Can We Take A Joke? Standup Comedy vs. Political Correctness

A new doc featuring Penn Jillette, Gilbert Gottfried, Adam Carolla, & Lisa Lampanelli asks why comedy is treated differently that other forms of expression.


Korchula Productions

"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 standup comedy and the policing of speech, debuts on Friday, November 13 at DOC NYC, one of the country's biggest film festivals. 

Directed by 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 in a live-peformance clip. "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.

The Friday night debut is sold out but tickets are still available for a Monday screening.

Go here for more information.

Reason TV talked with Balaker this summer about the film. That video and original text are below:

Original release date: August 20, 2015. For more links and resources, go here.

"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 filmmaker Ted Balaker who is currently finishing up his latest documentary, "Can We Take A Joke?." The film, which features comedians Gilbert Gottfried, Jim Norton, Lisa Lampanelli, Adam Carolla, Karith Foster, and Penn Jillette, examines the role of comedy in our culture of constant outrage. 

"Comedians don't even have the freedom of conscience to just be neutral on something," Balaker 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.

 About 5 minutes.

Edited by Amanda Winkler. Shot by Paul Detrick and Meredith Bragg.

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  1. that other forms of expression


    1. Apparently he meant “repression”: just a small lapsus. But the really important thing to understand here is that in America, we are willing to tolerate offensive speech when it is presented in certain appropriate contexts, such a comedy hall or a late-night talk show. Your speech can then be criticized by bloggers and tweeters around the nation. If, however, you engage in offensive conduct such as sending out inappropriately deadpan “Gmail parodies” of distinguished members of the academic community, then we will take all necessary measures to hunt you down, and we will make sure you are prosecuted and incarcerated, regardless of the ongoing liberal blather about so-called “First Amendment liberties.” So if you are going in engage in “speech” that nobody wants, at least keep it where it belongs. See the documentation of the nation’s leading criminal “satire” case at:

  2. The comedians listed are all white.

    1. That’s known as dark humor, Diane.

        1. Oh, very well. Gallows humor.

      1. Really? you left a cut in place….feckin’ squirrels

    2. Let me guess, Diane. That must offend you somehow?

      1. I’m speaking for the oppressed.

    3. Hey, it’s just a bunch of white people wondering why you’re all such pussies and can’t take a joke and why can’t they be bigoted fuckwits onstage with no repercussions anymore, does that make you uncomfortable? SJW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        1. Cultural appropriation!

      1. Yeah…what the hell do Jews know about oppression?

  3. “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.”

    “That’s not funny! You suck!”

  4. “You don’t walk through a museum with a towel and throw it over paintings you don’t like.”

    Well no, sometimes the government just shuts it down.

    Trigger warning: This was back when “liberals” believed in free speech.

    1. The government “didn’t shut it down” , the Corcoran Gallery did. Liberals didn’t give a flying fuck about free speech back then either.

    2. And didn’t David’s man-junk get a fig leaf plastered onto it centuries ago? Presumably under pressure from a more puritanical government?

  5. Oh, please. People can’t take a Halloween costume, you want them to take a joke?

    1. A sourpuss is not who I am and this is not okay.

  6. What? No Anthony Jeselnik? Thoughts and Prayers bitches!

    1. OMG, SO FUNNY!

      “….kill my relatives because of a joke I told?

      BEST case scenario….”

  7. “Why is comedy the only form of the arts where people think they have to agree with or approve the content?” Norton asks in a live-peformance clip. “You don’t walk through a museum with a towel and throw it over paintings you don’t like.”

    Well, people can and do object to art they don’t like, especially if it’s provocative. Norton’s analogy applies more to a heckler, who tries to shut down the act and stop everyone else from observing it. I imagine plenty of people object when a museum buys paintings they don’t like or screen movies or host plays that they don’t like, and try to get the venue to drop the art.

    It probably is happening more to comedians, because ‘socially conscious’ young folk want to like comedy and comedians. But it’s certainly not unique to comedians.

    1. Re: art, one area where there has been objection in the past is with projects that are publicly-funded, or somehow involve the use of taxpayer dollars. The Vietnam Memorial took no small amount of heat, as I recall, while some folks may remember the dust-up over the Mapplethorpe exhibit and various works not favorable to the Catholic Church.

    2. Oh bullshit, Show me just one example of a movie, or a book, or a song that people have objected to, and tried to get banned/shut down/etc. This only happens to comedians.

      1. *golf clap*

      2. Well, sticking to the crowd that objects to Norton: American Sniper

      3. Right here in little ‘ol CDA (aka Chicago), North Idaho.…..3f177.html

        This is actual pretty frequent. So I hope you’re joking or trolling. lol

        1. Oh sure, I’m TOTALLY joking,…as if.

    3. +1 Maude Flanders and Michealangelo’s David.

    4. Tha’s a John Ashcroft toga party.

      1. *That’s

  8. An Autostraddler (Feminist lesbian site) who is supposedly a student at Silliman, shares her take on the situation:

    I’m a Yale student in Silliman college myself, and basically what happened is that an intercultural student and faculty council sent an e-mail about Halloween costumes reminding people that blackface, yellow face, and other appropriative costumes are deeply offensive to minorities and asking students to think whether their “funny” costume is funny or hurtful.

    The wife of the Master of Silliman College sent out an e-mail in response, basically saying she felt the e-mail was inappropriate censorship and that students should either engage people or “just look away” if their costume was offensive. (The Master lives in the residential college and is basically in charge of helping the community bond, organizing events for the college and serving as the person students go to when they’re having a problem. The residential colleges are student’s homes for all 4 years at Yale in most cases, and they end up as really important spaces for students.) A lot of Silliman students and Yalies from other residential colleges were understandably upset, since a minority student can’t “just look away” from things making Yale an unsafe place for them. The Master of the college responded to students’ anger mostly by retweeting articles from the Atlantic on the coddling of college students.

    1. Cont…

      On the same weekend, a fraternity party (allegedly, but all evidence says actually) turned away some women of color from a party, saying “white women only.” Between these two incidents, it prompted women of color and students of color in general to protest, tell the Yale community about the lack of welcome they’ve often felt and their anger over the racism many have experienced at Yale, and rally together to protest. A protest against systematic racism on campus yesterday drew 1200 or more people, pretty much the largest group of Yale students I’ve ever seen.

      Slate’s article about it is the most accurate one to what I’ve seen on campus:….._dt_tw_top…..nt-315857/

      1. so a frat party is now “systematic racism”? And the women/students “of color” thing is so self-righteous. White is a color or a shade or a hue or whatever term you like, too.

      2. This is all very delicious.

      3. I highly doubt anyone said “white women only” to non-white students at Yale University in 2015, unless it was an obvious joke or meant to provoke a reaction.

      4. By “all evidence”, she means “two people said it happened, but the actual evidence is that it didn’t”.

  9. As someone who both performs stand up comedy and does improv, I feel that people cringe more than they used to. It’s not even that they are offended, per se; it’s always a kind of air whisltling through the teeth “ooo, you’re going to get into trouble.”

    Our fucking society is turning into Jeanie from Ferris Bueler, perpetually envious and pissy that others get to do things that we can’t. “Oh, you have the balls to make an off color joke and I don’t, so I’m going to give you shit on behalf of others!”


    1. You’re a comedian?

    2. Pussies don’t mind if you have the balls.

      1. ….and dicks ALSO fuck assholes….

    3. America has its father’s gun and a scorching case of herpes.

      1. America has its father’s gun and a scorching case of herpes

        :Rising applause…Then, drooping a bit:


  10. I’m stunned to find out people think Lisa Lampanelli is funny and actually pay to watch her perform.

    1. From what little I could take of her routine, she seems to run completely on the “I fuck black guys *waits for everyone to be shocked*” shtick.

      1. Have you ever seen her?

        The reason why she fucks black guys – nobody else will put up with her nasty ass.

  11. Exactly. Fuck fake apologies. And screw those morons pretending to be students on campuses.

  12. Had an American friend visit me here in Japan a few years back. He asked me why Japanese were so intelligent, clean and polite. “Well, if they weren’t, they’d be stupid, dirty, rude little assholes.” A second generation Japanese American guy next to us felt the need to lecture me on how insensitive my joke was. Fucker overhears our conversation and misses the point of the joke which was actually praise the Japanese. Of course, I said that joke doesn’t apply to him. He didn’t get the insult, but my friend loved it.

    1. Many comedians began to realize the jig (racist!) was up when people misunderstood the difference between a racist joke and a joke about race.

      1. Absolutely. Not just race, though. I’ve told this little homemade joke to a coworker after work: Why do gay men stay in the closet? Wouldn’t you if you were gonna get fucked in the ass? Annnnd, he took offense. The point of that joke was to show what an idiot I was, as a straight man, for not understanding that a gay guy would actually enjoy that.

        1. Most gay guys don’t. Most gay guys are cocksuckers. There are guys who like to fuck people in the ass, and there are people who are willing to let them to it, but it’s not a gay thing. It’s a dominant/submissive thing.

          /I had some roommates who were into those sorts of things and learned more than I ever wanted to know about things I had no interest in.

          1. Who are you calling a cocksucker?

            1. I had this gay guitar teacher who would greet me as “Pussylicker” and I’d call him “Cocksucker.”

            2. It takes 10 years of training to get called a master plumber, but suck one little dick…

          2. Now that you mention it, you’re right, woman have assholes, too. Not that my wife would let me near it with a ten foot pole.

            1. Seriously though, most gay guys aren’t into that, and are insulted when someone brings up it as if it were true. It’s like saying all Mexicans are lazy or all black people steal. That’s just not true. I’ve had Mexicans work circles around me.

              1. Yeah, I see the point. In my early 20s I worked for a touring Broadway musical company. Out of 20 guys on staff, I was the only non Bi/Gay. They’d correct my misconceptions, yet without the whiny, victimy attitude of today’s SJWs.

                1. Notice I didn’t say anything about knowing blacks who weren’t thieves. It was an attempt at a joke.

                2. But the general point was serious.

  13. Hanging with my gf and one of her friends last night and somehow the subject of me not being PC was brought up. I asked them in a dead serious tone why I should always be PC and conduct myself in a PC manner? Seriously, why? They both just starred at me with blank faces. I pointed out that people CHOOSE to be offended and the “un-PC” things I say do not offend me, so again, WHY should I be “PC?”. No answer and the subject was changed.

  14. Freedom fighter Larry Flynt had to go to the Supreme Court to fend off conservatives whom he lampooned in cartoons.

    This shit has been going on a long time.

    1. You just can’t not Tu quoque, can you.

    2. And won every case and became a hero for free speech rights.

      Fast forward 25 years and we’re throwing people in jail for youtube videos.

      1. Quit making shit up. No one has been indicted for posting a Youtube video.

        1. A few weeks after his release, Nakoula began working on Innocence of Muslims.[31][32] Conditions of Nakoula’s probation include not using aliases and not using the internet without prior approval from his probation officer


          We can talk about the technicalities of the ‘violation of his probation’, but the posting of the youtube video was rolled up in the so-called violation.

        2. I hereby declare Max Derp achieved.

        3. P.B. Technically, your statement is false.

          “Shezanne ‘Shez’ Cassim, 29, was arrested in April and charged with violating a 2012 cyber crime law after posting a 19 minute video that mocks Dubai teenagers who are influenced by hip hop culture.”

          That was in UAE, not in the US, but Diane/Paul’s statement is true.

          And technically, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula went to jail for some bogus parole charge.

          But the truth is, had he not posted that video on Youtube, he would have never been arrested.

          Verdict: Diane/Paul is correct. PB is incorrect.

          1. They went after Capone only for taxes.

        4. Here are the so-called modern defenders of free speech, college professors and what not:

          My initial tweet about Bacile, the person said to be responsible for the film mocking the prophet Mohammed, was not because I am against the First Amendment. My tweets reflected my exasperation that as a religion professor, it is difficult to teach the facts when movies such as Bacile’s Innocence of Muslims are taken as both truth and propaganda, and used against innocent Americans.
          If there is anyone who values free speech, it is a tenured professor!
          [here comes the but.. and it’s a big but]
          So why did I tweet that Bacile should be in jail? The “free speech” in Bacile’s film is not about expressing a personal opinion about Islam.


        5. Oh, I almost forgot.

          *drops microphone*

    3. Kind of like that time Freedom Fighter Dee Snyder took down your boy Al Gore a congressional hearing?

    4. The point wasn’t that this is a new thing, but that with social media the whiners have a bigger voice. Idiot.

  15. When someone wants to be offended, they can always find a reason.

        1. It’s offenses all the way down!

  16. I never thought I’d see a picture of Jim Norton and Gilbert Gottfried where they weren’t the two ugliest people in it.

  17. What’s with the celebrating diversity?

    Doesn’t that include all points of view?

    Isn’t that the fucking point?

    Or is this all about some po==mo crit(TM) theory masturbation bull shit?

    That must be it

    “Society is intrinsically unattainable,” says Derrida. Several narratives concerning precapitalist socialism exist. Thus, in Vineland, Pynchon affirms the cultural paradigm of expression; in The Crying of Lot 49 he reiterates postdialectic libertarianism.

    The characteristic theme of the works of Pynchon is a mythopoetical reality. The cultural paradigm of expression holds that narrativity is used to oppress the Other. In a sense, Debord uses the term ‘postdialectic libertarianism’ to denote not deconstruction, but neodeconstruction.

    If one examines the cultural paradigm of expression, one is faced with a choice: either reject precapitalist socialism or conclude that reality comes from the masses. Lacan promotes the use of the modernist paradigm of discourse to deconstruct outdated perceptions of sexual identity. It could be said that if postdialectic libertarianism holds, we have to choose between postcultural sublimation and Sontagist camp.…..generator/

  18. Sounds like a plan to me dude.

  19. Four people who’ve been fired by Donald Trump for stupid reasons.

  20. So a priest, a minister and a rabbi walk into a bar, and draw lots for who gets first dibs on the choirboy.

    So the guy tries to give the Italian organ-grinder a tip, and the monkey snarls, “any money he gets goes through me, I’m his manager!”

    So what’s twelve inches long, white, and lonely because it has no friends from its own group? You better guess right or else I’ll have to show you.

  21. A multicultural group of felons escape from prison, but the cops are hard on their heels.

    The fugitives reach a forest and climb up into the trees. They hear the cops approach.

    “We have to make them think we’re just birds,” said the Bohunk. “I’ll start off – tu-whit, tu-who! who! Who!”

    The Italian just goes “tweet, tweet.”

    The Pole goes “MOOO!”

    1. Apparently, you cant say ”black paint” anymore.

      You have to be all PC and say “Can you please paint now, Leroy?”

      1. What’s black on the bottom and white on the top?


        What’s black on top and white on the bottom?

        Prison rape.

        1. Why doesn’t Mexico have an Olympic team?

          Because anyone who can run, jump or swim is already across the border.

          1. …and that’s how copper wire was invented.

            Oops, punch line to the wrong joke.

          2. “Dad, on my way home from school I saw Santa beating a Pakistani man up outside a shop.”

            “Well, son, I don’t know what to say to you. I’m shocked.”

            “So am I, dad. I only posted the letter yesterday”

            1. Why can’t you trust the news in China’s People’s Daily?

              It’s yellow journalism and its slanted.

              1. So the atheist was having sex and screaming, “oh, random processes producing particular molecular structures!”

                And his neighbor’s wife said, “It’s OK, you can say ‘Oh, God.'”

            2. If you have sex with a prostitute without her permission, is it rape… or shoplifting?

              1. “Senator Kennedy, I’m feeling guilty, maybe I should tell you wife what we’ve been doing.”

                “Don’t worry, Mary Jo, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

                1. Why did princess Diana cross the road?

                  Because she wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.

              2. Why is the part of a woman between her hips and her breasts called a waist?

                Because they could have easily fitted in another pair of tits there.

                1. As Hitler is sitting in his office, he hears a voice in his head. “Hello, Adolf, this is God. I need you to do something for me.”
                  “Yes God”
                  “I command you to kill six million Jews and one clown?”
                  “Why the clown?”
                  “See? Nobody asks about the Jews…”

                  1. Donald Trump, A Frenchman, And a Mexican are sitting in a train car together, The Mexican is eating a taco, Stops, And throws it out the window;The Frenchman asks, “Why did you do that?” The Mexican responds, “We have so many in my country, I just wanted to.” So the Frenchman takes a croissant and throws it out the window, Saying, “We have too many of these.” He then turns to Trump and asks, “What do you have too many of in your country?” Trump then throws the Mexican out the window.

                  2. Why isn’t Hillary interested in the Tijuana Donkey Show?

                    She’s already had sex with a jackass.

                    1. What do spinach and anal sex have in common?

                      If you’re forced to have it as a kid, you’ll hate it as an adult.

                    2. Why do Japanese Sumo wrestlers shave their legs?

                      So you can tell them apart from feminists.

                    3. A Muslim and a Wookie walk into the White House…

                    4. Fat shaming!

  22. Sometimes it’s not the content of the joke, but who’s telling it. Remember how people got offended when Geo. Bush Jr. looked under the tablecloth & said, “Nope, no WMD there.”? People were allowed to mock him by telling that joke, but he wasn’t allowed to make that joke himself, it seemed.

    1. In that particular instance, there was the fact that he’d put U.S. lives on the line based on a belief in WMDs.

      I spent much of the Bush administration rolling my eyes at the Bush haters, but this was an example of a joke by the wrong person.

      1. I can understand why people would find it unfunny coming from him, but not why they’d be offended by it.

  23. Is Andy Breckman in this movie?

  24. Where would Don Rickles or Richard Pryor be without a good racist joke?

  25. Father’s day, the most confusing day in the ghetto.

  26. Lewis Black hosted the show; it was one of the most un-PC things I’d ever seen on TV, examining what made humor funny, gotta be 15 years ago, and I think he told the joke:

    Woman with two kids in tow, shopping in department store.
    Clerk approaches, says: “May I help you mam? What lovely children! Are they twins?”
    Woman, looks around to make sure it’s her kids: “Are you crazy? The boy is 6 and the girl is 12!”
    Clerk: “Well, you’re so ugly, I didn’t think you could get fucked twice”.
    (he didn’t use “fucked”, but you get the point)

  27. Although I’m sympathetic, I can’t help but wonder where Penn & Teller would be in a world where people didn’t get outraged and offended – probably they’d be doing kids birthday parties and Ren Faires and thanking the god they claim not to believe in for that much. If a performer can work controversy into positive publicity that’s fine but these complaints about PC are just another part of the act rather than any sincere observation.

    1. SusanM|11.13.15 @ 12:33AM|#
      “Although I’m sympathetic, I can’t help but wonder where Penn & Teller would be in a world where people didn’t get outraged and offended”

      Given such a world, they might well stick to exposing the tricks of ‘magic’, and given Mizzou, I’m thinking that world is a LONG ways off.

      1. Likely so, but it does strike me as a “careful for what you wish for”-type of situation.

        1. I could find too much liberty one of these days, but I’m not about to be careful wishing for it.
          Not sure why you’re cautioning against a world where people aren’t outraged; care to explain?

          1. A performer whose fame is based on saying outrageous things won’t have much of a living if no one got outraged, no?

            1. OK, but suffice to say I find ‘peak outrage’ up there with ‘peak X’; I’ll agree to disagree here.

              1. Okay. Don’t misunderstand, though, and think I’ve got a particular bug against crude humor. I’m sure I’ve demonstrated otherwise several times. It’s entirely fair to assert that things are in danger of going too far the other way but I think it undermines the message a little to use performers who’ve made a career courting controversy (if you can find clips of Gottfried on Howard Stern’s show in the late-80’s you’ll hear what I mean).

                Or not, what do I know?

  28. This kind of reminds me of that Simpsons episode where Krusty the Klown does the whole “me so solly!” flapping dickie routine and just can’t understand why no one thinks it’s funny.

  29. The fucking comments crack me up almost as much as these comics whom I love and have many of their DVD’s. My only wish is we get back to creative comedy and drop all this cock,shit, and other bodily functions moronic stuff the Roasts have devolved into. (Not that I’m complaining mind you. A well-placed fart joke is still…the bomb!

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