Mad magazine editor makes case for free speech
Mark Mulligan / The Herald
Joe Raiola, senior editor of Mad magazine, recounts participating in an air-raid drill during his childhood in the early 1960s during his presentation "The Joy of Censorship" at the Everett Public Library on Wednesday evening. Raiola cited second grade as the year he learned his first lesson about free speech.
In third grade, he was told to practice his penmanship. He was writing "hell" over and over, when he realized the teacher was coming his way.
Raiola, now a senior editor at Mad magazine, had been kicked out of Catholic school the previous year for cursing at a nun. He got scared and self-censored.
"I added an 'o' to each 'hell,' " Raiola, 53, said, turning the word into a friendly hello.
Raiola, a New York City resident, visited the Everett Public Library Wednesday night to perform his one-man show, "The Joy of Censorship." He plans to reprise the R-rated performance tonight at the Monroe Library as part of National Library Week.
Raiola probably wouldn't appreciate being given an R-rating. After all, much of his show portrayed ratings as absurd.
"I'm proud to tell you that this show is unrated," he said.
Like George Carlin, a hero of his, the Mad editor was draining loaded words of their power by saying them, over and over again.
He began the night on high-minded ground, quoting Henry Miller, author of the famously banned "Tropic of Cancer."
He raised his voice, stalking the stage of the library auditorium, swinging an arm out to nail a point. He told the crowd it was dumb to censor books and movies.
The performance wasn't about hectoring an appreciative audience of about 60, of course. As the show went on, he told more and more jokes, sometimes mining his job at Mad magazine for humor.
For instance, he got to work one day, and there was a phone message from a Pakistani reader. The reader was offended by a joke Raiola wrote. It involved putting Muhammad into a pancake.
The call came at an unsettling time. A political cartoon that portrayed Muhammad in an unflattering light had incited riots overseas. Raiola wasn't too concerned, though.
"I don't think a jihadist would have called," he said.
He pointed to Mad magazine again to argue against censorship. The magazine began as comic. When censors tried to shut it down, claiming it was harming young minds, publisher William Gaines switched its format.
"The word 'magazine' is a beautiful word," Raiola said.
Raiola's point was clear: censorship doesn't work. Curse words can't be stopped. They may not make it onto broadcast television, he said, but they are out there, on premium stations and on satellite radio.
"In other words," he said, "you can get free speech if you pay for it.'
Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455, email@example.com.
Hear him again
Mad magazine senior editor Joe Raiola is scheduled to speak at 7 tonight at the Monroe Library, 1070 Village Way; 360-794-7851. The event is free.