Does defending freedom of speech equal defending racist jokes and gay jokes? Ricky Gervais, Family Guy and Dave Chappelle agree

By Shira Jeczmien

Updated May 18, 2020 at 05:54 PM

Reading time: 3 minutes

Racist jokes and gay jokes are still being told

Freedom of speech and expression is under threat, at least that’s what some comedians are currently saying. During his Humanity Netflix special, British comedian Ricky Gervais said that he found himself in a Twitter argument defending an alt-right creationist just because he too had the right to express his own thoughts.

Does defending freedom of speech equal defending racist jokes and gay jokes? Ricky Gervais, Family Guy and Dave Chappelle agree

And Gervais is not alone. Across the board, from Dave Chappelle and Iliza Shlesinger to Bill Burr and Tiffany Haddish, comedians are advocating for freedom of speech and against the type of ‘cancel culture’ that is blind to context and the very nature of humour. An artform they believe to be sacred.

Racist jokes

Sure, there are racist comics out there that tell racist jokes. And yes, I can absolutely see why certain jokes might be tagged racist jokes or transphobic jokes if taken out of context, but to quote Chappelle as he accepts his Mark Twain Prize for American Humour in 2019: “there’s something so true about this genre, when done correctly, that I would fight anybody who gets in a true practitioner’s way,” adding: “I’m not talking about the content, I’m talking about the art form.”

Three years ago Brian Logan wrote an article for The Guardian where he ponders on the correctness of some comedians’ “Ironic Bigotry” as he calls it. The same irony that saw Dave Chappelle win an Emmy for his Sticks and Stones special. Logan questions whether Chappelle’s comments on gay and trans persons was his way of smashing taboos with a sledgehammer, “Or can it be that a comic revered for his contribution to racial discourse in the US, primarily via his sketch series Chappelle’s Show, may be insensitive to discrimination based on sexuality and gender?”

The real question here being, could it be that Chappelle, Gervais and Burr are each passing off discrimination and flat out racist jokes under the guise of woke comedy? I would argue that the answer is no. Not for the practitioners who do it right; who direct the joke to the right place. And I too would argue that we have to laugh when we can, about whatever it is that we want. Because the route from political correctness to outright censorship is short, and we have to fight for our right of expression. But yes, the line is fine here and easy to overstep.

Just at the end of 2019, Shane Gillis was fired from SNL after videos surfaced of him telling blithely racist Asian jokes not even hours after he signed his contract to join the hit American late night show. “We as a society are doomed unless male comedians can be racist without criticism or consequence!!!” wrote Kevin Fallon sarcastically for the Daily Beast. Adding that no critic, no fan or staff member is denying Gillis the right to tell the jokes—however lame they might have been. “But just because Gillis has a right to make those jokes doesn’t mean he has a right to a bigger platform from which to make them.”

Gay and homophobic jokes

In that same breath, gay jokes have also been a massive part of our culture, whether we’ve noticed them or not. Family Guy is just one example of this—and yes it may seem archaic, but the show only recently, like really really recently (end of 2019) publicly announced it will no longer be participating in the expression of gay jokes.

As Clemence Michallon writes so well in her article for The Independent Family Guy reverses its stance on ‘gay jokes’: why? “The way in which the decision was communicated, too, was worthy of attention. It started with a fictional Donald Trump telling Peter: ‘Many children have learned their favourite Jewish, black, and gay jokes by watching your show over the years’, to which Peter replied: ‘In fairness, we’ve been trying to phase out the gay stuff.’”

Jokes that hurt and humiliate are not OK

The key here is that racist jokes, gay jokes and trans jokes should never be OK to tell if the joke is to hurt, humiliate and undermine. Some jokes may feel too close to home, and for that we are allowed to switch off, to not engage. Gervais commented that not everything is for everyone, and that too is OK.

Most importantly, in art and creative expression as well as in comedy, there is a representative for each and every one of us out there. To quote Chappelle, “I don’t think there’s an opinion that isn’t represented by somebody. Each and every one of you has a champion in the room.”

People should not be quick to cancel Gervais or Chappelle only because they were offended by one of their jokes. Their aim is not to discriminate against a specific ethnicity, gender, or sexuality but more to do their job; to make fun of everything and everyone.

Keep On Reading

By Abby Amoakuh

As young people turn to chatbots for therapy, we ask a mental health expert about the consequences

By Abby Amoakuh

Jenna Ortega fans left grossed out by steamy scene with Martin Freeman in new film Miller’s Girl

By Abby Amoakuh

What is phrogging? Signs you might have a stranger hiding in your floorboards

By Charlie Sawyer

Poison seller who promoted death kits on suicide forums tracked down by BBC

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

What is the viral red nail theory and does it actually work?

By Charlie Sawyer

Girl who charges $70 to test people’s boyfriends’ loyalty reveals 90% usually fail

By Jack Ramage

Findom explained: Understanding financial domination in relationships

By Charlie Sawyer

Jenna Ortega shocks fans by departing hit Netflix show

By Charlie Sawyer

Nail salon offers customers discounts in exchange for consent to sell their feet pics

By Abby Amoakuh

Sydney Sweeney’s boobs have feminists divided: Where does liberation start and objectification end?

By Abby Amoakuh

Father of man who died after climbing into airplane engine reveals why he thinks he did it

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Release date, cast list, and more: everything you need to know about The Last of Us season 2

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

AI used to resurrect dead Indian politician M. Karunanidhi ahead of elections

By Malavika Pradeep

Mpreg: Exploring the fascinating genre of male pregnancy erotica

By Abby Amoakuh

Video of Donald Trump accusing Barack Obama of founding ISIS goes viral days after Moscow attack

By Abby Amoakuh

The internet is obsessing over Bridgerton characters Benedict and Francesca’s sexualities 

By Abby Amoakuh

Move over rat girl summer, TikTok celebrates the hot rodent boyfriend trend

By Alma Fabiani

BFFR: What this internet acronym means and how to use it

By Charlie Sawyer

Belle Delphine reveals how much money she makes on OnlyFans in new Louis Theroux podcast

By Harriet Piercy

Escort Babylon explained: The controversial escort service platform