If you don’t have the capacity to understand someone who’s clearly joking about possibly sensitive topics, you don’t belong in a comedy club. Free speech isn’t just for speech you agree with. It’s there to protect unpopular speech. Otherwise, what’s the point of having free speech laws in the first place?
Longtime stand-up comedian Ahmed Ahmed, who is a Middle Eastern man of Egyptian descent, was on stage at Off the Hook Comedy Club in Naples, Fla. over the weekend and made a joke that was clearly a joke. But one member of the audience didn’t feel the joke was a joke and ended up calling the police.
“Clap if you’re from the Middle East,” Ahmed began the joke. “All right. We got a handful of us [Middle Easterners] in here, nice. But, hey, it only takes one of us…”
At this point Ahmed took a laughter pause and then finished the joke.
“…to tell a joke!” Ahmed said while tapping the microphone.
For those of you who agree with me that if you have to explain a joke it ceases being a joke, the whole ordeal — including the 911 call and the cops showing up to comedy club — was posted to Facebook by Off the Hook Comedy Club.
See for yourselves:
Was Ahmed joking? As someone who has watched hundreds of stand-up comedians, including comedy from people I don’t find funny, this was clearly a joke.
In the 911 call, the man accused Ahmed of saying that he said, ‘We can organize our own little terrorist organization.’
“I've told that joke about 1,000 times around the world," Ahmed said, according to NBC News. "Whatever he heard and what I said are two different things.”
Ahmed kept a pretty good sense of humor about the incident.
"Terrorists don’t do meet-and-greets," Ahmed joked. "We don't say, ‘Death to America!' and then, ‘But wait, let's do selfies first.’"
Even the police officers shown in the video intimated that being called to a comedy club over a joke was a first for them as well. They told Ahmed to keep doing his thing.
“Don’t change your set. Don’t change your jokes,” the officer told Ahmed in the video. “Just go through with it.”
“I love you guys,” Ahmed replied.
The kicker of the whole story, for me, is that the guy who called the police over Ahmed’s joke wasn’t someone who seemed to frequent comedy clubs.
NBC News also reported that the man and his wife were only at the comedy club because they were given free tickets.
In true stand-up comic fashion, Ahmed actually thanked the man for calling the police.
“I want to say, ‘Thank you,’ to him,” Ahmed said. “He got more publicity for me in that one phone call than ever. You want to talk about a blessing in disguise.”
If you’re someone who gets offended easily, a comedy club is probably the last place you should go. Free speech can be funny. People just need to learn how to take a joke.