We previously discussed how the attack on free speech on campuses around the world has led to even comedians being banned for insulting or disrespecting any group. Many comedians are now avoiding gigs at universities to avoid controversies. The latest such example occurred at Columbia where a fairly typical skit led to stand-up comedian and former “SNL” writer Nimesh Patel being forced off stage by students upset that he made jokes about race and sexual orientation.
According to The Columbia Spectator, Patel was stopped just 30 minutes into this routine due to a joke about a gay black man from Patel’s old neighborhood: “No one looks in the mirror and thinks, ‘this black thing is too easy, let me just add another thing to it.’”
That is fairly standard stuff for a modern comedian but it apparently sent Columbia students into vapors.
What is ironic is that the joke reflected sympathy with the discrimination faced by both people of color and homosexuals in our society.
The crackdown on comedians is nothing new unfortunately. We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in France (here and here and here and here and here and here) and England ( here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Much of this trend is tied to the expansion of hate speech and non-discrimination laws. We have seen comedians targeted with such court orders under this expanding and worrisome trend. (here and here).
Yet, students like Adam Warren actually supported censoring the comedian because “using people’s ethnicity as the crux of his jokes could be funny but still offensive…He definitely wasn’t the most crass comedian I’ve ever heard but for the event it was inappropriate.” Eventually, young Adam and his classmates will have to actually emerge into the real world where such jokes are actually quite common.
That obvious point however is precisely what student Sofia Jao objects to. She is quoted as saying “I really dislike when people who are older say that our generation needs to be exposed to the real world. When older generations say you need to stop being so sensitive, it’s like undermining what our generation is trying to do in accepting others and making it safer.” What is missing however is any recognition that she is simply stating the motivation (which is not being questioned or opposed) rather than addressing the means. Any means used in the pursuit of a noble goal does not make it noble in itself. In this case, she and others are advocating censorship, including of comedians, to regulate speech of others. She could always simply not go to the show or walk out. Instead, Patel was told to leave because some in the audience were offended. Finally, Sofia, it is first and foremost not about your generation. It is about all of our free speech. If you want to live in an echo chamber of your own choosing, I have little interest or care. However, you are seeking to curtail the speech of others because you believe silencing them will make for a better place.
Yes, this is about the real world but it is also about the future of free speech and a new younger generation of censors. My generation was defined by the struggle for free speech and associations. This generation seems to relish speech controls and regulation.