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Ricochet contributor Greg Lukianoff has written about the upcoming film concerning the humorless outrage brigades threatening comedy and free speech itself. Now, after appearing at several festivals, the first trailer for Can We Take a Joke? is out, promoting a July 29 release. The movie stars comedians Gilbert Gottfried, Penn Jillette, Jim Norton, Lisa Lampanelli, Heather McDonald, Adam Carolla, and Karith Foster, all of whom are pushing back on safe-space enthusiasts and the easily offended.
Comedians have always been the canaries in the coalmine of free speech laws. If a person can be silenced over a joke, the rest of us have no chance of freely speaking our minds. I became painfully aware of this fact when I infiltrated a social justice comedy seminar at the progressive Netroots Nation conference in Detroit.
“Comedy creates oneness and that is what our side wants,” according to Julianna Forlano, host of a news parody without laughter cues called “Absurdity Today.” She noted how her stand-up performance even created “oneness” at a Pennsylvania Elks Lodge, despite the crowd being filled with racist men (she could tell they were racist from the animal heads displayed on the walls).
Katie Halper agreed with her fellow white comic that racism is endemic in their industry. “When the right says we have no sense of humor, it’s a great way for racist/sexist/homophobic men to make themselves seem funny.” Halper is a founding principal of Qualified Laughter, a production company “dedicated to comedic social justice media.”
Halper expressed concern that far too many comedians cross the line with offensive jokes. She listed several types of jokes that no one should tell; anything involving a “disenfranchised population” is off-limits.
Elon James White, creator of the web series “This Week in Blackness,” grudgingly admitted the obvious: “There is a segment of the left that is humorless.” He then lambasted African-American SNL writer Leslie Jones for telling jokes that invoked slavery.
Forlano agreed it is important not to tell jokes that reference ugly historical crimes, sexism or racism. “Sure, it might get a laugh — if that’s what you want.”
I’ve never understood why people get offended by, well, anything, let alone a joke. Even if someone attempts an insult, it’s up to you to choose whether or not to accept it as such. You cannot be offended without your consent.
When a thin-skinned audience member shouts “I’m offended!” at a stand-up comic, it only reveals the heckler’s fragile psyche and low self-worth. Perhaps I’m an outlier, but if someone tries to insult me, I don’t feel badly about myself — I just conclude that they’re an idiot. If an unfunny comedian tries to bash me for being a conservative/white/cis-male/Christian/etc., that’s their problem, not mine.
Regardless, it’s time for all grown-ups to realize that a joke is just that — a joke. Hopefully this film will carry this message far and wide.