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Freedom of speech remains one of the most revered and protected rights in America. At the same time, it represents a right constantly under attack. Art is often the site of conflict. Throughout American historywriters, painters, and all types of entertainers have been accused of taking their art too far. This is especially true in the broader world of comedy where many entertainers have tested and redefined the limits of decency. For example, Lenny Bruce was arrested across the country 4 times for obscenity in the early sixties, and a decade later George Carlin was arrested for his infamous Seven Dirty Words routine in Milwaukee. Since that time many still consider rape, incest, suicide, racism, and other universally recognized taboo topics off limits. Others believe historical events like the Holocaust, slavery, 9/11 and other tragedies like school shootings are forbidden topics. Still, many comics staunchly defend their right to free speech and find a way to weave in these controversial and touchy topics into their routines. Ian Crouch–in Is Social Media Ruining Comedy?–expands on this mindset: 
[C]omedians have to say things that other people are afraid to say, and, by making us laugh, force us admit some things about ourselves that we would be unwilling to cop to in the cold light of day. The best comedy has to be offensive, or at least offensive to someone, in order to prove that it is goodthat it is doing something useful beyond just filling time and selling cocktails. Any comedian who purports to be shocked when the manifestly shocking thing that he says gets a lot of attention cant be telling the truth. It is dangerous when criticism leads to censorship, or self-censorship, because controversy and scandal are also signs that a comedian is doing something right. (124)
While comediansstill armed with a sense of duty as truth tellersno longer face arrest for obscenity and perform their routines without incident, they occasionally experience tremendous backlash from a publicobsessed with political correctnessthat increasingly finds this comedy blatantly offensive.

Using the classic essay strategy, in MLA format construct an argument that responds to the free speech debate as it relates to a wide spectrum of comic forms. Overall, carefully consider the gravity of sensitive topics, especially on victims of trauma and tragedykeeping in mind that audiences often selectively choose topics that offend while accepting other that dont. Ultimately, should the comedians limit the scope of their comedy in the name of decency or should freedom of speech be without constraint? Incorporate at least three sources to make your case.

Sample Outline (Classic Essay)

I. Introduction

II. Background

III. Point 1 (Defense of position)

IV. Point 2 (Defense of position)

V. Counterargument/Rebuttal

VI. Conclusion

Partial Paragraph (Counterargument/Rebuttal)

Stance: Limits on what comedians should joke about

Supporters of absolute free speech in comedy assert that tackling sensitive topics can help victims cope with their traumatic experience.


What these detractors miss is that not all victims benefit from jokes about tragedy. Some may feel victimized by a culture that minimizes their pain in the name of a laugh.

comedy and free speech
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