29. Speaking Laughter to Power

Lenny BruceTo the state, political humor is no laughing matter. Lenny Bruce rendered politics and social mores absurd through his piercing stand-up comedy routines. Of the left, he said, “The liberals can understand everything but people who don't understand them.” Of the right, he stated, “If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks.” In 1966, Bruce allegedly died of a drug overdose; he actually died of censorship, arrest, and obscenity trials.

Laughter is under attack everywhere as 'hate speech,' including in supposed Western bastions of free speech:

  • A Canadian comedian has been fined $42,000 for telling disabled jokes.

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave her nod to the prosecution of German comedian Jan Böhmermann by a foreign government (Turkey) for insulting its dictator.

  • The satirist Dieudonné has been banned, sued, and arrested in France for antisemitic humor.

  • In 2012, the Obama administration attempted to censor the YouTube video “The Innocence of Muslims,” which it falsely blamed for a lethal riot in Benghazi, Libya.

Withdraw Your Consent — Libertarian T Shirts

Freud had an intriguing explanation of why laughter shakes authority and the status quo. In his book Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, Freud speculated that jokes provide catharsis for repressed hostilities by sidestepping the inhibitions that keep people from complaining more bluntly. People remain silent because expressing their emotions could lead to punishment. But jokes allow them to safely experience or vent aggression.

At the same time, jokes benefit society by releasing tension which acts to promote its healthy bonding and survival. Of course, the same is not true of the target of comic aggression. What is healthy for individuals and a free society is often toxic for the state.
No wonder comedy is punished as severely as political manifestos.

What is the best response? Laugh.

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