twitter jokes suck." At a Television Critics Association press event at the time, the host responded to questions about the tweets. "I don't strive to be offensive," he said, per Variety. "That's not who I am as a person. That's not who I am as a performer," noting that "You can never control what people find as offensive or not."

He said becoming more familiar with his audience will be an important part of his onboarding process. He expected some pushback, given "The Daily Show's" popularity. "What was interesting is you saw the change in the conversation go from 'Is this guy offensive?' to 'What is comedy and what is this role in our society?' I think that's a great conversation that came from it."

Britney Spears fans slammed Sarah Silverman

At a roast for Britney Spears at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards, Sarah Silverman went for the jugular, all for a laugh, of course. "[She's] 25 years old and she's already accomplished everything she's going to accomplish in her life," Silverman said. "It's weird to think that just a few years ago on this very show, she was this, like, sweet, innocent little girl in slutty clothes riding around with a python."

According to E!, in 2021, a Spears fan called Silverman to task about her joke, reposting the clip after seeing the "Framing Britney Spears" documentary. "Um [Sarah Silverman] girl what is this?" the fan tweeted, "explain yourself." That roast followed the VMAs, and per People, the "Stronger" singer, who opened the show "was extremely nervous." A source said, "She just got out there and froze." As more fans piled on to slam the comedian's jokes, insisting she make amends, Silverman responded in a tweet, explaining that roasts were her thing. "MTV asked me to mini-roast Britney after her big performance," she wrote.

"While she was performing I was having diarrhea & going over my jokes. Had no idea she didn't kill. Unfortunate. Art changes over yrs as we know more & the world changes." As for the routine, the comic wrote, "I wish I could delete it but I can't. But you are posting it for people to see. So r u trying to be kind or right?"

Chelsea Handler's Oscars comments were panned

For the 2014 Oscars, the Huffington Post announced that a special guest tweeter would be taking over their Twitter account for the evening, per USA Today. The person charged with tweeting those 4 million followers was none other than the queen of caustic comedy, Chelsea Handler, who was instructed to "Take it Away." As to where the comedian actually took it, nobody saw that coming. When Lupita Nyong'o picked up the Best Supporting Actress statuette, Handler tweeted, "#AngelinaJolie just filed adoption papers #lupitanyongo."

In another racially-charged post, she seized the opportunity to hock her soon-to-be-released book, "Uganda Be Kidding Me," when "12 Years a Slave" won Best Picture. Handler continued along this vein all night before her final tweet, telling HuffPost, "#imsorry." By that time, the damage was done. One user tweeted, "Are you trying to connect this book to [Lupita Nyongo] because she's black and from Africa? Wow." Another person wrote, "shame." 

In an interview with "Good Morning America," the former "Chelsea Lately" host cleared the air. "I'm not racist," she said (via ABC News). "I date a lot of black people. So that would be a difficult thing to explain to them." The author added that she began writing her book while she was on safari in Africa. "I take a lot of my girlfriends and family away on vacations. I embarrass our country like I do on the mainland and abroad."

Stephen Colbert made a crude joke about Donald Trump

This story begins in 2017 when then-President Trump sat down with John Dickerson from CBS News for an interview on "Face the Nation." Likening the "mainstream media" to "fake news," Mr. Trump said, "I love your show. I call it 'Deface the Nation." In response to that, "The Late Show" host Stephen Colbert, in his opening monologue, wanted to send a message to the president for mistreating his CBS colleague.

His insult-laden speech started with, "Mr. Trump, your presidency? I love your presidency. I call it 'Disgrace the Nation ... You're not the POTUS, you're the BLOTUS ... You're a regular Gorge Washington. You're the presi-dunce, but you're turning into a real (pr**k)-tator." Colbert's rant ended with the most objectionable slam, "In fact, the only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin's [expletive] holster." The #FireColbert hashtag caught on quickly, with one impatient user tweeting, "Day 9 — Colbert still employed. Homophobia still encouraged by CBS."

But not everyone agreed. One person wrote, "#FireColbert? More like #OnFireColbert." Per Vox, Colbert addressed the issue on his show a few nights later, saying he only regretted being a bit cruder than he should have. Responding to the anti-gay accusations, he said, "anyone who expresses their love for another person in their own way is to me an American hero. And I think we can all agree on that." As for Colbert duking it out again with the president? "I have jokes; he has the launch codes. So it's a fair fight."

Dave Chappelle was targeted for transphobia

 In 2021, Dave Chappelle's Netflix special, "The Closer” was in the crosshairs, per NPR. The LGBTQ+ advocacy group GLAAD tried to have the streamer pull the show, due to the comedian's record for "ridiculing trans people and other marginalized communities." Per the New York Post, in his special, Chappelle boasts that he joined author J.K. Rowling on "Team "TERF" (trans-exclusionary radical feminist). "Gender is a fact," he said, according to Them.

The self-proclaimed feminist also says he thought that word meant "frumpy d**e." Per The Advocate, in 2106 the comic joked at a New York comedy club he wouldn't want to be standing in a men's room next to "a woman with a d**k."  In another segment, Chappelle quips about rapper DaBaby, saying he "punched the LGBTQ community right in the AIDS" during his homophobic rant at a concert. Jaclyn Moore, showrunner for the streamer's "Dear White People" stated in a since-deleted tweet that she's "done" with Netflix, refusing to work for a company that profits from "blatantly and dangerously transphobic content."

According to USA Today, Netflix stood by their stand-up man, despite an employee walkout. Chappelle says he won't be cracking any more LGBTQ jokes. "I'm done talking about it," he said (via NPR). And if you think his career has suffered because of this, think again. Per Us Weekly, at a 2021 screening of his documentary "Untitled Dave Chappelle Documentary" in Los Angeles, he told the audience, "If this is what being canceled is like, I love it."

Kathy Griffin posed with a headless Trump mask

In 2017, Griffin tweeted a photo of herself holding a bloody, headless mask of President Trump, per The New York Times. When TMZ broke the story with the headline, "Kathy Griffin Beheads President Trump," everything started to go kaboom. The president tweeted, "Kathy Griffin should be ashamed of herself," calling the post "Sick!" according to Us Weekly.

Chelsea Clinton was on the same page, tweeting, "This is vile and wrong. It is never funny to joke about killing a president." The next day, CNN terminated Griffin's contract as co-host for its New Year's Eve special alongside Anderson Cooper, according to a statement obtained by Billboard. Griffin's upcoming tour venues suddenly pulled out, and she received a barrage of death threats. The "My Life on the D-List" star apologized in a since-deleted video on Twitter, saying, "I'm a comic. I cross the line. I move the line then I cross it. I went way too far" (via Us Weekly).

But that apology apparently wasn't good enough for Mr. Trump. According to AOL, Griffin accused the POTUS and his family of bullying her and inciting further backlash against her after the photo appeared. "The death threats are constant and detailed and serious and specific," she told reporters. In 2022, Griffin, who has been working at rebuilding her career ever since, told The New York Times, "I wasn't canceled ... I was erased."