No Joke: Catholic College Cuts off Comic’s Crudeness

There’s campus free speech and then there’s campus free speech. Does a comedian have any sort of “free-speech” right to intentionally and directly violate a contract? Even if he’s trying to make a point?

hannibal buress tweet loyola

From a student tweet…

Here’s what we know: The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting on a free-speech stunt by comedian Hamilton Buress. The well-known comic (so I’m told. I’d never heard of him, but that doesn’t mean much) had signed a contract for his bit at Loyola University in Chicago. He had agreed not to discuss certain subjects, including sexual abuse, rape, race, or sexual and gender orientation.

Buress didn’t only ignore the contract. He projected an image of the list of forbidden topics, then proceeded to make a joke about each one in turn. When he got to a joke about child sexual abuse by the Catholic church, the (Catholic) university cut off his mic.

What do you think?

Me, I’m torn. On the one hand, the guy signed a contract. He agreed not to make certain jokes.

On the other hand, Buress’s deliberate and provocative method of spurning the contract, IMHO, is more than just comedy. It makes a powerful point about the need to speak freely about sensitive topics.

Would I want him to perform at my kid’s fifth birthday party?  Probably not. But do I think his stunt was a healthy shake-up of campus stultification? I think so.

Leave a comment


  1. Agellius

     /  March 21, 2018

    I guess I’m indifferent. He sort of has a “right” to violate the contract, and that gives the school the right to cut him off and not pay him. I consider it rather dishonorable and inconsiderate of him though. He not only broke his promise but also wasted the time of those who came to see his performance (or did he do this at the end?).

  2. I’m not clear about how a violation of a contract makes him only partly wrong. If he didn’t like the terms of the contract, he shouldn’t have accepted the invitation. Either that or contracts are just meaningless pieces of paper. Might as well not have one. No one asked him or agreed to pay him to make a provocative point. Comedians shy away from going to colleges anymore.

    If someone wants to in good humor make a joke about me, go for it. I’ll laugh hysterically along with everyone else. But good comedy only works, IMHO, if everyone agrees to the same terms. Skilled and fair comedians that put everyone on equal terms don’t need limits. People aren’t going to all like the same comedian, and not everyone will like comedy. Accepting an invitation he didn’t like, intentionally breaking his contract, then making a provocative point that singled out the Catholic Church at a Catholic School isn’t comedy in my book. Good on them for turning off his mic. I also have to wonder why they asked a comedian to campus in the first place.

  3. I didn’t really say that completely right. I still don’t agree with what he did. I personally see comedy as something everyone can laugh at together. For me, comedy is naturally reduced to things we can all laugh at and have a shared experience. There are things we can joke about and have a sense of humor about, things that aren’t funny and shouldn’t be joked about, and a very large grey area in the middle. I use to listen to Bill Cosby’s Dentist all the time. I would have loved to watch that with a group of dentists and all laugh together. I hope they would think it’s funny because it isn’t meant as an insult to them. But maybe some wouldn’t find it funny, I don’t know.

    Comedy isn’t safe under the best of circumstances. If we are looking for safe, it’s probably best to not invite a comedian to speak to a large group of people.

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