Comedy is transgressive by nature, so it’s not surprising that a ton of America’s most successful and innovative comedians — people like Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld — are loathe to schedule stops on college campuses.
Colleges have become such morally stultified venues for speaking freely that a growing number of comedians literally can’t trouble themselves to be paid to perform at campuses. Seinfeld recently told ESPN’s Colin Cowherd that, although he doesn’t schedule colleges on his standup tours, other comedians who do stop at colleges tell him they’re tough places to unleash their acts.
Cowherd observed that comedians like Rock and Larry the Cable Guy won’t play colleges in order to avoid being needlessly excoriated for the things they say in jest. Are they right to be so concerned?
“I don’t play colleges, but I hear a lot of people tell me, ‘Don’t go near colleges — they’re so PC,'” Seinfeld responded:
I’ll give you an example: My daughter’s 14. My wife says to her, “Well, you know, in the next couple years, I think maybe you’re going to want to be hanging around the city more on the weekends, so you can see boys.” You know what my daughter says? She says, “That’s sexist.”
… They [some college-age people] just want to use these words: “That’s racist;” “That’s sexist;” “That’s prejudiced.” They don’t even know what they’re talking about.
Enter FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. On Monday, FIRE, along with comedians like Penn Jillette and Adam Carolla, announced a partnership to produce a forthcoming anti-PC film titled “Can We Take a Joke?”
The film is still in its earliest stages, but FIRE president Greg Lukianoff explained it purpose in an article at Ricochet:
The timing is perfect. The year kicked off with comedian Chris Rock saying that he did not like playing campuses anymore, and that comedy legend George Carlin didn’t like to either. Now, with Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher condemning the oversensitivity and humorlessness of college students, the world seems ready to make a stand for comedy. The through-line of the film follows the life and career of famous iconoclastic comedian Lenny Bruce, making the argument that Lenny Bruce would not stand a minute on the modern college campus. The film also features a few important FIRE cases in which censorship tried to crush satire, parody, and comedy on campus — sometimes successfully.
FIRE is for real — it’s helped dozens of students and university employees navigate the often-absurd world of political correctness, especially as it impinges on constitutional freedoms. And the participation of real comedians lends some hope to the wishful notion that the backlash against PC overkill may coalesce into a force strong enough to effect real changes — at least on some campuses.
“This is only the first announcement, with many more to follow,” wrote Lukianoff, “but if you want to know more about the documentary, please ‘Like’ the new Can We Take a Joke? Facebook page, follow the Can We Take a Joke? Twitter account, sign up for email updates at the Can We Take a Joke? Website, and start getting psyched for what is turning out to be a riotously funny romp about the importance of both free speech and comedy at a time when they are sorely needed.”