Freedom Of Speech And Comedy: Is There A Limit?

Published on May 27, 2020

Have you ever thought that some joke on TV was offensive? Well, according the law in the U.S., every topic that involves freedom of speech is out of the justice system. To discuss this topic, we interviewed Brazilian comedian, actor, and producer Daniel Furlan. He is known for Jorel’s Brother production and Choque de Cultura (Culture Chock).

He already worked as actor in Joint Venture on HBO and Samantha! on Netflix and presented in Comic Con Brazil. He talks about the creation process of projects that are humorous without hurting minorities.

Getting To Know Daniel Furlan

Furlan is also one of the owners of the independent production, TV Quase. It started in partnership with other friends as a magazine that became audiovisual production. Therefore, they review their own script to make jokes also thinking about how the public will receive it. Furlan says, “In an independent production, a major part of our work, we talk to each other about it. It’s more like a fear to be misunderstood because we are friends making a joke and it works. But we think about if we are communicating it well and how people are going to understand it.”

Asked about laws and lawsuits, Furlan says that he likes more the American model of law. But he also points out people that think it’s valid to attack justifying their actions because they are comedians. “It’s not because you are a comedian that everything you do is comedy. There’s an edge that the humorist can’t say anything saying it was a joke.”

Furlan declares that his belief “is not like we are against some jokes. But certain things we don’t think is funny anymore because it may be offensive. I believe it should be valid to joke about everything. Even if I don’t think it’s funny or if it’s a bad joke. The person that made it will loose the credibility itself.”

A Timeline About Freedom of Speech In The U.S.

To start, is important to remember the First Amendment was approved in 1791 in the U.S. Based on this amendment, the Supreme Court worked on protection and freedom of speech specially between 1920 until 1970.

Gitlow vs. New York in 1925 was a mark of constitutional protection that was above state’s laws. It lead to a debate about freedom of speech rights. Due to this, Gitlow was seeing by the government as a potential thread because of his anarchist ideals after publishing about his anti-government views.

At the time, the state of New York had an anti- anarchist law. As result, in 1927, the Supreme Court interfered for the first time on a state deliberation. After a long road of debates and changes, all types of art or displays against public agents or government, is considered exercising freedom of speech.

What People Think About Limits in American Comedy

A study done by Freedom Forum Institute released in 2014, reveals that 63% of people interviewed think they shouldn’t be allowed to say things that might be offensive to racial groups. However, it also says that Americans are more comfortable with potentially offensive humor.

As an example, 78% of people said comedians should be allowed to perform offensive jokes on cable channels. But this percentage gets lower when you talk about news channels such as ABC, NBC or CBS.

Freedom Forum Institute study results

This seems like a controversial topic in America and also in Brazil. But the difference is the law. Brazilian Constitution defends that if you urge hate speech, defamation, racism or homophobia, you can be sued. As a result, depending on the case, jail is also a possibility.

On the other hand, the U.S. points that defamation is only a case if it has criminal intentions. In other words, even if it’s based in lies, it’s protected by the First Amendment.

What do you think about this controversial topic? Leave your comments below and check some of our comedy recommendations to stream on Netflix!

Luciana Gontijo is Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Brazil, she focuses her writing on arts and entertainment. She was formerly with HuffPost Brazil.

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