Hope for free speech? Kat Timpf riffs on the power of comedy and dangers of cancel culture. (2024)

For Kat Timpf, comedy isn’t just her day job.

It’s also helped her through the most challenging times in her life, from the unexpected death of her mother to serious personal health scares.

And she believes comedy can bring together people in our fractured political climate.

Timpf gets into all this in her new book (and her related national book tour), “You Can’t Joke About That,” which I spoke with her about recently. The comedian is a co-host of “Gutfeld!” on Fox News, a top-rated late night show, often beating the broadcast network giants like Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel. Timpf also is a regular contributor to other shows on Fox.

(Full disclosure: Timpf was my journalism student many years ago at Hillsdale College, when I taught at my alma mater. I’m proud, but not surprised, of all she’s accomplished.)

Hope for free speech? Kat Timpf riffs on the power of comedy and dangers of cancel culture. (1)

Before you draw any conclusions about Timpf’s political persuasion given her employer, you may be surprised to hear that she doesn’t fit neatly into any partisan box. In fact, she identifies as Libertarian, as her many fans know well.

“It's really interesting because, you know, I'm not a Republican,” Timpf says. “I've never voted for a Republican. I've also never voted for a Democrat. I always vote Libertarian, and I write my cat's name in whenever there's not a Libertarian because I'm just not either one of those things.”

However, Timpf knows that when she tells strangers she works at Fox, the conversation is likely to change and judgment will follow. She’s found her own way of handling it by telling a joke she’s made “a million times.”

“Like if I'm at a party, I'll be like, ‘oh, I work in p*rn’ because it's less controversial,” she says.

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Free speech isn’t valued as it once was

Timpf’s line is funny because of the truth it holds. There are many social situations where it’s not comfortable to admit you’re conservative or anything right of whatever the accepted cultural norms have become.

Free speech is a significant theme in Timpf’s book, and she warns of what happens to discourse when comedy – or any speech – is shut down because of whom it may offend. She points to numerous comedians who have been unfairly canceled or faced cancellation. And she also argues that someone’s intention makes a big difference (or should).

“I think that the way we've framed the debate on speech is that there's sensitivity and we all get along on one side, and then there's like free speech and comedy on the other side,” Timpf says. “And I think that's just completely wrong because I'm a very sensitive person. I have a lot of feelings, but there's a big difference between having feelings and expecting the world to revolve around your feelings, which is actually just being selfish.”

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Several recent polls support why Americans need to hear this message. One from RealClear Opinion Research found that the left has become quite illiberal on expression.

For instance, while 74% of Republicans and 61% of independents believe speech should be legal “under any circ*mstances,” liberals are divided, with 47% saying speech should be legal “only under certain circ*mstances.”

The push from the left to silence speech is felt strongly on college campuses. Polling from the University of Chicago and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found nearly half (47%) of adults say liberals have “a lot” of freedom to express their views on campus. Yet, only 20% said conservatives do.

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When people feel like they can’t talk about something or say certain words, that breeds resentment – and pulls us further apart, Timpf says.

“Getting someone to shut up is not the same thing as getting them to agree with you,” she says. “And if you get them to stop talking, then maybe they won't ever ask the kind of questions or want to learn more about your side in order to have a different point of view. That will never happen because you just told them to shut up.”

Hope for free speech? Kat Timpf riffs on the power of comedy and dangers of cancel culture. (2)

Humor can bridge divides, bring us together

Timpf has a unique niche in that she’s both a journalist and a comedian. And through humor she can more easily break down barriers that exist in the media world and our culture.

“I really think that comedy has this special power to sort of disarm a conversation,” Timpf says. “I also write in my book about research that shows that using humor to make a point actually makes it more likely that people will pay attention because they have to follow the thread of the joke.

“Nobody really likes to be preached at. Everybody likes to laugh, so I think that it makes people more likely to listen and want to hear you out if you can come at things from a funny way, because otherwise, people are just going to be automatically on the defensive.”

While Timpf’s job revolves around the news of the day, her book delves into personal struggles, from deaths to breakups to illness. Timpf knows well that life is often not funny. Yet, it’s her desire – and ability – to find humor in these dark times that has helped her most.

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After getting an emergency surgery (I’ll let you read the book for the gory details), Timpf remembers telling her dad, “Every tough thing you go through, you're automatically building a connection with everyone who's been through it, too.”

The fact it was hard for Timpf to talk about these struggles at first – or for others to know how to talk to her − inspired her to write the book.

“It doesn't mean this stuff is funny, but you have to be able to talk about it that way or else you would just never make it through,” she says.

“And we really have so much more in common than I think politics want us to think.”

Ingrid Jacques is a columnist at USA TODAY. Contact her atijacques@usatoday.comor on X, formerly Twitter:@Ingrid_Jacques

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fox comedian Kat Timpf pushes back on cancel culture

Hope for free speech? Kat Timpf riffs on the power of comedy and dangers of cancel culture. (2024)
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