Political Correctness Gone Mad. It's No Laughing Matter

Gilbert Gottfried appears in a documentary about stand-up comedy and the policing of speech, "Can We Take a Joke?" Can We Take a Joke

This article and video first appeared on Reason.com.

"If you think you have the right not to be offended," says comedian Jim Norton, "either change the parameters of what offends you or realize you're wrong. Those are your two choices."

Can We Take a Joke?, a new documentary about stand-up comedy and the policing of speech, made its debut recently at DOC NYC, one of the country's biggest film festivals.

Directed by Reason.tv alum Ted Balaker, the film features Penn Jillette, Adam Carolla, Lisa Lampanelli, Gilbert Gottfried and others discussing how political correctness and other forms of repression—including corporate pressure to not offend—are undermining the free-wheeling, ribald and uncensored world of standup comedy.

"Why is comedy the only form of the arts where people think they have to agree with or approve the content?" Norton asks. "You don't walk through a museum with a towel and throw it over paintings you don't like."

Comedians and performers such as Norton are joined in the film by Greg Lukianoff of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), who talks about the growing attacks on the First Amendment, especially those on college campuses which once prided themselves as bastions of free speech.

"We've all seen it a million times: a comedian tells a joke, someone else gets offended, someone else blogs about it, and then 'boom,' outrage spreads across the land," says Balaker.

"Comedians don't even have the freedom of conscience to just be neutral on something," he told Reason TV's Nick Gillespie. "[They] have to affirm what the cool kids believe."

Balaker, a frequent Reason TV contributor, sat down with Gillespie at this year's FreedomFest 2015 to talk about the current state of comedy, how technology has fueled the outrage machine, and how comedians are fighting back against PC zealots.

Nick Gillespie is the editor-in-chief of Reason.com and Reason TV and the co-author of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America.

The video was edited by Amanda Winkler and shot by Paul Detrick and Meredith Bragg.

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