Bad Day For Comedy

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It’s a bad day for my business. In Egypt, one of the country’s biggest comedians, Adel Imam, has been sentenced to three months in jail for defaming Islam. I’ll go further and say it’s a bad day for mankind.

What are comedians, but today’s modern version of the court jester? An age-old tradition, the jester was allowed by monarchs to crack wise about news, affairs of the kingdom and even the king himself, and do so mostly without punishment. The jester was a mirror held up to society and, more importantly, the aristocracy, using wit, humor and satire to expose those groups’ flaws and foibles. Jesters were arguably the Jon Stewarts of their day and therefore essential.

Try and envision a day where no one is allowed to say what is on their minds. Spooky, right? But that sort of idiocy is spreading at an alarming pace. This incident is just the tip of the iceberg. A couple of weeks ago, I upset a woman at a show who lodged a complaint that I shouldn’t be allowed to say whatever I wanted because doing so is “un-American.”

The Egyptian comedian’s crime, it seems, was that he played a corrupt businessman who tries to buy a diploma. Really? That puzzles me, because in a recent report, Egypt scored a 3.1 Corruption Perception Index score, where a CPI of 10.0 is very clean and 0.0 is highly corrupt. The government should have given the comedian some sort of award for documentary filmmaking.

Egypt should treat their comedians better. After all, isn’t Egypt the birthplace of the oldest known comedian on record? I’m talking about the Sphinx. I’m sure you’ve heard about the Riddle of the Sphinx. In Greek mythology, the Sphinx guarded the entrance to Thebes by asking travelers a riddle and strangling, then eating, those unable to answer the riddle. It’s quite possibly the origin of the comedy phrase “I killed tonight!” Then as the myth goes, some motherfucker named Oedipus came by and solved the riddle, after which the Sphinx flung herself off a cliff. Clearly, it’s also the origin of the comedy phrase, “I died tonight.” Female comedians can thank the Sphinx for beginning the erroneous perception about comediennes being unfunny.

Like all things in the Western world, the Sphinx was appropriated from elsewhere, this time from Africa.

The most interesting detail about the Sphinx is the method in which she killed those unable to answer her riddles: strangulation. “Sphinx” derives from the Greek verb meaning “to squeeze,” as does the word “sphincter.” It’s fitting then that the Egyptian government’s puckering butt holes regarding freedom of speech as it pertains to comedians is at the center of this whole episode.

So Egypt, unclench your sphincters and free your jester! The tense situation in your country, and the rest of the world, could do with some levity.

Related reading: Things That Look Like Buttholes.

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