This isn’t an argument for anything – I’m just keeping the dialogue open about the numerous “red lines” we might cross every time we step on stage. Is this an explosive field of land mines, or is it an opportunity for great theatre, improvisation and comedy?

Early in my development as an improviser, there was an understanding that spontaneity flourishes when the internal censor is dampened. Remove limitations on what what you fear to say, be open to what sits in the shadows of the controlling mind  and POSSSSSSIBLY, you might say something that’s worth listening to.

As we removed the restricting barriers, unique narrative and poetry flew from the mouths of amazed improvisers who didn’t know they were capable of such art. Along with the inspired expression, came the tiny repressed demons of sexual suggestions, naughty references, and societal unmentionables.  

We might have been embarrassed by those uncontrolled, uncensored thoughts escaping from our inner vaults, but we accepted that true spontaneity released the “good” as well as the “bad”. Back then, we’d laugh when we said things we hadn’t intended. Now, we look around the room, worried about who we’ve offended. 

In our safe environment, we agreed to cut ourselves some slack. Mistakes would be made. The intention wasn’t to hurt anyone. This was a chance to develop skills to handle what the education system and society worked to repress in us.

We matured as artists and developed a healthy control that gave space for spontaneous expression mixed with empathy to impose limitations on how certain topics would be addressed. We could offend when we chose to but we wouldn’t target anyone out of malice or to get a laugh for the sake of getting a laugh.

Now, the voices encouraging us to cross the line of taboo topics are quieter. Many improvisers (and those in other arts) express frustration with the perceived limitation on creative, spontaneity.

I‘ve seen the lights brought down on a scene when an improviser mentioned religion. I’ve seen scenes stopped when young improvisers say something sexist in the context of evil characters. I’ve talked to women who are reluctant to mention issues in a company where what they say “will be blown out of proportion by “supporters” who will make too much of something” that they only wanted a simple conversation about. 

Where any topic, term or phrase can be seen as triggering, the overwhelming response for many is self censorship.

An article in  “Everyday Feminism”,  said that the term “trigger warning” is actually a trigger  because it could “be re-traumatizing for folks who have suffered military, police, and other forms of violence.” 

In one example of “triggers”, a local council in a town in the UK banned the term “brainstorming” and replaced it with “thought showers”.  The politicians were concerned about  offending epileptics. 

With that said, I would like to “thought-shower” and amplify some voices, opinions and experiences I’ve observed over recent months and years. 


Here are some examples of the changing line of what is accepted:

In the UK, “Classic” movies like Breakfast at Tiffany’s are introduced with the warning –

“…outdated attitudes, language and cultural depictions  may cause offence today”.

I’ve seen such warnings on various re-runs of TV shows as well. It’s fascinating to see this. It reminds me of the HOT COFFEE WARNING on cups of… Hot coffee.  

“Hot Coffee will burn you”. Uhhhh, Yeah! 

We are at the point that we can’t trust common sense. Artistic Content is similar. Any expression of ideas will offend someone. These are things that we should know because we are all different and nothing is universally accepted. Nothing.

So most performers err towards silence. When silence is the only path to avoid offence, what will we become as artists and people?

John Cleese has become outspoken about political correctness in comedy. His classic, Fawlty towers had one episode pulled from shelves when the BBC removed an episode of the 1975 comedy series Fawlty Towers from iPlayer.  

Political correctness “started out as a good idea, which is, ‘Let’s not be mean to people’, and I’m in favour of that despite my age,” he told BBC in 2020.

In 2022 Cleese talked about internal criticism that stops creativity. This internal criticism is exactly what improvisers aim to remove. Unfortunately the inner doubt  becomes more amplified year after year.  

The essence of comedy is being critical“, says Cleese, “and that means causing offence sometimes. But we shouldn’t protect everyone from experiencing negative emotions by enforcing political correctness”.

Listen to his talk about how the public and the performer’s relationship is dangerously compromised.  “There are people seriously waiting for the thrill of being offended” so they can jump out to show how enlightened they are.”

 In classic literature an American school decided to remove Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from its curriculum because of the racial references author Mark Twain used.  

 And the classic Punch & Judy show puppets are targets of censorship.   More than 350 years of these characters smacking each other with their little sticks have been cancelled by a small community who claim the inappropriate hitting depicts an “abusive” relationship. 

Yes. These puppets are abusive. They also are puppets. Those who consider the puppet-chaos as a lesson to partake in the activity should be politely escorted to a more sterile environment or given the warning that “the coffee is hot”, “the puppets are cruel”. The performers don’t condone the beating.   And possibly we create a story about the negative outcome?

The Keith Johnstone improvisation “interrogation” game and the Boris game use mock violence to stop the intellectual control improvisers use to avoid vulnerability and spontaneity. The simple threat of being “whacked” by a poorly tied balloon is all it takes for improvisers to release gems of spontaneous expression.

WE KNOW THE RELATIONSHIP REFLECTS “ABUSE”!!!  But… what performance (scripted or not) does not have metaphoric or implied abuse and conflict? In the interrogation game with the questioner hitting their partners with balloons, we have an agreed upon play that brings about a mutually desired behaviour.  

Improvisers and other artists trust that any intelligent audience will recognize the play behind the mock-abusive relationship. When that understanding is lost then theatre becomes a sterilized and dishonest remnant of the fear filled rightous few.

 And this gets to the point of sexist, racist, horrible characters on stage. We need to display the villain in their full blown stupendous cruelty so that we can point to the behaviour and beat it, mock it and release the tension of a society who have been made to feel less by the tyrants, and maniacs in our world.

We have characters ironically embrace the bad behaviours so we might laugh at the evil we fear. Charlie Chaplin’s DICTATOR is a great example of the beast we wish to defeat and the mindless followers who will not think for themselves. 

The problems and cancelling often comes up when arguably stupid people agree with the racist, sexist character.  We can’t make the joke if the audience agrees with the villain.

WE KNOW that the character capturing 101 Dalmations is the baddie because we are in agreement. Children get a sense of what can be right and wrong in the world because of opinion forming performances. Adults sometimes miss the point.

What we need to do is to ban idiots, true racists and homophobes from shows. (Have I offended any racists and homophobes?). Of course they should be welcomed to our performances along with all “correct-thinking” members of society.  Maybe everyone will learn something. 

Ricky Gervais offers observations about offending people when he says,


When those with authority cross the line to protect a vocal minority then the asylum is run by the patients. And when the authority – (Artistic directors, group leaders, etc) lead from fear of offending their audience, they open the door to immature voices dictating the direction for everyone.

  • Josh Moore was banned from the xbox community for violating the gamers’ code of conduct.  Josh Moore lives in West Virginia. which is fine, but more specifically, Mr. Moore lives in FORT GAY, West Virginia. Microsoft moved by the abuse of a few deems the word “gay” as offensive.
  • Workers in Bristol have been banned from using their local dialect. They have been told to refrain from calling visitors “love” and “dear” because they could offend someone. Ohhh Dear. “Sorry love!” 
  • Santa Clause is not immune to censorship. In Australia, one community worked on banning the phrase HO HO HO as it sounded too close to an American slang for a prostitute.

This had me thinking about the language of other cultures I travel through. Could there be an attempt to ban words of other countries when we improvise?

  • Jussi Pussi? (pronounced as expected). It might offend some English speakers because of it’s refence to female genitalia, but the Finns eat it often and is as innocuous as MEGA PUSSI and MINI PUSSI. 
  • Fanny Pack  is the little pack worn around the waist to carry keys and coins in some North American communities but has its own sexual reference in Australia.
  • Only Puke? Breast Munchies? Vergina Beer? Pee Cola? My Nuts?  Would you seriously consider censoring My Nuts?? Is it fun, or is it offense? Why?

Being offended by what is common in other cultures because it could mean something else in our culture creates an interesting grey line. By cancelling a word or phrase might mean that you are offending that entire culture with your own over sensitivity.

But maybe we’ve already gone too far respecting another culture when it collides with our own

  • At Clemson University in the U.S., a diversity training course taught that it would be offensive to expect people to be on time, because “time may be considered fluid” in other cultures.-
  • An email sent to the entire school body at Pitzer college expressed that that white girls wearing hooped earrings was offensive to “the black and brown bodies who typically wear hooped earrings.”
  • And plucking eyebrows could offend  if you’re not Latina. but then Thick eyebrow styles were considered “cultural appropriation” during the 2010s, too.


It doesn’t matter what you say. It doesn’t matter what you do. Try as you might. Be educated. Be sensitive. Do what you will. You will offend someone.

An author can go back and rewrite the work if they feel they’ve stepped across the line. As improvisers, we don’t have the luxury to “re-write” our work. We can only watch offended people leave the theatre and reappear later in social media posts about that “HORRIBLY INSENSITIVE IMPROVISER!”

Sure we can “ban” topics. We can train ourselves to think before we speak. We can censor touchy topics when they come up in shows. We can limit and remove and restrict.


We can do the best we can. We can keep talking. We can have an open mind to how comedy, theatre, and life works. We can play with opinions on stage and understand that we won’t always get it right. And we can keep educating ourselves.

The worst thing we can do is to “white wash” the work of improvisation which, at its best should be a reflection of all that we are as human beings. The good, the bad and the ugly.

What do you do when you are offended? How far is far enough? How far is too far? Who are any of us to judge? How could you let something go “too far” without standing up and saying something?

It’s not an easy mine field to walk through. Most of us would argue that ISIS, destroying thousands of years of art and culture because it offended them was an example of going too far. Most of us would say that standing by passively while the innocent are tormented is shameful and does not approach what should be done. 

Our little improvisation clown shows on stage around the world feel less impactful than the examples above BUT… we live in a grey zone where things are not clear cut. 

You aren’t right. You aren’t wrong. The least you can do is be clear about that. Don’t go quiet and don’t shout down your partner in this difficult scene.

About 10 or 20 years ago, I remember hearing of a few schools in my city trying to ban competitive sports from the school system. “Competition, with it’s winners and losers is just too unfair for the children,” they argued.

 In some places they “succeeded” in eliminating sports with winners and losers.

What a lame, misguided, near-sighted, spineless direction those schools took.

Schools are the places we learn. It’s the safe testing ground for the difficult world will enter where few people care about your feelings in the professional arena. In a world filled with competition in work, in social media, at home, etc etc, the EDUCATION system should leap at the chance to form healthy relationships with difficult topics.  Blinding ourselves to the things that are difficult to deal with makes us weaker. 

Improvisation should be the same. Reflect the world. Don’t deflect.

If you are offended about anything I wrote here, it was unintentional…  Most of the time. 

And If you are interested in other examples and opinions on these topics, glance below for some of the things that were left over from these sites:

The Most Absurd PC Moments of the 2010s

A bathing-suit advertisement was criticized for being “sexist” because it depicted a woman in a bathing suit.

I thought it was normal for product advertisements to depict the product that they’re selling 


University researchers demanded that we accept people who “identify as real vampires.”

Apparently, it’s the least we can do to prevent anti-vampire discrimination.

A Seattle-area councilman was concerned about the city hosing poop off of its sidewalks because he thought that it might seem too racially insensitive.

The area in question reportedly stank like “urine and excrement” — but one councilman was worried that hosing it down could be a microaggression.

 A professor claimed that the small chairs in preschools are sexist, “disempowering,” and “problematic.” 

Apparently, it makes no difference that preschoolers are small people.

 Lecturers were warned that capital letters might scare students and that they should avoid using them. 

Journalism lecturers at Leeds Trinity University were instructed to avoid using all caps when communicating with students, because it might make them too afraid to do the assignment.

Would you be offended by a bag of poo?
Reviews call these snack foods, "seriously crappy!"
Finland has Jussi Pussi, and Mini Pussi.
My favourite is this bag of MEGAPUSSI!
Don't be offended if the only snack is
A little Cock for dinner?
...and perhaps some



Steve Harvey cancel culture

Dr. Janet Albrechtsen

Lionel Shriver