- New FIRE-supported film explores the collision between comedy, censorship, and outrage culture on and off campus.
- Film stars comedians Gilbert Gottfried, Penn Jillette, Lisa Lampanelli, Jim Norton, Adam Carolla, Heather McDonald, Karith Foster, and others. Christina Pazsitzky narrates.
- World premiere will take place on Nov. 13 at NYC’s IFC Center, featuring special comedian guest appearances. Additional screening Nov. 16.
NEW YORK, October 14, 2015—Is edgy comedy doomed? Has a culture of outrage created a new “right not to be offended”? What would some of America’s most revered comedians of bygone eras like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin think of today’s audiences who seem more preoccupied with taking offense than protecting free speech?
Those are just a few of the questions America’s top comedians seek to answer in a new Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)-supported feature documentary premiering in New York City next month at DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary film festival.
In Can We Take A Joke?, comedians Gilbert Gottfried, Penn Jillette, Lisa Lampanelli, Jim Norton, Adam Carolla, Heather McDonald, Karith Foster, and more come together with narrator Christina Pazsitzky to explore what happens when comedy, censorship, and outrage culture collide.
“This year has seen a host of comedians including Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld express concern about how political correctness on college campuses harms comedy,” said Greg Lukianoff, FIRE president and CEO and Can We Take a Joke? executive producer. “Chris Rock went so far as to say he will no longer play college campuses. There’s a growing unwillingness on and off campus to explore some of our nation’s most important and controversial topics through comedy. It’s a trend that poses a grave threat to free speech and open dialogue.”
The story of comedy legend Lenny Bruce serves as the film’s central narrative. His career—and ultimately his life—ended because his routines led to obscenity charges in cities throughout the country.
It used to be the case that comedians like Bruce had to fear the police cracking down on their edgier routines. But now, according to many comics, the audience has become the police—and its tolerance for jokes that push the boundaries is waning. It happens all the time: A comedian tells a joke, someone gets offended, and outrage blasts across the land. “Lenny Bruce would not last a minute on the modern college campus,” Lukianoff says in the film.
These days, some people seem more interested in being outraged than having a laugh. Just ask Chris Lee, whose bitingly satirical play at Washington State University was heckled by a mob of students paid by university administrators to shout threats and shut down his performance. Or Sal Rodriguez, whose provocative stand-up comedy routine at Reed College resulted in the college administration mandating a new censorship regime for all future acts on campus. Both students’ run-ins with the outrage mob are featured in Can We Take A Joke?.
Also featured in the film are So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed author Jon Ronson, free speech expert and Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Jonathan Rauch, and First Amendment attorneys Bob Corn-Revere and Ron Collins, who together in 2003 successfully petitioned the governor of New York to posthumously pardon Lenny Bruce of his 1964 New York state obscenity conviction.
“Imagine if comedians avoided every topic that offended someone,” said Ted Balaker, director of Can We Take a Joke?. “We’d be left with knock-knock jokes and not much else. Here’s to hoping more comedians summon their inner Lenny Bruce and stand up for free expression.”
Screenings of Can We Take A Joke? at DOC NYC will feature special guest comedian appearances and a panel Q&A period with the filmmakers.
WHAT: World premiere of Can We Take A Joke? at DOC NYC
WHEN: Friday, November 13 at 7:15 p.m. and Monday, November 16 at 5:15 p.m.
WHERE: Greenwich Village’s IFC Center (323 6th Ave., New York, NY 10014)
TICKETS: $17. To purchase tickets, visit DOC NYC’s website
Can We Take A Joke? is directed by Ted Balaker of Korchula Productions in partnership with the DKT Liberty Project and in association with Reason TV. To learn more about Can We Take a Joke?, visit the film’s Facebook page, follow its Twitter account, and sign up for email updates at its website.
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org. To support FIRE’s effort to defend comedy and free speech on campus, visit thefire.org/can-we-take-a-joke-new/.
Nico Perrino, Associate Director of Communications, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org