Jim Gaffigan on Political Correctness, Freedom, and "Game of Thrones"

Is political correctness just censorship in disguise? If so, do comedians have an obligation to fight against it? Comedian Jim Gaffigan on the limits of speech, freedom, and our self-knowledge.

Jim Gaffigan:  Standup comedy has a rich history of being associated with being against censorship. It’s, you know, comedians are contrarians. You tell a comedian to not do something similar to a five year old that’s sleep deprived, that will be the first thing they do. If you say do not go on stage, do not talk about the CEO at this corporate event comedians will instinctively do that. So any form of censorship is counterintuitive to a comedian. So comedians pride themselves on saying any topic – nothing is off limits, dah, dah, dah. That being said I also think that as a comedian I believe that there’s nothing that’s off limits. But I also think that as human beings we’re constantly censoring ourselves. I’m censoring myself right now for this. I’m trying to appear smart and I’m not doing that good of a job. But I do think that the PC culture in my opinion is of great value. We should always strive to be more sensitive and understanding and similar to the concept of liberty which I mentioned before is ever expanding. So our idea of freedom today is a much better fulfilling idea of freedom than our founding fathers even envision probably.

But it’s the same notion of freedom. So the idea of politically correctness I don’t think that has to do with censorship. I think that has to do with a certain sensitivity. So, you know, words that are very toxic it’s unnecessary. If you also identify yourself as a clean person it’s not necessary to say shocking words. That being said there are great comedians that deal in shock, that deal in irreverence. But similar to liberty irreverence – what’s irreverent today is stale tomorrow. So if you chase irreverence that’s a pretty slippery slope. I mean Don Rickles can do it but there’s been a lot of awkward moments for Don Rickles even on a public stage. But I don’t know. It’s also very personal but I think that whatever we call political correctness or whatever the term might be saying things that aren’t sexist or could be construed as racist it’s not that hard of a sacrifice. Now that’s not to say that people aren’t overly sensitive. I think the bigger issue which I even, we did an episode on is the fact that we are humans and there is the mob mentality. That same mob mentality that would go on PokeRoms in Eastern Europe is the same mentality that people engage in when someone does a tweet that’s of poor taste. So I think it’s not so much the crime, it’s the punishment. And I think that human beings, I feel like we have this arrogance. Like every generation thinks we got it figured out. We’re the greatest generation.

We got rid of fascism. When the reality is that every generation thinks we’ve figured it out. Medical science. We’ve got it. We’re scientists. What we do is we leech bodies and that’s how you cure diseases. There’s an arrogance there that we don’t – even today we’re like we’ve got to figure it out, you know. Like even with the transgender thing. I think that there’s almost this sensibility like we finally figured it out. Everyone’s equal once we get these trans people. But there is a bigotry that exists in our culture that we’re not aware of that our children will point out and we will be as resistant as our parents are to certain things. Like that’s not homophobic. But, you know, my parents were very liberal for their age but I remember when I moved to New York in the early 90s I just thought it was so funny when some of my friends from New York would say people in the South they’re prejudice, all of them. And I just thought that was great irony. Really? All of them? Isn’t that ironic? So it’s something where I just think that there’s this certain amount of humility and that we should carry. I’m not saying I execute that humility. I’m just saying as an observer whether someone – it’s like everyone makes mistakes.

I mean I haven’t since 81 – 81 I made one mistake. Then no mistakes. But I just think we should be more forgiving. And I think it’s more interesting the Teflon people. And I mean that as a compliment. People that – there are some people that can make mistakes and it doesn’t bother them on a social – in a public atmosphere. And some people make one mistake and they’re guilty forever and they’re indicted in it. And I think that goes back to our mob mentality. So in the end we’re animals. We’re like these strange tribal people that like everyone who gets around on Sunday night and watches Game of Thrones and watches this strange culture of this made up world like we don’t have the awareness that we’re just as crazy as that world of Game of Thrones. We just don’t want to look at ourself. Anyway I’m a great guy. That’s what I’m saying.

 

Comedians are contrarians by nature. Many claim that "nothing is off limits" and refuse to follow dictates of the so-called "PC Culture," i.e. the idea that some words are off limits because people find them offensive.


Stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan doesn't buy this idea at all. He doesn’t think of being politically correct as being censored. Instead, being politically correct is about being respectful, or even just watching your tongue once in a while. There’s no doubt that some words hurt. Some words have a history connected to them that shouldn’t be ignored just because someone thinks it makes them seem daring.

Society is changing, and it has always been changing. Just a few decades ago, wearing a seatbelt wasn’t a necessary thing, and kids were known to play in the trunks of cars while their parents sped around corner. Now we know better. In the same vein, many of us have grown up a little, and know the world is a better place when we demonstrate respect by by making sacrifices for one another.

Perhaps some people find such language funny. Everyone has their own sense of humor. From a comedian’s stand point, such as Jim Gaffigan’s, there are plenty of other jokes that can be made. Why waste time on jokes that deliberately hurt others?

This is a new generation with a new moral standing. Every previous generation has had its changes, causing elders to chant about how things worked in "their day." And every generation has looked at those from the previous generation, and rolled their eyes at how backwards those seemed.

This doesn’t seem like the worst change from generation to generation. The PC Culture isn’t asking for a lot. It asks for a bit of respect, to acknowledge the pain linked to some words, and give that language some distance. All in all, it’s being sensitive to the people listening.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
  • Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
  • Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Keep reading Show less

Sooner or later we all face death. Will a sense of meaning help us?

As a doctor, I am reminded every day of the fragility of the human body, how closely mortality lurks just around the corner.

Photo by Alex Boyd on Unsplash
Personal Growth

'Despite all our medical advances,' my friend Jason used to quip, 'the mortality rate has remained constant – one per person.'

Keep reading Show less

3 mind-blowing space facts with Neil deGrasse Tyson

Tyson dives into the search for alien life, dark matter, and the physics of football.

Videos
  • Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson joins us to talk about one of our favorite subjects: space.
  • In the three-chaptered video, Tyson speaks about the search for alien life inside and outside of the Goldilocks Zone, why the term "dark matter" should really be called "dark gravity," and how the rotation of the Earth may have been the deciding factor in a football game.
  • These fascinating space facts, as well as others shared in Tyson's books, make it easier for everyone to grasp complex ideas that are literally out of this world.
Keep reading Show less

What the world will look like in the year 250,002,018

This is what the world will look like, 250 million years from now

On Pangaea Proxima, Lagos will be north of New York, and Cape Town close to Mexico City
Surprising Science

To us humans, the shape and location of oceans and continents seems fixed. But that's only because our lives are so short.

Keep reading Show less

From zero to hero in 18 years: How SpaceX became a nation-state

SpaceX's momentous Crew Dragon launch is a sign of things to come for the space industry, and humanity's future.

Photo:Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • SpaceX was founded in 2002 and was an industry joke for many years. Eighteen years later, it is the first private company to launch astronauts to the International Space Station.
  • Today, SpaceX's Crew Dragon launched NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS. The journey will take about 19 hours.
  • Dylan Taylor, chairman and CEO of Voyager Space Holdings, looks at SpaceX's journey from startup to a commercial space company with the operating power of a nation-state.
Keep reading Show less