An advance screening of a documentary “Can We Take A Joke?” on Tuesday night helped fill the void. The doc’s premise is that the contemporary “outrage culture” is smothering free speech, and takes stand-up comics as its heroes in the fight against political correctness. (The answer to the question posed in the title is, by the film’s lights, “no.”)
And so at the Newseum, they gathered at a warm-up reception co-sponsored by the Charles Koch Institute, the think tank founded by the conservative billionaire. But wait! This wasn’t your typical righty crowd — the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the ACLU’s local chapter and the National Coalition Against Censorship were also co-sponsors, so the whole thing had the feeling of a free-speech-loving mixer, with slick suits and scruffy khakis all jockeying for a spot around the grilled-cheese-sandwich bar.
The venue, a museum dedicated to the freedom of the press, was an apt pick. Even the libations were on-message: the free-flowing beer was courtesy of Maryland’s Flying Dog Brewery, which cited First Amendment protection in lawsuits stemming from its Raging B—- IPA.
Comedian Gilbert Gottfried, who features prominently in the documentary — recounting the well-publicized episode where he lost a lucrative voice-over deal with Aflac after making jokes the insurance company found offensive — was chatting up reporters in a corner, as director Ted Balaker and his wife, producer Courtney Moorehead, mingled nearby.
In what felt prescient, Gottfried is also shown in the documentary at a celebrity roast mocking Donald Trump’s wife, Melania, calling her among “the best Eastern European whores New York City has to offer.”
“I have a history of getting into trouble,” he admitted, surveying the scene at the Newseum.
Still, he insists that comedians should push boundaries, whatever the consequences. As if to underscore the point, he doubled down on the Mrs. Trump jokes, taking her apparently plagiarized speech at Monday night’s GOP convention as fresh fodder.
“She wrote me a letter one time,” he said. “Yeah, it started, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.'”
“Oh and then she wrote me a postcard. It started, ‘Call me Ishmael …'”