TUCKER CARLSON: A free society requires comedians to be allowed to express whatever they want to say without fear of criticism or reprisal. A comedian cannot be compelled to perform comedy that he or she doesn’t want to perform, at least not under the threat of being blackballed. For comedy to function in a democracy, we have to admit that we have certain rules for it.
The rules are sometimes as constricting as the way a car is supposed to be driven. A car is either driven into a wall or a pedestrian walks into the street. In the case of comedy, there is the risk of being blackballed by the host when the comedian turns on the television and says, “That was funny” after the host asks him to tell a funny joke. On the other hand, it might be argued that having a comedian say “The way the American election is being run right now is like a free-for-all cage match between the Chinese government and our troops” isn’t funny, and might actually be offensive to the audience and to Chinese authorities.
The difference between the two examples — one funny and one offensive — might not be that great, but it matters. If, in the case of a truly offensive comic, the audience or the Chinese government is offended by what she said, then she has no right to make fun of the Chinese government. Why allow comedians to say such things, not for their value, but for the risk that the audience might find them funny?
In this context, the comedian’s rights to free speech are under assault, and we need to consider what we should do about it.
I first came across the idea of comedians being forbidden to make fun of Chinese leaders years ago when I got my PhD in philosophy at Oxford about a decade ago, and a friend of mine, David Foster Wallace, then a professor of English at Rutgers University, introduced me to it in his doctoral seminar.
The idea has been discussed by philosophers and other thinkers for a long time, but there has been little agreement on exactly what the ideal limit for comedians to draw. That has not stopped comedians from working up scenarios in which comedians are prohibited from saying certain things, or from proposing various strategies they believe can be used to achieve those limits by other means. For the purposes of this discussion, we’re going to look at what each side of the debate says