If you're going to follow anyone; let it be the comedians.
Psychological Self Defence 1:3:11
If you want to tell someone the truth, make them laugh; otherwise they’ll kill you
Comedians are truly at the vanguard of the culture wars. They repeatedly test what can be said publicly and what cannot, risking reputation and dignity in front of an often unforgiving crowd. Only the jester gets to tell the truth to the King. Amid cancel culture and censorship, it will be the comedians who lead us into freedom. It’s no wonder that the most downloaded podcast in the world where any intellectual who wants to sell a book appears is hosted by comedian Joe Rogan. But why is that?
It’s hard to be clearly on one side of the culture wars and still be funny. Comedy can teach morality but only as a second order goal. The primary goal has to be making people laugh, or else it’s not comedy. It is one of the purest arenas of entertainment in that the measurement of its success is straightforward. Did you laugh or not? There aren’t many social justice-minded comedians who get consistent laughs, neither are there many dyed in the wool conservative comics who are that funny, because being preachy about politics or religion is never funny.
That being said, comedians tend to be involved in the culture wars in one main way and that is their advocacy for free speech. Without it, their craft is dead, and maybe even they are too. The jester is constantly being put on the chopping block. Take Nazar Mohammed for example, better known as comedian Khasha Zwan on TikTok where he would make fun of the Taliban who later abducted and murdered him. Or Ablikim Kalkun from the Xinjiang province of China whose jokes “discriminated against national education” and was sentenced to jail for 18 years. In America Lenny Bruce and George Carlin were arrested numerous times for indecency or disorderly conduct due to their comedy act. In Canada, comedian Mike Ward was brought to a human rights tribunal over jokes he told. Comedians understand the importance of free speech and the consequences of telling jokes in totalitarian settings.
Comedians in the West do not face the severe censorship that they do in Afghanistan or China but there is a corporate censorship that is trying to keep comedians from saying what they want to say. Recently, Andrew Schultz was asked to cut jokes from his comedy special that was set to stream on Amazon and he courageously used all his life savings to buy the special back from them and release it himself so that he could maintain the integrity of his work.
You may not think Andrew Schultz or Joe Rogan are funny, but the role they play at the frontline of the culture war is archetypically significant. I single them out because I think their examples are more salient in the current moment, but comedians have always pushed the boundaries of what could be said and which orthodoxies were in need of ridicule.
I'll admit that some issues are just not funny subjects but the true pros can find a way to joke about anything, and not just in a disrespectful way. I’m talking about actually making you laugh about 9/11 or the Holocaust. A comic must tread lightly but there is room for jokes that comment on these atrocities when there is truth spoken, particularly truth that we inherently know but are too afraid to say out loud. This is what makes comedians so important. They can say it before we can. It’s incredibly brave and goes poorly probably more times than not but since they put themselves in the way of social danger first, we can follow in their wake to navigate some of life’s most confusing and difficult situations.
I’m not saying you should be like comedians. They are usually rude and reprehensible, but you would do better following their lead in a culture war than most politicians or gurus. Wherever we end up after the dust clears from this particular set of culture wars, I can assure you that a comedian will have arrived there before we did.