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My Take: Stand up for Stand-up–Ben Guyatt

My Take: Stand up for Stand-up–Ben Guyatt

Ben Guyatt

 I am sixty years old and have been a professional comedian since I was eighteen. In all those years the comedians haven’t changed nor have the audiences. What has changed and not for the better is the limitations of free speech thanks to an ever-growing woke and politically correct (cancel) culture.

            In light of Will Smith’s irascible slap at Chris Rock at the Oscars, I can sadly announce the art of stand-up comedy is in its death throes. The patient exhibited symptoms of failing health starting about ten years ago.

            What is truly astonishing is the fact a minority of rabid and self-righteous moral police dictates what is and isn’t proper. Inevitably, this kind of maniacal ethos devours their own as witnessed at the Academy Awards.

            One of the unwritten rules of comedy is one cannot make fun of any race, creed, or culture unless the stand-up artist is of that same race, creed, or culture. It is highly hypocritical but at some point, sensitivities must be taken into account. Another silent rule is the stand-up comedian shouldn’t make fun of disabled or ill persons for it is the one sure way to have an audience morph into an enemy. Both of these rules endured since vaudeville but now we have so many regulations regarding what is offensive that stand-up comedy is no longer the last bastion of free speech. It is now milquetoast and banal.

            In all my years of performing the audience came to laugh and forget their troubles even if for just a small amount of time. Now, audiences come to see what will offend them and complain either to management or in some cases, to Human Rights Tribunals. A career can be wiped out in seconds thanks to the few who hold a grudge against the world.  To me, that isn’t entertainment. It is more akin to the latent Nazism of the early 1920s. If you think that is too dramatic, history is full of examples where art in any form was censored, banned, and even punishable by detention or death. I know two comics who had their careers ruined because one audience member was offended and took them to the mat. When greats such as Jerry Seinfeld refuse to perform at colleges and universities because of the frothing mouths of the far-left student body, you know the death knell has been sounded vis a vis stand-up comedy.

            I have experienced the wrath of those audience members who came to a show with an agenda. After one particular performance in front of three hundred people, a young woman followed me to the Green Room and launched a diatribe against me. The joke which had offended her was a true story about a transgender I saw in Hamilton. The individual was wearing a red sparkling evening gown with knee-high white socks and lime green sneakers. I simply stated that I don’t care what your sexuality is as long as you have a modicum of fashion sense. To the young lady, I had crossed a line and I informed her if she was looking for an apology, none was forthcoming. At that point, she informed me I wasn’t that attractive. I shrugged and told her neither was she and perhaps that was why she was at the club alone. She teared up and her mouth fell open in total shock. The old maxim is true, learn to take it if you’re going to dish it out.

            What that young woman was trying to do as with so many others in the woke/PC world is to silence what they believe is not genteel. Yet they are the very ones who demand free speech for themselves but would deny it to myself and others. Simply stated, that thinking is dangerous for it takes away our power and vests all of it in them.

            The ugly truth is people have forgotten how to laugh at themselves. They tend to look to others to see what is funny and then laugh along like lemmings as they fall off the cliff of appropriateness. These are the same people who dislike a television show and complain to the network instead of merely changing the channel.  The same holds for stand-up comedy. In other words, audiences have stopped taking responsibility for themselves and now feel empowered to tell others how to feel, think, act and react based on their preferences.

            Will Smith ought to remember the 1st Amendment of the United States, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech…”  How is it possible free speech was more attainable over two hundred years ago?

            I will end with a famous quote by the British author Evelyn Beatrice Hall in 1906, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Hey Will Smith, a woman said that over a hundred years ago. Perhaps you need to look in the mirror and slap yourself.

Ben Guyatt is a comedian and published author. Visit his website at www. benguyatt.com. His opinions are his own.

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