New documentary asks: Can We Take a Joke?
A new documentary featuring comedians and free speech advocates including Gilbert Gottfried, Penn Jillette and Jim Norton, examines the link between comedy and outrage.
14 Apr 16

can we take a joke

Comedy on campus is under threat, as more students choose comfort over openness and creativity. Comedians like Jerry Seinfeld have hit out at American colleges for being too “politically correct”. A new documentary about free speech and comedy, set for release this summer, seeks to amend this state of affairs.

Can We Take a Joke?, which features comedians and free speech advocates including Gilbert Gottfried, Penn Jillette and Jim Norton, examines the link between comedy and outrage.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) partnered with DKT Liberty Project and director Ted Balaker of Korchula Productions to produce the film, which was originally released in November 2015. However, Samuel Goldwyn Films has now acquired the distribution rights to the film meaning it will be in cinemas across the USA this summer.

FIRE’s president and CEO Greg Lukianoff, who is featured in the film, said in a recent announcement: “I am absolutely thrilled about Samuel Goldwyn Films purchasing the rights to the documentary. I think everyone could use a reminder that you can either have a right to not be offended, or you can have good comedy, but you can’t have both. I hope every living person in this universe (and every other) goes to see it.”

Through interviews, Can We Take a Joke? gives viewers an insight into the perspectives of comedians and free speech advocates with the aim of showing the importance of free speech in the context of comedy.

Lukianoff told Index: “Far too many people today don’t value free speech as much as they should because they can’t imagine getting in trouble for what they say. But even if you don’t ever personally get into trouble for what you say, a world without free speech – a world with a right to not be offended – is a world without comedy.”

Ahead of its summer release, FIRE will be screening the film at 300 campuses across the USA between 13 April and 20 April, in partnership with political organisation Young Americans for Liberty. The hope is that the film will introduce many to new themes.

With universities in the UK and USA both facing criticism for no-platforming and protecting people from being offended rather than protecting academic freedom, Lukianoff believes it is important the film is shown on campus.

He told Index: “I think we as a society do a poor job of teaching students about the importance of freedom of speech, and I think Can We Take a Joke? is an entertaining and funny way to help them learn more about the history of comedy and the current situation on campus.”

By Josie Timms

Josie Timms is former editorial assistant at Index on Censorship and the first Liverpool John Moores University/Tim Hetherington fellow.