Is Wokeness Killing Comedy?

13 November 2023

An Open To Debate event featuring Michael Ian Black and Lou Perez, moderated by me.


Is Wokeness Killing Comedy? Michael Ian Black (right) makes a point to me (center) and Lou Perez (left).


Here is the audio and video (with a link to a full transcript) of an Open To Debate (formerly Intelligence Squared US) debate that I moderated in late September. The resolution was “Is Wokeness Killing Comedy?” and it was fierce and funny—and a great reminder of the value of structured and civil debates. Here’s the set-up:

“Welcome to Open to Debate. I’m Nick Gillespie, editor at large for Reason Magazine. And I’m guest moderating this debate here at the Comedy Cellar in New York City. We’re here to debate the question, is wokeness killing comedy? I guess the very first thing we should do is define the terms of debate. Being woke or staying woke is a phrase that originated in African American slang, referring to the urgency for blacks to have a heightened awareness of social inequality, especially related to race. In contemporary usage, it means emphasizing issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, neurodiversity, and more when analyzing all social interactions. Supporters of wokeness say it calls much needed attention to neglected, but systemic power imbalances, while critics see wokeness as a way of shutting down legitimate debate and discussion. We’re gonna debate that tonight….”

The participants were Lou Perez (yes, comedy is being killed) and Michael Ian Black (no, it’s not) and the 50-minute long program is filled with some very funny lines, some off-color language, and a lot of insight. The audience q&a section is especially great, in my opinion, but the whole thing is pretty terrific.