Considering all that’s been going on in the world lately, it’s probably not the most opportune moment for the arrival of a documentary about stand-up comedians struggling against the constraints of political correctness.
Taking aim against that seemingly growing faction of society it calls “the outrage mob,” Ted Balaker’s “Can We Take a Joke?” nevertheless poses a valid question at a juncture when freedom of speech is a hot topic, especially where the Internet is concerned.
While rightfully giving Lenny Bruce props as the granddaddy of provocation, too much of the film is weighted toward the late comic’s well-documented trials and tribulations, while inadequately acknowledging the contributions of those who took up the torch, such as the late, great George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor and Joan Rivers.
In their absence, Balaker depends on commentary from Jim Norton, Penn Jillette, Karith Foster, Adam Carolla and, extensively, Lisa Lampanelli, for whom rape and AIDS jokes are considered fair game.
Still, the film, narrated by comedian Christina Pazsitzky, raises some interesting observations about the climate on many of today’s college campuses, where the former havens for free speech (it’s noted that Bruce lectured at UCLA in 1966) have become especially vulnerable in regard to violated comfort zones.
Then there’s Gilbert Gottfried, who learned the meaning of the words “too soon” when he lost a lucrative gig as the voice of the Aflac duck after tweeting a bit immediately after the 2011 Japanese tsunami.
In joke-telling, as in film release scheduling, timing is everything.
“Can We Take a Joke?”
Running time: 1 hour, 75 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Ahrya Fine Arts, Beverly Hills