Mike Ward: in defence of punching down
French-Canadian comic Mike Ward is on the frontline of the free-speech war. Last month, he was fined $42,000 in his native Quebec for telling a joke about a disabled boy. His Fringe show, Freedom of Speech Isn’t Free, is both a cautionary tale about what happens when you give offence-seekers power and an affable defence of the comedian’s right to punch down.
One inspired routine explores the ethics of drowning and defiling an imaginary boy. Another lays into the desperate search for the next n-word (he finds saying ‘the r-word’, instead of ‘retard’, particularly risible). A comedy giant in Canada, Ward has an effortless style. And here he makes the case for free speech, laying out the distinction between actions and words, without ever letting up on the laughs.
This is Ward’s great strength here. Although he trades in dark humour – ‘I have paedophile jokes that are only legal in Thailand’ – he’s an eminently likeable and skilled performer. He makes cracking jokes about child abuse seem like the most natural thing in the world. And so it should be. After all, they’re only words.
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