National Post on Canada’s HRC’s and free speech in comedy

From Canada’s National post

Comedy And Cruelty

B.C.’s human rights censors don’t understand what it takes to be a funny man. Their ignorance may sound the death knell for stand-up in this country

Jonathan Kay, National Post Published: Monday, June 30, 2008

Last week, George Carlin was obituarized as a brilliant comedian, a scathing social critic and a fearless enemy of government censorship. All true. But it turns out the legendary funny man can also teach us a thing or two about human rights.

A few years back, Carlin was doing a stand-up bit about the austere-sounding names assumed by popes (“Somehow, ‘Pope Corky the First’ doesn’t command a lot of authority”) when a heckler got under his skin. The comedian, pausing from his Godly shtick, smote the loudmouth thusly:

“Would somebody just put a d–k in that guy’s mouth, please? That’s what he wants! He’s a c–ksucker in disguise! He’s got his mouth open because he wants someone to cum in it!”

And then it got worse:

“If you keep it up, we’ll grab your ass and throw you on the f—ing street where you belong with your mother. And I’m f—ing her in the a–hole every night anyway. So f–k you and your sister and your wife. If you got a kid, I hope your f—ing kid dies in a car fire. How do you like that you stupid c–ksucker?”

Bald-faced bigotry. Gratuitous obscenity. Wishing the death of a child. Forget the seven dirty words: We’re talking here about three of the most powerful taboos known to Western society.

Which is precisely why the crowd loved it. Carlin got an ovation. And one can safely assume the “c–ksucker” kept his mouth shut the rest of the night.

Among good comedians, heckler-bashing is an art form — one whose brush strokes are rendered with the filthiest, most juvenile words imaginable. The goal is not just to shut the guy up. It’s to humiliate him as a warning to others — to reclaim control of the room by pile-driving the guy into his seat.

It’s not the sort of experience you forget. Back when I was at CEGEP in Montreal more than 20 years ago, one of my broomball buddies got on the case of a comedian at a downtown night club. After a while, the exasperated performer waded into the audience, stuck the butt end of his micstand into my friend’s face, and started making furious beeping noises. “My s–thead detector ? it’s going off the charts!” he exclaimed.

The comedian just stood there, beeping and beeping and beeping away — for what seemed like a full minute — while my friend literally collapsed into his own ashen-faced mortification. The crowd went nuts.

Since that day, I have never even thought about opening my mouth at a comedy club.

It’s a cruel, Hobbesian disciplinary protocol. But it’s also essential to good comedy. If every two-bit office ham with three mojitos in him felt at liberty to pipe up, comedy shows would all transform into open-mic night, and stand-up itself would become a dead letter.

Which is why the aforementioned Mr. Carlin must be rolling around in his grave right now. Thanks to a decision rendered last week by a B. C. Human Rights Tribunal, comedians performing in Canada may soon be responding to hecklers by asking them earnestly to “please refrain from further spurious commentary.”

The case in question dates from May 22, 2007, when a certain Guy Earle was performing comedy at Zesty’s Restaurant in Vancouver. Late into his act, a group of women — who, by the manager’s account, had been drinking on the outside patio for the previous seven hours — took seats next to the stage and started heckling. (Earle himself has offered a more precise description: “Two of them started making out, flipping me the bird and saying I hated lesbians.”)

B.C.’s human rights censors don’t understand what it takes to be a funny man. Their ignorance may sound the death knell for stand-up in this country

The comedian went into Carlin mode. There’s no video of the incident. But a friend of the hecklers later paraphrased Earle’s freakout thusly: “You’re fat and ugly, no wonder you’re lesbians, you can’t get a man– that’s why you’re dykes.”

Nasty stuff–even if it’s not as bad as telling a guy you want his kids dead. But as I say, that’s what you get when you play the audience-participation game. One minute, you’re giggling it up with your softball gal pals. The next minute, the main act comes out with a s–thead detector. Lesson learned.

Or not. Rather than slink away, these particular lesbian hecklers decided to get their social revenge the Canadian way — by filing a human rights complaint. And last week, a B. C. tribunal announced that the case would go to trial. If the bureaucrats determine that a thoughtcrime has been committed, Earle could be on the hook for thousands of dollars. Or — since B. C.’s human rights tribunals, unlike real courts, can make up just about any punishment they want — he might be forced to avoid certain themes in his act, or even to write and perform gay-friendly jokes. (It’s theoretically possible that B. C.’s human rights commissioners could simply write Earle’s mandatory new jokes themselves: “Hey, did you hear the one about the two homosexuals who got married, and had children, and lived productive lives, and didn’t embody any funny stereotypes whatsoever? ?”)

Human Rights mandarins posture as champions of “diversity.” But as this case illustrates, what they seek is actually complete conformity. Their dream is a whole society that, in every nook and cranny, adheres self-consciously to the same rigid, humourless orthodoxies that hold sway in their own circle of professional human-rights paper-pushers.

Normally socialized people — who live and laugh in the real world — recognize that society has different zones, each with its own code of conduct. If a politician or business leader said the sort of thing that Carlin or Earle did, his career would be over. And rightly so. But a comedy club isn’t a boardroom or Parliament building. When you pay your money to go see a modern stand-up routine, you’re on notice that the act likely will be vicious and corrosive. Since politically correct speech is so boring and unfunny, you’d probably demand your money back if it is wasn’t.

Normal people likewise recognize that the stereotypes and obscenity trafficked in comedy clubs are communicated for effect, not as a political message. Two generations after the (Carlin-led) mainstreaming of irony and counterculture, we all know that words change their meaning depending on where and how they’re uttered.

B.C.’s human rights censors don’t understand what it takes to be a funny man. Their ignorance may sound the death knell for stand-up in this country

It is this brand of diversity that human rights commissions are killing. Christian preachers discussing traditional religious attitudes toward homosexuality, comedy-club put-down artists, caustic political pundits: All of these breeds are endangered by infantilizing censors who see citizens as too simple-minded and emotionally frail to evaluate language in proper context. In a Canada run by the human rights commissions, all speech will increasingly have the tone of a government public-service announcement.

Hear that beeping sound, Canada? The people setting it off are the ones pretending to be safeguarding your “human rights.”

jkay@nationalpost.com

About Eeyore

Canadian artist and counter-jihad and freedom of speech activist as well as devout Schrödinger's catholic

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