Did you hear the one about the Joke Police?
Guy Earle, a Toronto comedian, must now stand trial before the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal on the charge of telling unfunny jokes.
That sounds like a joke itself, but it's not.
In May, 2007, Earle was hosting a comedy night at Zesty's restaurant in Vancouver. He says a couple of lesbians came in, got drunk and starting making out right in front of the stage. He said they also heckled him and other comedians.
In other words, like anyone else -- gay, straight or otherwise -- they set themselves up for some wise-cracks. And crack wise Earle did.
But didn't he know he was in the People's Republic of British Columbia?
Lorna Pardy, one of the humourless lesbians, filed a complaint against Earle and Zesty's. In B.C., unlike other human rights commissions, it is possible to make a preliminary application to dismiss a complaint.
That application to dismiss was rejected this week. Here is the ruling, that commits the matter to go to trial.
Take a look at who wrote it: Heather MacNaughton, the same tribunal member who chaired Mark Steyn's show trial earlier this month.
In that trial, too, the funny-ness of jokes became an issue. The Canadian Islamic Congress said that some of Mark Steyn's jokes weren't funny, but they also insisted that the CBC's awful "sitcom", Little Mosque on the Prairies, was indeed funny, and if Steyn didn't think so, he was a racist.
So MacNaughton feels comfortable in her self-appointed role as government joke-tester.
Oh, there's a joke here alright.
I lament this further loss of freedom and loss of common sense. I lament the fact that one thin-skinned radical lesbian activist is perpetuating the new stereotype of gays as intolerant of any criticism or dissent. I'm sure that EGALE would oppose this lawsuit, because they know it just looks bad, bad, bad on their community who themselves use trangressive art, including comedy, to deal with difficult issues. What do you think Rosie O'Donnell would have done -- whine to the government, or heckle back?
But, as I've said before, in this battle, the worse the better. Just days after George Carlin died -- the comedian who broke boundaries about what could or couldn't be said in comedy -- we have this stunning example of censorship. Not just censorship, but a clear swipe as the entire theory of comedy, the anything goes realm where society's foibles are mercilessly poked and prodded -- and where connoisseurs of humour freely attend, knowing they'll likely have an ox or two of their own that's gored. If comedians are no longer allowed to offend -- let alone respond to rude hecklers -- then comedy will cease to exist.
I think Heather MacNaughton has just made herself -- and the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal -- a punchline in a thousand jokes to come.
This goes to the theme I've mentioned before: once you start censoring "offensive" ideas, there's no stopping, and no-one is safe, because the word "offensive" is so vague. Once it was neo-Nazis; then it was conservatives and Christians, now it's comedians who pick on drunk hecklers.
Here's a video clip of Earle talking about the case. Is it rude? Sure it is. Is it funny? Funny is in the ear of the beholder. Is this any of the government of British Columbia's business? Hell no.