We either have freedom of speech in this country, or we don’t. Even if you’re offended by something that doesn’t directly imply a physical threat, we have to begin respecting people’s right to say whatever it is they’re going to say. Speech is one of the few things that the government hasn’t over-regulated — yet.
Stand-up comedian Tom Segura has come under fire for his use of the word “retarded” in his latest Netflix special, “Disgraceful.”
A mother in Indiana has started a petition to “remove the anti-down syndrome rhetoric from the show,” “take the anti-disability sketch out of the trailer for the show,” and “issue a public apology for perpetuating hate speech and stereotype to the Down Syndrome community.” As of this writing, the petition currently has about 59,000 signatures out of a proposed 75,000.
Here is what Segura said during his Netflix special (which, be warned, contains some strong language):
You can’t say “retarded” anymore. [audience laughs] It was just here. Don’t you remember? -“Retarded.” That’s how I… -[audience laughs] People get very upset. I don’t really support the arguments against it. When people are like, “You shouldn’t say it.” “Why?” “What if there’s one over there?” And you’re like… [audience laughs] We never said it like that. We were never like, “Look at that guy!” [audience laughs] You didn’t say it like that. You said it to describe an idea, or a situation, you know? If your friend was like, “I’ll pick you up at your house, and then we’ll come back to my place, and later we can go back to your house. And we can get your bags. And then, we’ll come back over here after that.” And your like, “That’s retarded. Why the fuck would we do that?” [audience laughs] But now you can’t say that. Now you’ve gotta be like, “That’s not… smart. Your idea has an extra 21st chromosome, if you ask me.” [audience laughs] It’s not the same.
Sorry — not sorry — but I can’t get on board with this petition.
A comedian’s first objective is to be funny in front of an audience, but also to push the boundaries of speech and bring up thought provoking topics. Segura was not using “retarded” in a derogatory way toward people with Down Syndrome. I watched this special the other night, and Segura simply used the term as a figure of speech from a bygone era. He was examining our use of the English language that was no different than comedians of the past -- like George Carlin -- used to do when people could actually think for themselves.
The part of the petition that really irks me the most is the demand for a public apology. Out of all the things Segura will do for the rest of his life, the one thing he shouldn’t do is apologize. Apologizing does two things.
First, it admits wrong-doing, of which Segura was not guilty. It also gives ammunition to people who want to restrict speech because it offends them. Being offended is subjective. What might offend one person may not offend another.
In the petition, Alyse Biro — the mother — talks about how Segura using the word “retarded” in his set is tantamount to a crime.
“The words used in this program are wrong, offensive and by definition is hate speech against the Down Syndrome community,” Biro wrote.
First of all, we live in the United States, not Canada. Even though there have been instances in other countries of people getting arrested for “hate speech,” there are currently no laws regulating speech in the U.S. besides the First Amendment.
In fact, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote this in his assessment of the Metal v. Tam free speech case in 2017:
With few narrow exceptions, a fundamental principle of the First Amendment is that the government may not punish or suppress speech based on disapproval of the ideas or perspectives the speech conveys[…]To permit viewpoint discrimination in this context is to permit Government censorship.
Some brands of comedy aren't for everyone, and that's okay. There are things that offend even me while watching certain stand-up comedians, but you don't see me beating down their door demanding an apology or a complete removal of their work. I simply either change the channel, or -- here's a novel idea -- don't watch!
I know! You actually have that option at all times.
You absolutely have the right to be offended, but you absolutely do not have the right to impose your offense onto someone in the form of trying to affect their livelihood.
H/T: Fox 59