Is There Free Speech In Comedy? – Opinion Piece

Free Speech  – noun – the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint.

We’ve all told our fair share of bad jokes; mostly because they weren’t funny or the delivery was off, but have you ever told an offensive joke? Probably.

Even if there was no offence meant, does the unintentional outcome justify a conversation on the unlimited lack of censorship that protects those who tell a joke?

Apparently so. Welcome to my opinion.

Not too long ago from writing this post, James Gunn was fired from working on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 following the “re-“discovery of tweets made in the past that are considered to be offensive. Most of which I found are from 2008/9 and all are in the format of a joke and clearly, do not reflect his real-life views.

Disney’s official statement is that the tweets were “indefensible and inconsistent with our studio’s values”.


Selection of tweets James Gunn has tweeted in the past


Free Speech is an established human right in the modern democratic world, and I am able to express my opinions without censorship or restraint. So, if I wanted to curse at the Queen or sing a song in hatred of my neighbour’s endlessly yapping Jack Russell – I have the total freedom to do so.

The only few instances where you can’t say anything and everything is usually around serious threats of physical violence, and that’s perfectly understandable. However, a growing trend of individuals are suggesting free speech to be restricted to whatever someone takes offence to. This movement is called political correctness.

Now, I’m sure none of this is new to you. Especially considering Comedy can be offensive. In fact, it can get very offensive very quickly. But, is this a problem that should be addressed and looked into further? I personally feel that comedy and offensive jokes should not be regulated for these three main points:

  1. Restricts individuals from what they find funny and punishes those who find humour it what is considered ‘wrong’.
  2. Would require a government regulatory committee to meet up and decide what causes offence or not (which would, I’m sure, take longer than negotiating a Brexit deal).
  3. It empowers anybody with the ability to censor the media.


Last year I saw Ricky Gervais’ Tour, Humanity (now on Netflix and well worth the watch), and he decided to dedicate a fair portion of his set to address the offence garnered from his stand-up shows and other performances. It’s not just Ricky either, many other comedians are highlighting their thoughts on the politically correct revolution; Rowan Atkinson, for example, had this to say following Boris Johnson’s recent comments on comparing the burka to a letterbox:

“As a lifelong beneficiary of the freedom to make jokes about religion, I do think that Boris Johnson’s joke about wearers of the burka resembling letterboxes is a pretty good one… You should really only apologise for a bad joke. On that basis, no apology is required.”


In conclusion…

Rowan’s comments mirror my own. However; I would like to make a confession – I didn’t find Boris’ joke all too funny. I got the joke, and I can see where the offence could be taken (not that it matters), but I quite simply found it bland and predictable – and that’s okay. I don’t care enough to take offence and no one has died so what does it really matter?

Relating my point back to James Gunn’s tweets, did they cause offence? Sure. Were they funny? Yeah, some of them were. Either way, it’s a joke and unless he was putting it on his political manifesto to rape his friend – I think we’re fine to laugh it if we find it funny, or eye-roll and ignore it if we don’t find it funny. He shouldn’t have lost his job in my opinion, especially considering he’s done a great job with the franchise so far.

Censoring comedy only restricts freedom of speech, and unless those opinions are particularly dangerous to society – we are all allowed to simply ignore the madman on the stage.

What do you think?

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