Putin Comes to Cancel the Comedian

I guess we have our answer: All totalitarians eventually come for the comedians.

Young Volodymyr Zelenskyy, president of Ukraine, is inspiring the whole world as he faces down Russian President Vladimir Putin. While Putin seeks to impale Ukraine with his 190,000-strong invasion force, Zelenskyy faces him down with inspiring grit.

As Russian forces close in on Kyiv, Ukraine’s embattled capital city, the United States offered Zelenskyy an escape. But Zeleskyy stood strong. “The fight is here,” he said. “I need ammunition, not a ride.”

Zelenskyy’s conduct before and during Putin’s rape of Ukraine reminds Americans of some of our most courageous heroes: General Anthony McAuliffe, who told the Germans “Nuts!” when they demanded his surrender at Bastogne; William Barret Travis, who fired a huge cannon in reply to Santa Anna’s demand for surrender at the Alamo. 

But Zelenskyy doesn’t come from a military background. He hasn’t been steeped in the traditions of a West Point or other military academy. He does come from a background that, in recent years, has demanded a great deal of courage just to be involved.

Before becoming the leader of a people fighting for their freedom, Volodymyr Zelenskyy was a comedian.

These days, it takes guts to be a comedian. Look at what’s happening just in what was once the land of the free—America.

How many comedians have been canceled or faced calls for cancellation for telling jokes that someone, somewhere, didn’t like?

Dave Chappelle has faced years of calls to be canceled for his Netflix specials. In those specials, Chappelle takes on everyone at some point. He’s probably America’s sharpest wit and he’s an equal-opportunity offender, but he gets into serious trouble when he takes on the trans and woke brigades. Their calls for tolerance stop with Chappelle, even though a not-very-close listening to his jokes would tell everyone that Chappelle doesn’t hate anyone

Chappelle has survived, even thrived now that Netflix has worked out a new deal with him. But what about other comedians who have faced media firing squads? Roseanne Barr still can’t work after she got canceled from the show that bore her name. 

Kevin Hart got canceled from hosting the Oscars because some of his old tweets surfaced. “Guardians of the Galaxy” star James Gunn got canceled, too, over old tweets, until he went on a public self-flagellation tour and got his job back. 

Louis CK got canceled. Jeremy Piven got #MeToo bombed despite denying all the allegations against him. Woody Allen has been convicted by the media despite never facing a single charge in court. Funny people, but what happened to them isn’t funny at all. It’s deadly serious when held up against the constitutional rights Americans supposedly hold dear.

It may seem glib to bring Zelenskyy into the conversation about canceled comics and actors when he’s facing literal obliteration. The Russians invading his country are hunting him down. They want to take him alive, hold a show trial, convict him of being some kind of “neo-Nazi” (sorry, Vlad, but he’s Jewish), and then execute him before the world. Those are the stakes for President Zelenskyy.

The question is, as he stays fast in Kyiv—so unlike Afghanistan’s disgraceful last president, who fled once Biden abandoned his responsibility as global leader—where does he get all this courage? 

“We are not afraid of anything,” Zelenskyy tells Putin and the world, while one of the planet’s largest armies is bearing down hard on him. 

There’s an old saying in comedy that in order to be funny you have to enjoy watching yourself die.

It’s possible some of Zelenskyy’s courage comes from his life walking the line between entertainment and offense as a comedian. It takes guts just to go up on stage and try to make people laugh at themselves. In the hothouse moral panic environment we all live in now, each word a comedian says can bring the world down in a flash. 

Vladimir Putin is trying hard to permanently cancel former comedian turned world hero Volodymyr Zelenskyy right now, along with canceling a nation-state and a people. The stakes are extremely high, and growing higher by the hour. Canceling Ukraine by force will have grave consequences for the entire world.

NATO has a provision called Article 5. Under that article, an attack on one NATO country is an attack on all of them, and they will all respond with force. Ukraine is not a NATO country, and that’s not the point of bringing up Article 5 here.

But perhaps entertainers should all adopt a kind of Article 5—an attempt to cancel one of them is an attempt to cancel all of them, and they should all fight to resist anyone’s cancellation whether they agree with them politically or not. They should certainly step up and sound off for the hero of Kyiv and the people for whom he is fighting desperately and with great courage to keep alive. 

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