The famous Comedy Cellar in New York has a podcast called “Live from the Table“, in which the club’s owner, Noam Dworman, comedian Dan Naturman, and producer and writer Periel Aschenbrand converse with stand-up comics and a wide range of other folks, and recently I was one of those other folks.
I was invited to talk about “cancel culture,” free speech, and related issues.
The other guest was comedian Nimesh Patel, who, two years ago at Columbia University, was stopped mid-performance by the students who booked him because he told what they thought was an offensive joke. Nimesh wrote about the event and his reactions to it in a column for The New York Times. He is very funny.
Noam is of the view that intolerance is increasing and cancellations are widespread, with the result being a good amount of self-censorship and fear, and that this is bad. Nimesh and I both think that accounts of intolerance are largely overblown. While there are examples of people overreacting to others’ speech (including what happened to him), these are unusual cases and it would be a mistake to generalize from them. I agree with Noam that there’s certainly some self-censorship going on, but note that this isn’t a new phenomenon, and that sometimes it’s just people being reasonable about how to present their ideas to audiences who might disagree with them. At other times it is people being overcautious, based on overestimating the likelihood that something bad will happen to them for expressing unpopular ideas. Towards the end of the show, we discuss a possible policy change that could help with that.
The conversation was interesting and enjoyable. For me, there are a few too many cringeworthy moments: I didn’t really warm-up to normal conversation mode until about 10 minutes in, I missed making some important points, and didn’t always end up saying what I intended to. But there were some suggestions that they might invite me back to talk more about these and related issues, which I’d be quite happy to do.
Just before the 43 minute mark, my neighborhood had a blackout, and my internet disconnected. It was nearing 8pm, and without power the inside of my house was pretty dark. So I brought my phone outside and was able to eventually reconnect. It took three very long minutes.
There’s a video of the podcast below, but it’s also available to listen to via whatever podcast app you use; just search for “Live from the Table.” I believe part of it will also be broadcast this coming Thursday at 7pm on Sirius XM’s Raw Dog Comedy station.
Thanks to Periel for arranging this, to Dan for being an excellent moderator of the discussion, to Nimesh for his insights, and to Noam for the challenges he raised—we disagree a fair amount, but he’s a good guy.