'The History of Comedy' Creators Sean Hayes and Todd Milliner Talk Comedy 'Tight Rope' After Roseanne Barr Scandal

When it comes to humor, CNN’s The History of Comedy creators Sean Hayes and Todd Milliner have a leg up on the subject matter thanks to their extensive research. Their critically acclaimed series demonstrates how laughter has the power to open up taboos, but are there limits to what’s considered funny?

While promoting the second season of their CNN Original Series premiering Sunday, July 15, Will & Grace star Sean Hayes and his Hollywood Game Night and Grimm co-producer Todd Milliner opened up to PopCulture.com about the conscience of comedy in light of Roseanne Barr’s racist tweets aimed at former President Barack Obama’s senior advisor, Valerie Jarrett.

While Barr was fired from ABC and her namesake series canceled following controversial tweets, Hayes believes it boils down to one thing.

“I think it’s a person to person, case-by-case [situation] and all depends on the messenger,” he said firmly.

“It’s tough,” Milliner chimed in. “It’s almost like personal taste versus should we be telling people what’s funny? I think it’s a slippery slope when you start saying that we should pull back at a certain time. [But] man, you would like to think people have a filter that’s respectful, but then you also don’t want to be on that side saying you can’t do that.”

Milliner went on to call it a “tight rope to walk” for comedians, adding how “there’s always been two sides, whether you go back to Lenny Bruce or Roseanne.” Reiterating his point, Hayes states it truly is “all about the messenger.”

“There’s a collective acceptance from a certain person, you [either] know or not. Like, Don Rickles — I still think he’s one of the funniest people that ever lived and he would say the most awful things, but for some unexplainable reason, you almost forgive him for some of the things he says because… I don’t know — because it’s him. [But] Roseanne, I don’t want to go there,” Hayes laughed.

While the cancellation of Roseanne in May has only highlighted and reflected the deepening divide among audiences in the U.S., Hayes and Milliner believe comedy is the best remedy in bringing people together.

“Not every piece of humor has to be political,” Milliner said. “You can find some of our least political comedians are just as funny and bring people together.”

In reference to an episode of their critically acclaimed series airing Aug. 19 titled, “No Offense,” Milliner revels in his admiration for comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Jim Gaffigan who have been known to find success on stage “working clean.”

“[These are] comedians that don’t work blue — they don’t work dirty, they don’t even really use that much swearing in their act and I think there’s a lot of common ground to be found in comedy and that’s probably what we need to celebrate. We certainly have plenty of folks that are challenging each side, so I think comedy is one of the rare places we can all come together,” he said.

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Season 2 of the CNN Original Series, The History of Comedy premieres Sunday, July 15 at 10 p.m. ET on CNN, and is executive produced by Hayes and Milliner of Hazy Mills Productions — the masterminds behind Grimm, Hot in Cleveland and Hollywood Game Night.

Photo credit: Getty / Frazier Harrison, Alberto E. Rodriguez