Real ‘MAD’ man rants at Midland Library — gets raves

Find out why this MAD Magazine writer brings his show, “The Joy of Censorship”, to outer East Portland – and, learn whether there was anything wasn’t allowed to say during this presentation …

Joe Raiola tells how his show, The Joy of Censorship came into existence.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The title of his talk looked intriguing, so we squeezed a side trip into a busy news-covering evening in order to speak with MAD Magazine’s senior editor, Joe Raiola, at Midland Library on April 7.

Instead of doing a quick interview and moving on, we found Raiola – and his presentation – so fascinating, we missed our next two stories and stayed for his presentation.

Program started by accident
As people filled into the library’s Great Room, Raiola told us that his lecture started accidentally 18 years ago. “Many years ago, a librarian called the MAD Magazine office asking a speaker to come out and talk to young librarians.” The reason they gave: “MAD was the most-stolen publication from the library system.”

Having a background as a stand-up comic as well as being a comedy writer, Raiola said he agreed. “But I knew very little about censorship at the time, and I was woefully ignorant of MAD’s own history about being censored in the 1950s.”

The presentation at the library went well, word spread, and Raiola soon started getting calls for the show he named The Joy of Censorship. “It’s become my greatest commercial success – I’ve performed it in more than 40 states. It seems that I’ve found a niche. I’m presenting in the Pacific Northwest for the first time.”

Raiola says the words he uses during his presentation, will not be censored an any way.

A totally uncensored performance
When we asked Raiola what he liked best about touring his show, he was quick to answer: “It’s being able to be fully expressed. It’s having a forum where I can truly be uncensored. Libraries provide a great service to their community – and to me as an artist – by giving me carte blanche to do a provocative, frank, edgy, and hopefully a thought-provoking show, about ‘all things First Amendment’. And my audiences have been great, because I challenge them.”

It’s a very frank show, Raiola emphasized. “It’s a show that uses adult language. It’s ironic that, even in 2009, it’s a show I probably couldn’t do in a lot of comedy clubs. But amazingly, I’m thankful that libraries have provided a fantastic venue.”

Will the audience be shocked by Raiola’s reading from a book, banned in this country for decades?

Starts with a banned passage
The 57-year-old Raiola, now a 25-year veteran of MAD Magazine, briefly introduced himself and said, since the show was being held in a library, he’s start by reading from a well known book.

“When you are convinced that all of the exits are blocked, if you take to believing in miracles, or, you stand still like a humming bird, the miracle is that the honey is always there, right under your nose. Only that you were too busy searching elsewhere to realize it. The worst is not being deaf, but being blind – a blind to the fact that everything about life is in the nature of the miraculous.”

Lowering the book, Raiola’s expression turned to mock shock and said, “That’s pretty scary stuff, isn’t it?  It’s terrifying! This passage, this book, was written over a half-century ago. We couldn’t allow a voice this vulgar, and so subversive, to be fully expressed! It’s too dangerous; too smart – and without any socially-acceptable values!

“The voice in this book would have to be silenced! At least, here in the United States.  So, for 30 years, it was – until the United States Supreme Court finally ruled in 1964, that this book – Tropic of Cancer – was not obscene, the passionate and uniquely American voice of Henry Miller was abandoned his own country.”

Raiola noted that in 1990, a movie about Miller’s life called Henry and June was rated “X” – a position successfully challenged by the film’s director. “They dropped the “X” Rating, yes, but came up with a new rating just for his movie called NC-17 – an admission it was not obscene – but the uptight [expletive deleted] were going to try to ban it anyway.”

[Editor’s note: While we weren’t offended by Raiola’s free and colorful use of language – and not repeating his exact statements feels like we’re committing the very censorship against which he rails – we feel compelled to not repeat the expletives.]

George Carlin’s 7 Dirty Words You Can’t Say on TV routine was one of his early inspirations for the show, Raiola says, as he repeats each phrase aloud.

An unrated, uncensored show
“Here we are, 20 years after that, we still censor movies – and not just movies – but also television shows and music!” Raiola started.

“Tonight, I’m proud to tell you, this program is completely un-rated. It is presented with no parental guidance, or no advisories of any kind.

“I’ll be using all language; I’ll not be censoring myself. I’ll use nouns, proper nouns, even conjunctions and split infinitives. I made dangle a participle or two.”

“My language will not be cleaned up, toned down, or sanitized for your protection,” Raiola says.

Controlling speech controls destiny
“Here’s why: Free speech must be free. If one can control one’s speech, one may be – just may be – able to control one’s own destiny,” Raiola postulated.

He noted that on pay cable television channels and pay satellite radio, any idea or concept can be voiced – using any word in the language. “Only in this country can you have free speech – if you’re willing to pay enough for it.”

Drawing on his experiences – starting in second grade and moving forward, Raiola railed against the fact that people “edit themselves” because they “do not want to suffer the consequences of free expression.”

Raiola tells how a yearbook editor airbrushed out the finger next to his index finger – although it was a key point in show called Almost Obscene he’d presented at a college.

During the remainder of his 90 minute show, he touched on censorship the FCC, the Patriot Act, Internet filters, flag burning, indecency, and the true meaning of obscenity, in one of the most outrageous, controversial, thought-provoking – and laugh-out-loud funny – presentations we’ve seen, anywhere.

If you have an open mind, believe in the First Amendment – and have the opportunity to see Joe Raiola live – then, don’t miss him.

For more information, CLICK HERE to visit his website.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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