Despite whatever your political leanings may be, most people can agree on one thing: America sure has changed over the past 50 years or so. One of the most apparent social changes the country has seen is the emergence of the "political correctness" movement, where it seems harder and harder to say or do anything these days without offending someone. The new documentary Can We Take a Joke? (opening Friday, July 29 and available on VOD on Aug 2) poses that very question, but only scratches the surface, and isn't nearly as provocative as it should be. Or in other words, this documentary will offend no one, which is a shame and perhaps a missed opportunity.
Its focus is political correctness as seen primarily through the lens of comedy - stand-up comedy to be exact. We live in a time where the importance of the 2nd Amendment is talked about daily, but where our 1st Amendment rights increasingly grow murkier. A lot of time is spent on Lenny Bruce, the shock-comic who is thought of to be the father of obscene, controversial comedy, whose rights were famously violated when he was imprisoned for what he said in his acts in the late 1960s...this, in a society that supposedly champions free-speech.
In the film, we hear from contemporary "envelope-pushing" comedians, like Jim Norton, Lisa Lampanelli, Adam Corolla and Gilbert Gottfried, the latter of which lost his AFLAC endorsement deal after he tweeted a joke about 9/11. The documentary argues that there is no place for apologies in the world of comedy, and that kowtowing to appease the "outrage mob" is what allows censorship to prevail.
What the film does a poor job of is presenting any other angle of the argument. It comes across as just a bunch of comedians whining about how their jokes may land flat with an increasingly sensitive audience. It only briefly hits on significant events against free speech, such as the Charlie Hebdo massacre in France, but this documentary isn't pointed enough to get into the "whys" of political correctness. Instead, it just assumes that the viewer isn't one of these stuffy. politically correct nerds, but it would have been a much more compelling conversation to have spent some time on the root causes of these problems facing free speech in today's world.
Can We Take a Joke? answers its own question with a resounding "no," but makes sure that we know that it isn't happy about this. But now that the proverbial stick is lodged deep up the back-side of our society, it would have been nice to find out just how we should go about relaxing the pucker. The film prefers to say "there's a stick up your ass!" but gives us no insight as to how to remove it.
Run Time: 1 hour, 14 minutes, Not Rated
Starring: Adam Carolla, Jim Norton, Lisa Lampanelli, Gilbert Gottfried, Lenny Bruce, Penn Jillette
Directed by Ted Balaker (feature-length debut)
Opens locally on Friday, July 29, 2016 (check for show times) and on VOD on Aug 2
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