Graduation Date

Fall 12-18-2015

Grading Professor

Yoruba Richen

Subject Concentration

Arts & Culture

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


In 1964, legendary comedian Lenny Bruce was brought to court on an obscenity charge after years and repeated arrests for using what was then deemed to be sexually vulgar language. Despite the testimony of fellow artists and intellectuals (Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, James Baldwin), Bruce was convicted. The symbolism of what Bruce stood for is way more important than the four months he consequently spent in a workhouse. It proved that comedy has the power to shake the system- make people challenge authority and question the value of parallel thinking. Now – in 2015 – America is obsessed with outrage. We’re a cultural that loves tearing people down – it’s a process of viral shaming perpetuated by the internet, media, and outrage mongers. When this phenomenon starts attacking comedians [Louis CK, Chris Rock, Daniel Tosh, Joan Rivers, etc], it could potentially threaten comedy as an art form as well as the careers of its performers.

Since the 1960s, comedy has been turned upside down by artists such as Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks, Sam Kinison, and George Carlin. These vehement warriors of free speech challenged the authority of the government, religion, race and social construct. They paved the way for free speech and open conversation in an unrestricted way, presenting information in a way that no one had seen before. They did so unapologetically, in the honor of Lenny Bruce. The goal was not to impose their thoughts on people, but to have them serve as social commentary on the world around them. It served as a way to call attention to a subject, but also as a way to cope with and laugh at the things that make us most uncomfortable.

But now comedy is at a pivotal point. America has had an uncanny shift in its sensitivity. Outrage is the new black. The internet era and prevalence of social media has changed the landscape of how we communicate. Language policing and political correctness is alarmingly high and the last bastion of free speech, stand-up comedy, is in harm’s way. We’re at a crux where online witch-hunts have not only threatened the careers of comics, but the integrity of an art form.

Through the story of New York City stand-up Sam Morril’s experience being crucified on the internet as a symbol of misogyny and perpetuator of rape culture, various comics [Jim Norton, Joe List, Godfrey, Leah Bonnema, Dan Soder, Ari Shaffir, and more] and radio hosts [Anthony Cumia, Erik Nagel, Sam Roberts] discuss how our reactionary nature is damning to careers and creativity.

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