Many people have said, "Je suis Charlie," but I really am.
Like the cartoonists who were killed, I tell jokes. After their offices were firebombed in 2011, the Charlie Hebdo staff could have said: "You know what, this isn't worth it. Any openings at The New Yorker?" But they stayed, and many of them died. I will stand with them and for them on January 22, when Laughing Liberally presents Standup for Charlie Hebdo at New York Society for Ethical Culture.
Much has been eloquently written the past two weeks about Charlie Hebdo, bud sadly it now seems to be receding from media attention. Virtually all of the mainstream news organizations ignored our countless attempts to make people aware of our comedy benefit for the families of the victims of the Charlie Hebdo shooting. And this has happened, even though Standup for Charlie Hebdo is the only event of its kind, to my knowledge, to be held in the entire country.
The passion and solidarity of the millions who marched in France is hard to find in America. The commitment to preserving freedom of comedic and all artistic expression is shared by many Americans to an extent. If they approve of the content, it must be protected. But, if it's a commencement speaker who shares all of your views except on one issue, freedom of expression doesn't apply to them.
Every one can be offended by anything. I once performed for an Orthodox Jewish private party, and after the show one of the audience members said she was offended by my use of the word "Christmas."
There was a show where I opened for a notoriously dirty and low brow comedian who called women the worst names and put them down mercilessly. I did liberal political humor. I was booed and hissed. He got a standing ovation.
Words and images can be shocking, funny, racist and offensive. And that's just from watching five minutes of Fox News.
Many liberal commentators have said that satirists need to be more responsible. Which means, in the words of former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer: "Watch what you say."
Being responsible is not a goal I'm reaching for. Responsible people invade countries for no reason, responsible people bring down the financial system by recklessly gambling with our money, and responsible people run news networks that run hardly any news. I prefer to act in the spirit of Charlie Hebdo, which calls itself "Journal Irresponable."
Americans are not used to seeing the bold, in your face brand of satire that Charlie Hebdo has produced for most of the last 44 years. And many of them brand the entire magazine as racist and anti-immigrant on the basis of a few cartoons viewed completely out of context. In fact Charlie Hebdo is anti-racist and consistently unleashes its fury against anti-immigrant policies.
And when Charlie Hebdo goes after religion, they go after ALL religions, and mock the extremists, not the ordinary worshipper. This is in keeping with their mission to go after the powerful and the corrupt, not the oppressed.
Even so, some will still find some of their cartoons offensive, even after being put in their proper context. And they have every right to do so. But, if they don't stand up for freedom of artistic expression, with no exceptions, eventually the work they do approve of will be suppressed.
Charlie Hebdo miraculously and courageously produced a survivors issue a week after the shootings. It's very hard," Patrick Pelloux told the New York Times, "We are all suffering, with grief, with fear, but we will do it anyway because stupidity will not win."
Unfortunately, every time someone tells Charlie Hebdo to stop doing certain cartoons, stupidity wins. And every time, the victim is blamed, stupidity wins. In America, differences of opinion are not embraced by most. They block or defriend on Facebook, or threaten boycotts over a word or a thought. And most Americans get their news from the channel they agree with.
Networks like Fox and MSNBC limit freedom of speech not by telling talent what to say, but by booking guests with little or no diverse view, A typical show is the host saying: "This is what I thin, and here are three people who agree with me."
Americans need to think for themselves. They need to realize that if they don't get the importance of freedom of expression, they will lose it.
And that's why I'm a standup comedian who proudly stands up for Charlie Hebdo and freedom of expression.