It would not be an understatement to say that Brandeis is a politically correct institution. The social justice oriented university does a lot to make sure its students feel comfortable and that everyone respects the beliefs of others. This has been done by creating “safe spaces” and having students specify their pronouns when introducing themselves. This political correctness was briefly invaded on Wednesday, Oct. 26, when the Brandeis Department of Theater Arts presented “Freedom of Speech: Lessons from Lenny Bruce.” The play was directed by Sam Weisman and written by Amanda Faye Martin. “Freedom of Speech” took place at a liberal arts college and followed the lives of seven students.
The characters had the same names as the students who played them: Savannah (played by Savannah Edmonds ’20), Kate (Kate Farrell ’16), Jacob (Jacob Kleinberg ’18), Yair (Yair Koas ’19), Laura (Laura Marasa ’20) and Gabi (Gabi Nail ’18). Nail also played Laney. Comedian Corey Rodrigues also had a role as a stand-up comedian in a comedy club.
The play begins with Savannah inviting her boyfriend, Yair, to a study date with her friends. These friends include Kate with a K, whom Yair finds attractive. Later on in the play, after a lot of discussion and philosophy from a drunk Laura, the students start discussing a Lenny Bruce book. The students talk about Bruce’s political incorrectness and his many arrests. They discuss whether it is okay for people to say the n-word if they are quoting another person. The attention then turns to Savannah, the only black character, who states that when someone says the n-word, it is important to examine the context first.
Jacob, whose Lenny Bruce impression is on par, then reads a transcript from one of Bruce’s comedy shows. The transcript contains an abundance of racial slurs used to describe African Americans, Italians, Hispanics, Asians, Polish people and many other races and ethnicities. This causes Gabi to leave the conversation. The conversation over the rest of the play involves the difference between being funny and being inconsiderate. The play quickly got real about political correctness, especially on college campuses. One character claimed that, “Liberals can understand everything except for people who don’t understand them,” and another said, “Liberal arts colleges don’t listen to people with other opinions.” Political correctness in humor was also examined. “Freedom of speech should not be limited to other people’s perceptions,” an actor claimed.
Can someone be both funny and offensive? This is the question that was asked towards the end after Yair makes a series of offensive remarks. Comedian Corey Rodrigues asked the audience after the play was over if the excessive use of the n-word troubled anyone. Many audience members decided to share their opinion of the play. One audience member, Helen Wong ’19, felt angry about the disparaging remarks made about Asians. She told Yair that even though she knew he was in character, when he made his remarks she “wanted to go take the mic from him and tell him to fuck off.”
Many audience members said that they would excuse offensiveness if it was done in a comedic way. “When it is art, it is permissible,” said Jose Kleinberg, the father of actor Jacob Kleinberg. “When it is not art, you need to be politically correct.”
It was revealed that an anecdote from the play in which a person known as “Asian Kevin” used the n-word was based on an experience that one of the actors had at Brandeis. In fact, it turns out that most of the play was based on the actors’ experiences at Brandeis.
“We have been working on this since early September, but most of the first meetings were about having conversations about freedom of speech on campus, language in general and learning about Lenny Bruce,” said Edmonds. “Most of which Sam Weisman had us write down paragraphs on certain subjects like anger and our feelings about conversations on campus. We wrote down all of our ideas and good phrases on Google docs, recorded our conversations and these were transcribed and turned into a script by Amanda Faye.”
The conversation ended with the message that people will be offended and that they must choose their battles. It is okay to let a few things slide, but if one is offended by another’s remarks, they should make their voice heard. “You just got to speak up,” said Edmonds.