LISTEN NOW… While most people say they’re committed to free speech, an alarming (and growing) number of Americans seem to be souring on the principle. Do they have good reason to abandon the country’s tradition of toleration and free expression? Find out with your hosts on this week’s episode of Told You So!
Even future senators get an evening off! Last night, together with friends (and literal neighbors), I met my husband, Louis, at the Wang Theatre in Boston to see Dave Chappelle and Jon Stewart, with surprise opener, SNL’s Michael Che.
"What???" you say. "Why would you go see a bunch of lefties make fun of things?" Because IT’S FUNNY.
I have a refrigerator magnet holding up my favorite photo of Nellie, our rescue, that depicts two women in a parking lot doubled over in laughter (pictured). The caption says, "A laugh is the shortest distance between two people." I believe this to be true.
You don’t have to agree with everything a comedian (or a politician, for that matter) has to say in order to have a good time. And while there were many things I do not agree with these two clowns on, they were still hilarious!
Jon Stewart, who followed an excellent and excited-to-be-there Che, broke down a very public Twitter spat between him and President Trump. I won’t deny it, I laughed at the exchange, and was left wondering who was trolling whom.
Both Stewart and Chappelle talked about guns, and school shootings, and both–inaccurately–made the point that it is too easy to buy a gun.
But there was much to amuse as well, including Chappelle’s contention that all Black people should all start arming themselves, because this would be the only way to get the powers-that-be to make it harder to purchase guns. This sort of "reverse psychology" has always been part of Chappelle’s schtick, and, because it contains grains of truth about social issues, it forces you to question things in a new light.
What I love about comedy is its unabashed bear hug of the First Amendment. Political correctness has no place in good comedy. If you’re offended, get over yourself–or better yet, keep it to yourself, and in the future, just don’t go to the show! Free market principles–withdrawing your consent by withdrawing your purchasing dollars–is the strongest, most immediate feedback loop. No need to get The Man involved!
Comedy highlights current events, politics, and social trends. It creates an avenue for dialogue. You can’t change someone’s mind if you have no idea what they are thinking.
This is why current threats to comedic expression is a problem–through campus speech codes, and online "outrage culture".
In recent years, several excellent documentaries have been released that delve into the overt attempts to enforce "PC-ness" in comedy, especially on college campuses, which have traditionally been testing grounds for new material.
If you are interested in this topic, I recommend the feature-length documentary, "Can We Take a Joke?", which explores the negative outcomes of trying to police comedic speech.
Said Sarah Ruger of the Charles Koch Institute at the event launching of the film: "Free speech allows us to question the status quo and challenge ourselves to be better. The arts are an essential pathway for social commentary and introspection, and now, more than ever, we need more toleration.”
Know what "toleration" means? It means if something is not your jam, move on. It doesn’t mean use the force of the state to make everyone comply with your personal sensibilities, mores, and will.
The only duty of a comedian is to be funny. When the Roseanne Twitter storm went down a few weeks ago, my position was, if it’s funny, and you’re a comedian, then regardless of who you offend, you are doing your job. If it’s not funny, you failed. Roseanne’s tweet wasn’t funny.
Interestingly, at last night’s show, audience members were asked to put their cell phones in fancy pouches that were sealed until after the show. I loved this!
It created an immediate intimacy within the large theater–we’re all in this together, for reals, no intermediaries, no distractions. Instead of watching people recording the show, with the glare of their screens lighting up the room, everyone was engaged with the experience of the experience itself. No selfies, no checking social media. Simply butt-in-chair time, with a desire to be amused.
And amused we were. Towards the end, Chappelle and Stewart took to the stage together and asked each other questions and shared past experiences, laughing and joking and telling stories as true friends.
It was a reminder that setting aside our difference (and our cell phones) and just talking to each other as fellow human beings is something worth striving for. The cliche is true: laughter is the best medicine. Let’s heal our world, one guffaw at a time!