The death of college comedy: University of London tries to get comedians to sign “behavioural agreement” form stipulating that they won’t mock anything

December 12, 2018 • 9:35 am

Real comedy is dead, at least in American and UK colleges and universities. This has already been recognized by comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock, who refuse to do standup shows at colleges because the outrage culture prevents them from doing the kind of edgy comedy they prefer. Now, to avoid a comedian offending anyone, a college—the University of London (UL)—has asked a Russian-British (and Jewish) comedian to sign a “behavioral agreement form”, shown below, so he wouldn’t offend anyone. (See coverage at the Times of London, PJ Media, and elsewhere).

Apparently the University of London, or at least the student UNICEF on Campus organiation at UL’s School of Oriental and African Studies sent the following proposed agreement to five comedians they asked to perform at a benefit for UNICEF. (They were asking these comedians to perform for free.) Read it! One recipient, Konstantin Kisin, shared the document on Twitter.

The document is unbelievable. (In fact, one reader sent it to me and assumed it was a joke. When I told him it wasn’t, he was flummoxed.)

UCL apparently wants squeaky clean comedy that doesn’t make people squirm, doesn’t bring up topics that makes students feel “unsafe”, and doesn’t make fun of anything, including religion and atheism. Only “love, joy and acceptance.”

Imagine the comedians who wouldn’t meet these standards, starting with Lenny Bruce and extending through Red Foxx, Chris Rock, George Carlin (remember how he mocked religion?), and Sarah Silverman, to mention just a few. Good comedy is about more than making us laugh, more than Bob Hope with his bland jokes and onstage golf club: it can break the boundaries of acceptable thought to make us think. Comedians like Lenny Bruce, Chris Rock, and Sarah Silverman are liberals, yet they’d be banned because their acts stimulate the brain.

Kisin put out another video saying he’d perform a “woke” comedy act elsewhere, but I’m betting it was hilarious in its avoidance of offense:

As an update, reader William sent me this appropriate statement from Stephen Fry:

h/t: Grania

67 thoughts on “The death of college comedy: University of London tries to get comedians to sign “behavioural agreement” form stipulating that they won’t mock anything

  1. You know it’s bad when Jerry Seinfeld won’t play there because he isn’t exactly a comedian known for being offensive.

    I figure it’s only a matter of time before my own sense of humour gets me in trouble at work.

    1. My coworkers and I work on the principle of MAD–mutually assured destruction. We’re field geologists, and Full Metal Jacket plays a large role in our conversations. If one of us goes to HR, we ALL go to HR, and the company can’t afford to fire all of us!

    2. For what it’s worth, Seinfeld claims he never said what he’s purported to have said. Rather, he was relating what another, unnamed comedian said to him.

      See here.

          1. Indeed and he did deny ever having said he wouldn’t play colleges. I listened to the entire interview. My god, it’s hilarious. I listened to the one with Diane Morgan and Robin Ince and was laughing so hard I thought I’d have to pull my car over.

            1. Diane Morgan and Robin Ince: This was “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”? I can’t find that episode [I have series 1 to 5 on NetFlix].

  2. Yes, college campus sounds like a really fun place to be these days. Funny like a heart attack. Even Flip Wilson could not get a job today and he had a TV show at one time. Reminds me of the preacher telling his congregation, before they could walk they had to crawl. Make it crawl Rev, make it crawl. Then to run, it first had to walk. Make it walk Rev, make it walk. To Run this church needs money he said. Let it crawl Rev.

    1. When I was a student (all right, many decades ago) the student newspaper was full of bad-taste jokes. So off-colour they made me cringe. But in those days students were vehemently opposed to censorship.

      Wtf went wrong?


  3. “Behavioural Agreement Form”? You couldn’t even satirize that! Just thinking of British satirists of times gone by, their literature and their arts in general would be woefully diminished because nary a one would sign that piece of dreck. They’d ban Pope, Swift, Defoe, Fielding, Hogarth, Gillray, Thomas Nashe (Have with You to Saffron-Walden), Sterne, Waugh (Evelyn and Daisy), John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (“Song of a Young Lady to Her Ancient Lover),I could go on and on.

      1. Indeed! But for Waugh, I was thinking of the
        hoary ones. Including everyone, the list could go on for pages, and include women, too. I can’t imagine Britain, more properly,the British Isles absent satirists.

    1. From Pope’s Dunciad:

      Ah, think not, mistress! more true Dulness lies / In Folly’s cap, than Wisdom’s grave disguise

      We need a new Dunciad.

  4. The solution to this problem is the Family Circus comic strip. All a comedian has to do at this University of London event is show the Family Circus comic panels on a PowerPoint and read the words. Hilarious!

  5. Important to note here I think that the report in the Times doe state that it was not UCL that required this nor the students union. It was the UNICEF branch on campus. Obviously still ridiculous but we should take care with the facts.

    1. Agreed. One could just as well have headlined it “United Nations …”

      I would love to see more… accurate headlines on articles like this.


  6. Do you suppose those harpies at the school will allow people to clap or laugh at the show? That marginalizes at least the deaf and the paraplegic, so it’s problematic, right? I suppose there is no point in worrying – not likely to be funny.

    Man, I would hate to be a college student today. What a waste.

    1. “Man, I would hate to be a college student today.”

      Yeah, except that oppressive atmospheres tend to breed a vibrant and rebellious underground vanguard. That’s why the Sixties sprang from the conformist Fifties (and why the most interesting elements of the counterculture were those that were percolating below the surface in the Fifties).

      Don’t know if that’s happening on college campuses today, as I’m too far from the action to have a finger on the pulse (although I’ve seen enough to know it’s not Milo and his band of Young Republican acolytes. They’re reactionaries being led about by a poseur.)

      1. Excellent point about the 60s counterculture springing from the underground of the 50s.
        No doubt the same is happening again. Note that today’s woke, oppressive, humorless campus culture loudly insists that it is “PROGRESSIVE” and so on. We can therefore be sure that the counterculture to come will not be conventionally “Left”. Paul Berman has remarked on this tendency of the Left to sabotage itself by referring to a history of “undertows” in Left political culture.

      2. “Don’t know if that’s happening on college campuses today…”

        It’s happening on a much larger scale. This is the exact reason Trump supporters I’ve met voted for him–as a reaction against Progressive policies such as these.

        1. That’s not “a vibrant and rebellious underground vanguard”; that’s biting off the nation’s nose to spite its regressive face.

          1. You can certainly view it that way. THEY, however, view themselves as the rebellious underdogs fighting an oppressive system.

            It is, of course, entirely up to you as to whether you want to understand them and their impact on the culture, or merely feel smugly superior to them.

            (Note that I am NOT a Trump supporter.)

            1. Maybe so, but what a waste of youthful rebelliousness to cast it away in support of an unfit, incompetent, corrupt, bigoted, know-nothing putz.

              And a shame that this youthful energy is doomed to curdle into something foul as Trump’s malignity reveals itself so plainly that none but the deluded will be able to deny it.

            2. Young voters, age 18-29, did not help Trump, they hurt him. They preferred Clinton over Trump by a 55%-37% margin. By contrast Older voters, age 65 and up, chose Trump by a 53%-45% margin. Those are the numbers from Pew Research.

              What the statistics show is that the demographic most helpful to Trump was, and presumably still is, white, older, males. This is not a rebellious underground. This is a demographic with its back up against the wall and scared into losing all pretense of civility because they are steadily losing the privileges their demographic enjoyed for a very long time.

              1. “Young” is not necessary for “rebellious”. The Founding Fathers instigated an actual rebellion, and were quite a bit older than college students. Same with the folks leading the French Revolution. Same with the folks who led the Confederacy. Same with the Russian revolutions. Obviously rebellion isn’t limited to the young.

                My point was, Trump supporters I’ve spoken with are driven by a sense of rebellion–of fighting what they view as a repressive regime.

              2. The subject was rebellious college students.

                Regarding your last, yes, I think everyone knows that. The problem is, they are full of shit. But they are not misunderstood to any problematic degree.

    1. And his ‘woke’ comedy set – which omitted all possibly offensive material from his usual set – consisted of – nothing.

      Anybody who didn’t see that coming?


  7. That is restrictive. But there is still plenty material that one could do. Here are some one-liners.

    I have a stepladder. I never knew my real ladder.
    “When I was younger I felt like a man trapped inside a woman’s body. Then I was born.” Yianni (2015)
    “I was playing chess with my friend and he said, ‘Let’s make this interesting’. So we stopped playing chess.” Matt Kirshen (2011)
    “I usually meet my girlfriend at 12:59 because I like that one-to-one time.” Tom Ward (2015)
    “My grandad has a chair in his shower which makes him feel old, so in order to feel young he sits on it backwards like a cool teacher giving an assembly about drugs.” Rhys James (2016)

    1. 1) Insensitive to folks in non-traditional families.

      2) Assumes sexuality is innate.

      3) Chess is based off war. That’s going to trigger someone.

      4) Assumes heteronormative relationships. Also insensitive to people who use non-Western timekeeping mechanisms.

      5) Agist, and hostile to addicts.

  8. Maybe it’s not quite as grim. They want an entertainer, not a comedian, and it’s fair to want that. It’s probably boring, but it happened before that some event or other was declared to be a sanitized, family-friendly affair.

    It’s just more confirmation of my hypothesis that woke people really are boring, grey-faced conservatives in their soul, which was always apparent, but here more than usual. They are just a bunch of conservatives who want to be “accepted” by society, and which in their mind clashes with the current other traditional conservatives, who haven’t warmed up to appreciate blue hair and gender queer pony identities just yet.

    In addition, comedy became much edgier in the post South Park landscape, and I can understand that “problem-glasses” bespectacled crypto conservatives are uneasy with that, and thus want it played safe.

  9. Where is this all coming from? I used to think that authoritarianism happened when powerful persons imposed it from above. It now seems that, in fact, it emerges from below, from the grassroots up. And perhaps it always has: The rare interludes of liberal democracy have been imposed by transient elites, despite the will of the “people” rather than by the people despite the views of elites.

    With both left and right united in their appetites for authoritarian repressions, we should all begin to fear for our freedom and dignity.

    1. Maybe 2% of the student population goes around trying to stir up trouble because they like the attention while the other 98% just wants to party or collect a degree.

      The problem is that the administrative branch of universities has expanded and now understands that these complaints justify their existence.

      By identifying, encouraging, and inflaming these problems they can increase their power. Do universities really need to pay a “director of diversity” 300 grand a year?

      1. There is a certain breed of administrator/apparatchik which is completely amoral and who would be just as comfortable whether administering a charity or a concentration camp. For them, procedures exist to be followed (and, if they are personally ambitious, the more procedures the better). The consequences don’t matter so long as they are in accordance with procedures; and nothing has any value if it does not accord with their regulations and procedures.

        Pandering to the whims of the regressive left is just grist to their mill.

        Professional types (and no doubt artistic people too) hate them with a deep loathing.


  10. Institutionalized institutions are just… I can’t even with them right now. I was having a hard time with SJW propaganda increasingly turning up at meditation sites, so I was like “Hey, you know what, Orthodoxy is a contemplative religion, maybe I’ll just go back to that.”

    Orthodoxy: Hello, welcome, greetings and salutations! You’re just in time for the biggest schism in hundreds of years, since we can’t agree on whether or not to use the Church as an instrument of warfare!

    Me: AAAAAAAAAAAAAA!! (runs screaming back to meditation)

    Favorite well-regarded meditation site: Hello, great to see you! What a fortuitous moment for you to be searching for us on Facebook again, we literally just announced a seminar on “Healing From Internalized Whiteness” (I mean that literally, this is a literal thing that actually happened, I’m not joking for the sake of parody,) would you like to sign up?

    Me: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!! (runs back screaming to cat)

    That’s like a microcosm of the world today. If there is a vague, spiritual, pantheistic God underlying all things, I think s/he is signaling that a life of hermitage is really the way to go.

  11. On a slightly brighter note ‘Baby it’s cold outside’ has been reinstated on Canadian airways by the CBC. Listener protests won out.

  12. In related news, SNL comedian Nimesh Patel was kicked off a Colombia University stage mid-performance for being “offensive”, even though he was specifically invited in an attempt to provide “a platform for a diversity of Asian American artistic expression”.

    As usual, “diversity” means everyone has to think the same way.

  13. If Harlan Ellison were alive today, I’d imagine him writing a story about five comedians trapped in a subterranean hell, tormented by an omnipotent, maniacal computer named Hannah Gadsby.

  14. A Rabbi, a Priest and an Atheist walk into a bar and the bartender says “Have you guys seen that horse I’ve been expecting?”

  15. What does this mean we would never have had Monty Python if they obeyed these rules. Wow I am offended and triggered and someone has hidden my safe space

    1. I think my favourite movie, Life of Brian, probably offends in every one of those categories (for those seeking to be offended).

      And frankly, any ‘comedy’ that doesn’t have enough bite to potentially offend somebody-who-wants-to-be-offended, actually nauseates me; it’s usually reduced to smart-ass wisecracking one-liners of the sitcom variety.


  16. Just a technical note:

    The University of London is not University College London (UCL). The University of London is an umbrella organisation that includes several large colleges including UCL and also the School of Oriental and Asian Studies (a different college to UCL), where the gig was supposed to take place.

    Saying this is on the University of London is the same as saying the USA did x when it was actually Kansas. Saying this is on UCL is the same as saying California did x when it was actually Kansas.

    I’m not sure how Unicef on Campus is related to these colleges and the University, but it seems to be a student organisation i.e. not related to the administrations of any of either the University of London or SOAS.

  17. “Safe space comedy” is a – not funny – antithesis.

    That said, some of the areas covered, such as racism and ableism, is rare enough in the general population so they should be able to find comedians that does not routinely use such material because it is vulgar and ineffective.

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