News & Politics

What Are We Allowed to Joke About?

C-SPAN screenshot of "comedian" Michelle Wolf speaking at the White House Correspondents Dinner

I like jokes. I enjoy laughing at jokes, and I make jokes of my own all the time. Every once in a while, somebody actually thinks one of my jokes is funny! (Presumably.) Jokes are good. They make life almost tolerable, and sometimes they can even provide valuable insights about our lives and change the way we think about things. I am firmly in favor of jokes.

Except, of course, when a joke angers me or hurts my feelings. If somebody says something in jest and it triggers me, if somebody threatens my personal safety with verbal violence, I will do everything in my power to destroy that person. Hate speech is not free speech, and anything I don’t like is hate speech.

That’s why I have a new heroine today: Simona Sharoni.

Katherine Mangan, Chronicle of Higher Education:

Richard Ned Lebow, a professor of political theory at King’s College London, and Simona Sharoni, a professor of women’s and gender studies at Merrimack College, ended up in the same crowded elevator during a conference at a Hilton in San Francisco last month.

She said she offered to press the floor buttons for people in the elevator, whom she described as mostly conference attendees and all, except one other woman, white middle-aged men. Instead of saying a floor, Lebow smiled and asked for the women’s lingerie department “and all his buddies laughed,” Sharoni wrote in a complaint, the details of which he disputed, to the [International Studies Association] later that day.

The International Studies Association, which is apparently a real thing, has demanded that Lebow apologize in writing. Lebow has refused. Typical white male, right?

If you think Lebow’s “joke” is funny — or, at the very least, inoffensive — and you think there’s a difference between this “joke” and actual, literal rape, you’re a misogynist and you have no place in our society. Lebow’s refusal to apologize is just further proof of his guilt. And once he eventually caves to his accusers, that won’t do anything to atone for his crime. The only people who call this a “Kafkatrap” are the people who are guilty.

The same goes for Mark “Count Dankula” Meechan, the Scottish YouTuber who was convicted of a hate crime and given an £800 fine for teaching a dog to do a Nazi salute whenever Meechan said, “Want to gas the Jews?” The Holocaust was an atrocity, and therefore all jokes about the Holocaust are atrocities. Some things you just can’t joke about, unless you’re Mel Brooks or Larry David. Meechan is lucky he wasn’t thrown in jail, or worse, for making a joke that angered somebody somewhere.

And Kevin Williamson? Don’t even get me started! Once you try to kill every woman who’s ever had an abortion, you don’t get to say you were just kidding. That guy is just lucky he’s still allowed to publish anything, anywhere.

Keep in mind, though, that this rule only applies to jokes that anger me. If a joke pisses you off but I think it’s funny, then there’s no problem. You’re just a stupid crybaby whiner with no sense of humor.

For example, take this hilarious, brilliantly delivered comedy routine:

These jokes are good because we don’t like the people she’s mocking. Even if these jokes are lazy and mean and stupid, that doesn’t matter because they humiliate the people we want to see humiliated. These jokes remind us that we’re the good guys, and the people we hate are the bad guys. Therefore, these jokes are not only acceptable, but mandatory. You will laugh at them, or we will make a note of it. You will not criticize Michelle Wolf’s shrill, nasal voice or inept delivery, or we will make a note of it.

You are being monitored. You will laugh when you’re told to laugh. You will scold when you’re told to scold. You will never, ever confuse the two. You will stay in line.

Now that’s funny!