Are Words Violence? You Can’t Joke About That, by Kat Timpf

cover of You Can't Joke About That, by Kat Timpf

I was not familiar with Kat Timpf before listening to her audiobook, You Can’t Joke About That. This isn’t really significant or surprising, as she’s best known as a Fox commentator and I haven’t watched any cable news programs in over a decade. She’s also a comic but unless someone’s had a Netflix special, I’m not exactly up to date on that world either. Nonetheless, I’d rank this as one of the most interesting and important books I’ve read in the last few years.

You Can’t Joke About That addresses the increasingly humorless and intolerant nature of modern society, whether on social media, the entertainment industry, or politics. It’s disconcerting having lived through so many decades (the 70s, 80s, and 90s in my case) where so much humor that was everywhere years ago would not even be tolerated today. Even a show like Saturday Night Live, which has existed through all those decades, has devolved into a sad caricature of itself, only making the safest and most politically correct jokes. Same with other late night comedy, if it can even be called that anymore.

I’ll summarize a few important chapters/points Kat Timpf makes in You Can’t Joke About That.

It’s Especially Important to Joke About Difficult Topics

One of the main points of the book is that it’s harmful, both for individuals and society to avoid joking about topics that are difficult or controversial. Of course, in today’s climate, people are getting more reluctant to approach anything but the most innocuous subjects (and this category is getting ever smaller, as almost anything can be offensive to somebody). An especially bad sign that Kat mentions is that college campuses are among the least tolerant, with “progressive” campuses now adopting the Orwellian practice of making comedians sign a form promising not to offend anyone.

Again, where will this end? Today we can’t joke about race, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, or body shape. Isn’t it also potentially “hurtful” to joke about one’s food preferences, style of dress, musical tastes, occupation, and so on? The absurd conclusion of all this is a world where everyone lives in a bubble that can potentially be punctured by the wrong word. This brings us to another important chapter in the book.

Words Are Not Violence

“When you say that words are violence, you inherently are saying that violence is an acceptable response to words because violence is universally considered an acceptable response to violence.”

This quote is crucial because it exposes a sinister implication of the woke, “words are violence” dogma. This position essentially justifies actual physical violence as a kind of self-defense against words that offend you.

Kat alludes to the infamous “slap” at the Academy Awards (for the few who still watch it) when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock in retaliation for a joke about Smith’s wife (I think; as someone who is practically pop culture illiterate, I am unfamiliar with the players beyond Rock & Smith themselves). As she points out, one of the most troubling aspects of the episode was the number of people who found the slap justifiable.

Once again, we have to follow this mentality to its logical conclusion. It’s not just blatantly offensive language that may fit this category. The definition of “hate speech” is frighteningly vague and open-ended. This is why a joke by Dave Chapelle or a tweet by J.K. Rowling can be labeled as “literal violence.” Apart from anything else, it shows how many people don’t know the meaning of “literal.”

Retroactive Cancellations

One of the most absurd and tyrannical aspects of cancel culture that Kat discusses is the practice of digging up old tweets, sometimes that was made when the person was a teenager. As she points out, the standard here is even harsher than in fundamentalist religions, implying that a transgression against political correctness should never be forgiven and brands one for life.

Kat brings up the case of Sarah Silverman, who wore blackface in an episode of her program more than 10 years ago. I always liked Silverman’s politically incorrect humor, though less so in recent years as she’s gotten too preachy for me. A point Kat refers to repeatedly is that, to the ultra-woke crowd, intention doesn’t even matter if you offend people. Sarah Silverman did not wear blackface to mock people of color but to make a larger point about discrimination. And she repeatedly apologized for it. None of this was enough to appease the mob, of course.

Why The Freedom to Tell Jokes is Important

Kat Timpf, in the final chapter, confesses that “comedy is my religion.” I wouldn’t go that far myself, but I do see why comedy plays a huge part in cultural discourse. When you ban, censor, or even sharply attack certain kinds of humor, you are attempting to exert massive control over, not only what people can say, but even what we are supposed to think and consider funny.

Comedy has been an essential part of culture. Satire was popular in ancient Greece and Rome. Only the most authoritarian leaders and systems attempt to stamp out humor that offends them. That’s why it’s so important to stand up for the right of comedians to joke about anything.

You Can’t Joke About That is an important contribution to our chaotic cultural discourse. I’d recommend the audiobook, as Kat narrates it herself and does so in a very engaging way (she is, after all, a comic and commentator). The book manages to be funny and entertaining as well as insightful.

You Can’t Joke About That on Amazon