- - Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Between hilariously indignant media lightweights, frantic temper tantrums and a flood of second-rate hit pieces, it’s fair to say that Dave Chappelle’s newly released Netflix special, “Sticks and Stones,” is drawing the very outrage it was designed to.

From Michael Jackson to the #MeToo movement to “Juicy Smoo-yay,” no one is safe in this brilliant, 65-minute affront to America’s intensifying iron curtain culture. In classic Chappelle form (feel free to use your imagination), the comedic giant’s command over awe-inspiring ad-libs, clever crowd riffs, powerfully premeditated pauses, and cataclysmic counter-punches invites audiences to appreciate — once again — the value of comedy and free speech as an American bedrock. 

Such a skillfully stricken balance between lamenting the looming extinction of American comedy and provoking the ire of Hollywood not only serves as a refreshing synthesis of comedy and controversy, but prompts another important message for audiences: Defending freedom of speech in America is now more vital than ever before.

As the president of an organization that works to defend free speech on college campuses, I have seen much of this firsthand. It’s no secret that an epidemic of censorship has swept the American higher education system over the last several years, reducing the college experience to little more than four straight years of students being inundated with the same opinions from the same people every single day.

Similarly, silencing luminaries like Mr. Chappelle strips us of the self-reflection we are able to get from watching them. To a reasonable person, his routine — however vulgar, boorish or disruptive it may be — forces us to look in the mirror and question our beliefs. As George Orwell, author of iconic works like “1984” and “Animal Farm,” once reminded us, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

You might love “Sticks and Stones” or you might hate it. You might leave it feeling emboldened or you might simply get offended. You might not find it funny at all or, like Charlie Sheen, you might have to go to the hospital from laughing too hard.

Regardless, Mr. Chappelle’s rhetoric underscores just how far our respect for freedom of expression has fallen when entertainers have to bombard us with slurs, insults and cold-hard truths simply to remind us (however ironically) of the beauty of free speech. As distrust for political correctness continues to escalate every day, more and more Americans may find relief in the raw, untempered rhetoric of figures like George Carlin, Bill Burr and Mr. Chappelle.

This cancel culture of silencing celebrities just because we disagree with them must end. Do we have to support Dave Chappelle’s words? No. But should we firmly defend his right to say them? Absolutely.

Opening ourselves to opposing viewpoints is the only way we can grow as a society.

• Cliff Maloney is the president of Young Americans for Liberty.

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