Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Cops and comedy: repugnant speech

 The Guardian has a story about comedians who have been accused or charged with violating laws because of their acts. Recent cases involve jokes that are adjacent to pornography or hate speech, but the article reminds us that comedy and free speech have sometimes come into conflict for a long time.

Arrest that joke! A history of gags so offensive that punters called the cops  by Brian Logan

"Comedy’s defining brushes with the law, in the 1960s and 70s, also concerned indecency. Standup’s self-image has deep roots in the prosecutions of the American comics Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. Fifties hepcat and standup trailblazer Bruce was repeatedly arrested and tried for obscenity – or, in the words of his prosecutor during a 1964 trial, for his “nauseating word pictures interspersed with all the three- and four-letter words and more acrid 10- and 12-letter ones, spewed directly at the audience”. Bruce was found guilty and died – of a drugs overdose – while on parole pending his appeal.

"Carlin’s later Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television riff led to a legal fight between the Federal Communications Commission and a radio broadcaster that aired the routine – a case that went to the Supreme Court. “FCC v Pacifica,” wrote Carlin in his autobiography, “became a standard case to teach in communications classes and law schools. I take perverse pride in that. I’m actually a footnote to the judicial history of America.” The court ruled he was being indecent, but not obscene."

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