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Friday, March 19, 2010

the right to make things up to make people laugh

 So as I mentioned before, Improv Asylum Mainstage has a short run of shows at the Old South Meetinghouse in Boston.

It may be dorky of me to say so, but I think it's really cool to be doing a comedy show in the same room where the Boston Tea Party was planned in 1773. Growing up in Boston I was constantly exposed to its historical treasures. By the time I was nine years old I had memorized Oliver Wendell Holme's historic poem "Old Ironsides."  Voluntarily. Because I liked the boat. The high school I attended is even historical, the oldest public school in the country, alma mater to Ben Franklin, Sam Adams and John Hancock.  Because of all that, I'm no stranger to treating historical sites with familiarity and even (inevitably) indifference at times.

But the significance of the Old South Meetinghouse in particular is what I love the most about this run of shows.

See, in the 1920s the Old South Meetinghouse became a hot spot specifically for debates regarding free speech rights, an issue that was dividing people all over the country.
The Meetinghouse had, since its inception, been a place for public discussions including a program series called the Old South Forum. But as mayors in Boston (James Curley and Malcolm Nichols) banned books and plays to keep up with the rest of the nation, people began debating whether there should be limits on what kind of discussions were allowed at the Meetinghouse.

In 1929 the Old South's board put an end to the debates about free speech by declaring that anyone was welcome to speak in the meetinghouse "without regard to the unpopularity of any cause."

Which... explains how eighty years later I'm free to get up on stage and sing about how much I love to eat hamburgers. Or whatever else the audience wants me to sing about.

In the back of the meetinghouse there are some educational exhibits set up. Across from the life sized statue of Margaret Sanger* , a sign asks visitors if there is anyone they feel should be banned from speaking in public forums. The answers can be written on yellow slips of paper which are then entered into a plastic binder as part of an "ongoing dialogue about freedom of speech and dissent."

Most of the entries in the binder are from school children on class trips. In pencil most have answered along the lines of, "no, everyone should get the right to talk." Some made a caveat such as, "Everyone can talk if they agree to be respectful of other ideas as well." A few that made specific exceptions such as, "I would not let the KKK or nazis talk because their ideas are harmful to others."

But two entries made me giggle out loud.
The first, in a child's heavy handed pencil scrawl said "I would ban amateur comedians from telling jokes."
The second, also a child, but one who gripped the pencil less tightly said, "Only comedians should talk."

It's like they knew.

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* I do not know if it is actually life sized.

1 comment:

3969 said...

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