Should we be free to make any joke we want to, regardless of who might be offended?
Late night host, Conan O’Brien, says yes, and, in his context, he’s absolutely right.
Conan opened his Wednesday show with a statement about the morning’s deadly shooting at the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices in Paris.
“As many of you know, there was a terrible tragedy in France today,” he said. “Twelve people were killed because a satirical newspaper made jokes that some group found offensive. Obviously everyone here, all of us are accustomed to bad news from around the world, but this story really hits home for anyone who, day in and day out, mocks political, social and religious figures. In this country, we just take it for granted that it’s our right to poke fun at the untouchable or the sacred, but today’s tragedy in Paris reminds us, very viscerally, that it’s a right some people are inexplicably forced to die for. So it is very important tonight that I express, for everybody that works at our comedy show… all of us are terribly sad for the families of those victims, for the people of France and for anyone in the world tonight who now has to think twice before making a joke. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be.”
Are there jokes we should probably not make? Of course. Racism, sexism, religion bashing and so many other topics are definitely in poor taste, likely to offend and good to avoid. But should we avoid them because we fear for our lives? No, and that’s what Conan is saying.
Free speech protection is great because it keeps us safe, even if we make the mistake of telling an off-color joke that would be better left untold.