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Three comics separately said that free speech will prevail over a small but vocal group of cancellation culture warriors looking to censor comedians.
“Comedians should just stop believing all the noise, and they should just start telling jokes the way they want to,” Tyler Fischer, a New York stand-up comedian, told Fox News. “You’re never going to develop as an artist unless you cross the line.”
Comedians, such as Dave Chappelle, have been high-profile targets of the cancellation culture in recent years. Recently, First Avenue in Minneapolis canceled Chappelle’s sold-out show hours before its scheduled time after the legendary venue faced backlash from staff and the community over the superstar comedian’s jokes about the transgender community.
“Too often, too much credit is given to the way people interpret what you say or do as a comedian rather than what your real intentions are,” Josh Denny, a Los Angeles comedian, told Fox News.
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“When locations like First Avenue are compromised, that’s what’s dangerous,” Denny continued. “That basically tells all those trans people that what they think Dave Chappelle is saying about them is true, and it isn’t at all.”
The comedians told Fox News that they believed the people who wanted to censor comedians represented a small but overly outspoken part of America.
“We just set fire to the very small minority of people who are sensitive and gave them superpowers,” Fischer said. “I don’t think America has become too sensitive.”
Similarly, Denny said, “The people who want to censor comedy or cancel comedians who are uptight, take risks, push the boundaries, I think they’re a very, very organized, vocal minority of people. There’s really a scream and I’m thinking of a resurgence of audiences that just don’t want politically correct comedy anymore.”
Chrissie Mayr, a stand-up comedian from New York, told Fox News that censoring comedians is “the most selfish thing you can do.”
“It’s like, ‘Oh, I don’t like this comedian… Not only do I not want to see them, but I want to make sure no one else can see them,'” she said.
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Still, comedians have adapted their jokes to changing societal norms throughout history, writes Kliph Nesteroff, a comedic historian.
“The tug-of-war between censorship and free speech has been part of comedy throughout its existence,” Nesteroff wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed. “It will probably continue.”
He gave examples of 20th-century comedians who were arrested or exiled for their jokes.
Still, Fischer said modern cancel culture censored its own comedy out of fear for nearly a decade.
“I’ve been terrified of stepping outside that, you know, awake bubble,” he said.
More than 80% of adults surveyed in a New York Times/Siena College poll in February said they considered it a serious problem that some Americans would not exercise their freedom of expression for fear of retaliation or harsh criticism. An April Morning Consult poll found that about a third of adults felt they couldn’t speak up freely on social media.
Fischer also told Fox News that he saw a shift as he began to take advantage of President Biden’s age and low energy.
“I would joke about Donald Trump for four years,” he said, posing as the former president. “Then I joked about Biden, and they said, oh, you’re far right.”
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“I joke about who’s in power,” Fischer continued. “The left has gone so far that now everything that is nuanced, in the middle, uncensored, is considered the far right.”
Between March 2020 and March 2022, the Media Research Center identified more than 600 cases of social media users facing bans, restrictions, or removed content in response to posts criticizing Biden. media compared to less than 20% of Democrats.
“We are now almost on this religious crusade with the political parties about who is right and who is wrong,” Denny, who has been performing stand-up for 17 years, told Fox News.
“Everyone has some kind of rule, holy cow, that they think it’s not okay to joke about,” Denny continued. “And that could be their politics, it could be their religious affiliation, it could be one of those things.”
Denny, Fischer and Mayr argued that protecting some groups could lead to more exclusion in comedy.
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“True equality through comedy is ridiculing everyone,” Mayr told Fox News.
Fischer said, “You can’t protect a certain group of people. They will eventually feel left out and isolated.”
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Chappelle has been criticized repeatedly for his jokes about the transgender community. His Netflix special, “The Closer,” prompted the tech giant’s staff to walk out in protest, though CEO Ted Sarandos defended the decision to provide Chappelle with a platform.
“Comedy is the most inclusive thing,” Fischer told Fox News. “You can’t subdue slowly and cut out people you can’t joke about.”
Denny said: “I’ll create fans or not based on the kind of content I do, but I’d rather take the turtle race to the end to make the kind of fans I want than just do what’s easy to appease people .”