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The War on Comedy – Can We Take a Joke?

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Published on: June 3, 2017

The documentary “Can We Take a Joke?” first premiered in New York City on November 13, 2015 and has been featured at hundreds of college and university campuses across the country for the purpose of creating a dialogue about free speech, comedy and censorship.

According to a report by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Lawrence University held a viewing of the movie on its campus, creating predictable controversy among students and administration.  Members of a student group called Students for Free Thought were responsible for the event and have since been denied group recognition by the university’s student government.  FIRE has reached out to the school administration asking them to stand by its promise to students upholding freedom of expression “without fear of censorship.”

Interestingly enough, the general intent of the documentary was to simply ask – can we, as a society on or off campus, take a joke, considering the growing pressure of political correctness?

We know that colleges and universities are no longer the bastions of open debate and, apparently, not a place where humor is appreciated.  As the film is titled “Can We Take a Joke?” for the Lawrence University community, the answer is clearly “No.”

Many of the biggest names in comedy, such as Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Gilbert Gottfried, Penn Jillette and Adam Corolla have been very vocal about not performing for college audiences on campus.  Even Bill Maher says that America needs to learn to take a joke.  Creativity and humor are being stifled by fears of being viewed as racist, sexist or xenophobic.  We’ve become a nation of the easily offended.  There is no humor in that.

The report by FIRE states that Lawrence University Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, Kimberly Barrett, wrote an email concerning the viewing of the movie:

We received several bias incident reports including some related to an interaction between two students which resulted in one student being asked to leave the event by a member of the sponsoring group.  Each of these reports will be reviewed and acted upon.  I am also certain that LUCC will take all of the feedback they have received into consideration as they deliberate as to whether or not to recognize this group.

The group was denied recognition, as was previously mentioned.

There were numerous reports of strategic triggering material throughout the course of the movie, according to the school newspaper.  This resulted in a debate about the limits of free speech.  This sounds a lot like censorship to me.

Needless to say, neither free speech, nor humor, which are clearly much needed, are not encouraged should you find yourself in the unfortunate position of being a part of the Lawrence University community.

Being easily offended is now part of the college experience.  No longer is free speech extended to higher education.  We have safe spaces, free speech zones, riots, walkouts and mob rule.

What isn’t being encouraged is individualism, creativity and the right to have one’s own opinion, even if that opinion isn’t popular, and the simple joy of being able to laugh.  To laugh at ourselves, our humanity and each other: Where’s the harm in that?

When they come for the comedians, we need to be concerned.

I suggest we introduce a new course for the humorless college student.  Forget geography, diversity or feminist studies; let’s teach young people the art of how to take a joke.

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