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The Freedom Issue

Vol. 63, NO. 6 — July/August 2016

State Of America

  • Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Chelsea Handler
  • Patton Oswalt
  • Killer Mike
  • Wiz Khalifa
  • Krist Novoselic

The Jokes That Set Us Free

  • Lewis Black
  • Louis C.K.
  • Joan Rivers
  • Chris Rock
  • Whitney Cummings

The Conservative Sex Movement

by Hugh M. Hefner

We Can All Be More Free

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We Can All Be More Free

In this, our Freedom Issue, we look at what it means to be an American today. Across 11 essays, we consider the state of freedom in the U.S.—from our sexual liberties and civil rights to our ability to screw it all up

by Jason Buhrmester

One year ago, after the Supreme Court announced its decision to effectively legalize gay marriage, President Barack Obama addressed the ruling from the White House Rose Garden, telling the crowd, "When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free."

"More free" is accurate, because in America, freedom often comes in degrees. Freedom to vote doesn't mean the political system won't suppress your ballot based on your political beliefs or skin color. Our freedom to use technology comes at a hefty cost to our privacy as we allow government and corporations to monitor what we do and where we go. The sexual liberties, personal freedoms and constitutional rights we enjoy as Americans are constantly being calibrated, recalibrated and occasionally outright threatened.

In honor of the anniversary of that Supreme Court opinion and this tumultuous election year, we asked a range of contributors to look at the state of our freedoms and, wherever possible, to suggest ways to increase their expression. Because Americans, as we've learned, can always be more free.

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The Conservative Sex Movement

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The Conservative Sex Movement

Fifty years later, Republicans face their own sexual revolution

by Hugh M. Hefner
elephant man

Every four years, a new crop of conservative presidential candidates barges into American bedrooms, looking to police what you do and with whom you do it. These politicians, eager to cater to religious voters, campaign on promises to eliminate access to birth control, ban abortion, pass discriminatory laws against gays, and regulate or outright ban any lifestyle or preference that doesn't fit into their Christian crusade to eliminate all sexual activity that doesn’t lead to procreation. In the 50 years since the triumph of the sexual revolution, I have personally watched this fight over and over again: conservative candidates stepping on our sexual freedoms to reach the White House.

This year, no candidate beat the drum of sexual repression longer and louder than Ted Cruz. The Texas senator has spent his entire political career attempting to force his puritanical agenda into our sex lives. During his time in the Senate, Cruz has proposed bans on IUDs and other forms of birth control he refers to as "abortion- inducing drugs," arguing that women don't need access to such methods because "we don't have a rubber shortage in America." He has attacked laws that protect women from being fired by their employers for using birth control, opposed abortion even in cases of rape or incest, proposed an amendment banning same-sex marriage and promoted anti-LGBT legislation. Last year, Cruz attempted to orchestrate a government shutdown unless Planned Parenthood was defunded and promised that, if elected president, he would have the health care organization investigated by the Department of Justice as a "criminal enterprise."

And yet despite Cruz's fanatical fixation on our sex lives, he failed to win the Republican nomination. Polls show that voters found Cruz too conservative and failed to embrace his views on sex, women's rights and gays. Instead, voters nominated Donald Trump, a thrice-married New York entrepreneur who once owned the Miss USA pageant, over Cruz, the son of a pastor. It's a sign of the massive changes in the "family values party" and proof of what I've watched building over the past several months: a sexual revolution in the Republican Party. Read More!


My Choice

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My Choice

Roe v. Wade has helped women determine their own destinies for more than 40 years. So stop fighting it; it’s not going anywhere

by Chelsea Handler

When I got pregnant at the age of 16, getting an abortion wasn’t the first idea that popped into my unripened brain.

I was going through a very bad stage in my life. I hated my parents and I was having unprotected sex with my boyfriend, who was not someone I should've been, having sex with in the first place, never mind unprotected sex. I wasn't really playing with a full deck of cards, and when I got pregnant I just thought, Why not? I can have a baby. Maybe I'll have twins and give them rhyming names! Of course, the idea that I would have a child and raise it by myself at that age, when I couldn't even find my way home at night, was ridiculous. My parents recognized that, so they acted like parents for one of the very first times in my life and took me to Planned Parenthood. I felt parented, ironically, while I was getting an abortion. And when it was over, I was relieved in every possible way.

And I didn’t have just one abortion; I had two in the same year, impregnated by the same guy. I didn’t have the money the second time. I had to scrape together the $230 to pay Planned Parenthood, but it was a safe abortion. Getting unintentionally pregnant more than once is irresponsible, but it's still necessary to make a thoughtful decision. We all make mistakes all the time. I happened to fuck up twice at the age of 16. I'm grateful that I came to my senses and was able to get an abortion legally without risking my health or bankrupting myself or my family. I'm 41 now. I don't ever look back and think, God, I wish I'd had that baby.

Like millions of women, I can live my life without an unplanned child born out of an unhealthy relationship because of Roe v. Wade. It's infuriating to hear politicians make bogus promises about overturning this ruling that has protected us for more than 40 years. It's infuriating to hear them pander to the Christian right with promises they have no chance of keeping. (By the way: Even if there is a God, I highly doubt he wants everybody to go through with their pregnancies.) And it's even more infuriating to watch politicians find ways to subvert Roe v. Wade, passing lesser laws that close clinics or restrict abortion access for women. At least five states—Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming—currently have only one clinic left within their borders. Read More!


You Gotta Fight For Your Right To F%@k Up

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You Gotta Fight For Your Right To F%@k Up

It's time to stop using the mistakes of individuals as an excuse to judge entire groups

by Patton Oswalt
pencil car

The most important—and nebulous—freedom that's up for grabs in 2016 and beyond is this: the freedom not to be the exemplar of your race, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, hair color, height, gluten sensitivity, etc.

In other words, the freedom to fuck up and not have it cost the rest of your peer group.

The Jackie Robinson Story is being replayed, in a hundred huge and a thousand tiny ways, every single day in this country. A black person or a woman or a gay person or a transgender person or a poor person or a Muslim—if one of them stumbles in any attempt? If they misspeak or act impulsively or otherwise royally screw up? That error is applied to the entirety of their population. If they fail? That failure sets their entire group back a dozen steps.

"See how that one woman got emotional? It’s how they all are."

"See how that one Muslim guy went on a rampage? They’re all ready to pounce, just like that."

"Check out this one redneck and his backward, homophobic views. They’re all that way down South."

The examples are endless, and they don't belong to any single point on the political spectrum. Hillary Clinton isn't 100 percent perfect in the decisions she’s made in her long political career, so no woman should be president. A mentally unstable individual finds justification for his bloodlust in the Koran, so all of Islam is a religion of death. The elected representatives of North Carolina— to the surprise of a majority of their constituency— pass laws discriminating against LGBT people, and the entire South is a fundamentalist, homophobic and transphobic wasteland. Read More!


Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Ta-Nehisi Coates

Making the case that the United States goverment owes black people for what it has done to them is an unlikely way to become a household name, but that's what Ta-Nehisi Coates did two years ago.

by Bomani Jones
Photography by Jork Weismann
I want the notion of “the voice” for black folks completely obliterated.

"The Case for Reparations" was the cover story of the June 2014 issue of The Atlantic, and the publication says the piece brought more unique visitors to its site in a single day than any other magazine story it had ever run. Coates's thorough defense of a revolutionary idea became a star turn.

Then came Between the World and Me, a 176-page essay that doubles as a letter to his now 15-year-old son. In it, Coates covers police brutality, spirituality and coming-of-age in ways that capture how much has and hasn’t changed since his adolescence.

They tell me I'm wrong, and that's cool. I look for that. I still feel like a student.

Focusing on all the things that threaten black bodies and the fear produced by that condition, he soberly reports on the struggles inextricably linked to blackness, trading the traditional tale of freedom and redemption for one supported by history instead of hope. The book was instantly hailed as a masterpiece, yielding its author a National Book Award and a MacArthur Fellowship and ending up as a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Coates went from simply being critically acclaimed to being compared to James Baldwin by no less an authority than Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison.

He's as shocked by all this as anyone else. A Kanye-esque college dropout sharing stages with some of the world's preeminent scholars just six years after losing three jobs in seven years? That would be enough to drive the average intellectual past the point of hubris. But not Coates, who seems unable to process his current success without keeping an intimate acquaintance with tougher times.

Read More!
Miss July

Ali Michael

bunny Miss July


Photography By
Jason Lee Parry
ali michael
My Favorite Artist

“I love the Austrian painter Egon Schiele. Sometimes I’ll go to a museum and not feel much, but when I saw a Schiele show at New York City’s Neue Galerie, I wanted to spend the entire day there. That tells you how much his work resonates. It’s weirdly uncomfortable to look at, yet delicate and beautiful.”

The Most Unattractive Trait

“Anyone who's always overly polite bores me. That’s how you know they're bullshitting you.”

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Wiz Khalifa

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Wiz Khalifa

The Pittsburgh-raised rapper and weed entrepreneur smoked a mere two joints before this interview. Clarity ensues as he takes on everything from cops to Kanye

By Jeff Weiss
Photography By Todd Cole
wiz khalifa

You will have released two albums by the end of this year. Khalifa came out in February, and Rolling Papers 2: The Weed Album will drop later this summer. What phase are you in right now as an artist?

Khalifa: I'm in the reinvention stage, like when Justin Bieber was a child and then transformed himself into a different person but one who was still successful. I was a streetwear brand, and now I'm a high-end designer. People are going to accept me as a grown man. A lot of people don't even know I'm only 28 because I'm kind of ageless.


Your song "Black and Yellow" reached number one on Billboard and was nominated for two Grammys. Did you know it would be a huge hit?

Khalifa: I actually did. It was crazy. As soon as they played the beat, I thought of the hook in two seconds. After [2010 mixtape] Kush & Orange Juice, I knew I had to switch up my style and do something different, but how could I do that and make the label and myself happy? So I wrote a bunch of songs about the first thing I thought of—whether it was corny or stupid, I was going to record it. But once we recorded "Black and Yellow," the label went back and forth on it. I was like, "Man, that's the song. That song is the shit." They waited all summer for me to try to record other shit, and still I was like, "That's the song!" I took it back to Pittsburgh, played it for a roomful of people and was like, "This is my new single." They were so excited to hear it. Then when I played it, they were like, "Damn, he about to lose again."

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Miss August

Valerie Van Der Graaf

bunny Miss August

Valerie Van Der Graaf

Photography By David Bellemere
ali michael
My Athletic Side

“I'm not the best at sports, but I do love watching soccer. In 2012 I got tickets to the Olympic goldmedal women's hockey match between Argentina and the Netherlands. I went with three other Dutch women, all wearing orange, and the Netherlands won! We celebrated all night.”

But First, Wine

“The best thing about traveling in France, Italy or Spain is that you can go into any café and get an amazing glass of wine for four euros—practically nothing. Wine is cheaper there than Diet Coke, so why not drink it?”

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The Wildest Craziest Most Offensive...

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The Wildest Craziest Most Offensive & F**cked-up Jokes Ever Told

Today's comedians talk about the jokes that took on taboos, broke barriers and left us cringing–and laughing

By Jeremy Elias
joan rivers

Natasha Leggero:

Joan Rivers on Abortion

Comedy is all about perspective and time period. You watch Lenny Bruce's act now, and you don't understand how it got him arrested. Things have changed so much. But when you look at context, it's Joan Rivers talking about abortion on television. She couldn't even call it abortion! She had to call it an appendectomy. She had a joke about a woman who had 14 appendectomies, and Joan's own manager took her aside and said she shouldn't tell those types of jokes. In her documentary she remembers how Jack Lemmon left her show and was like, "That's disgusting. Women shouldn't talk like that."

Today, if something's not politically correct, or if it's bad, it doesn't matter if it comes from a man or a woman. But back then, being a woman who talked about things like abortion and sex was just not done. Joan Rivers is definitely the first person I know of who did.

The best comics have always gone against the norm. Men at that time were probably afraid of women talking like that. But abortion is something a lot of women can relate to. They have the potential to have, they have had or they're scared they're going to have an abortion. It's part of being a woman. Of course females will joke about that.

Comedians go through life saying the things other people are afraid to say, so obviously they're going to go into the territory of taboo subjects. Sure, you can go around being PC, making sure you don't offend anyone. But the kind of comics I like, and the kind of comedic minds I'm drawn to, are the people who say what everyone is thinking. And they're able to frame ideas in a way that’s not only enlightening and intelligent but also hilarious.

joan rivers
Chris Rock

Jay Mohr:

Chris Rock on Race

Chris Rock. Checkmate, Chris Rock. Chris Rock stood in front of a black audience while filming a special. He said, "I love black people; I hate niggers." Like I said, this was in front of a black audience. They're all laughing, but you know he’s a comedian, so there’s an explanation to come. So you're just sitting there thinking, Um, what is happening?

Look, everybody wants to say Lenny Bruce was this pioneer. Lenny Bruce was whacked out on speed, reading his own court transcripts onstage until people left. I could do that if I did speed—because I wouldn't care about anything but more speed.

But to stand in front of a black audience and tell them what's wrong with your entire race, citing specifics—checkmate. No matter who else says what in this article, no matter what you think after finishing this piece, just circle back to Chris Rock and see if it's ballsier than what he did.

It wasn't like he did the bit at a nightclub. It was a filmed special! There are signs outside saying, "If you enter the premises, you are agreeing to be filmed for HBO." And he just explains to hundreds of black people what he hates about them. It's astoundingly ballsy. It's other level. George Carlin probably went, "Wow!"

If you're a comedian and you're not doing something ballsy, go do something else, man. Nobody buys a comedy ticket to hear about how wacky the airlines are.


penn jillette:

Gilbert Gottfried and a private conversation

The importance of obscenity and disgust in the wake of tragedy is really important to me. I did a whole movie about it, a 90-minute essay about Gilbert telling the aristocrats joke after 9/11. But I’m not leading with a story about a publicly funny thing.

Gilbert and I are both mama’s boys. We were both extremely close to our mothers. When my mom died, it was devastating. Then about a year and a half later, Gilbert's mom died. As stricken as I was about the death of my mom, Gilbert was more stricken about the death of his. I talked to Gilbert on the phone and went to New York City to see him. And what happened that evening—I've never spoken about this publicly— I can’t explain.

Gilbert and I met for supper at Café Un Deux Trois, a French restaurant. We went to a back table. This was within a week of his mom's death, one-on-one with a friend who'd also lost his mom. You'd expect Gilbert to maybe tell stories about his mom, maybe get a bit philosophical.

But what we did was sit across from each other and just vomit up the most offensive jokes we could think of. Now, when you talk about Gilbert Gottfried, it's hard to even imagine the level he would go to. We went to every taboo in society. It's not an exaggeration to say that if that conversation had been recorded and disseminated with our names on it, it would be the end of both our careers.

I'm talking about sexist, racist, any sort of distasteful, horrible feeling. We sat back there for probably three hours. And the jokes weren't punctuation; it wasn't that we would say, "Oh, and by the way.…" It was talking about raping his dead mother. It was anything you could imagine that was taboo. It was just this gigantic, raging fuck-you to life. It was black vomit of hate spewing out of us, punctuated with insane, mirthless laughter. It was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life.

Although I was in the middle of it, neither Gilbert nor I instigated it. Neither Gilbert nor I were part of it. Neither of us knew what was going on. Yet we were the only ones there.

It was the most visceral, personal interaction with comedy I've ever had. It wasn't comedy used in the way I'd seen it used before. It wasn't "We went to the wake and we were telling jokes to stop from crying." That wasn't it at all. It was not a celebration of our mothers' lives. It was pure hatred for everything unpleasant in the world.

I've thought about that evening many times since. It was our way of throwing a tantrum, destroying a hotel room. It was our way of grabbing a gun and running amok in public. It strikes me as a wonderfully safe, kind, cathartic way to do it. And it remains that way—as long as I never repeat the jokes.

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The Gospel According To Paul

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The Gospel According To Paul

In which we praise Ghostbusters director Paul Feig for challenging the way Hollywood handles freaks, geeks and funny women

By Neal Gabler
Photography By Dan Monick

When Paul Feig, the enormously successful director of the comedies Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy, arrives on the set of the female-led Ghostbusters reboot he’s making in a cavernous football-field-size former Reebok warehouse off a lonely road in suburban Boston, it’s hard to know what to make of him. Among the crew in their sneakers and T-shirts, Feig— who’s six feet tall but so erect he looks taller and who speaks in a rich baritone that slices through the din—stands out in an impeccably fitted burgundy three-piece Savile Row suit from Anderson & Sheppard, with a matching polka-dot tie and a gold-headed walking stick. He's so well gotten-up, in the sort of outfit nobody outside Downton Abbey wears anymore, right down to the boutonniere in his lapel, that you might mistake him for a parody of the well-dressed man. Or you might figure that anyone who dresses so meticulously and anachronistically, so 19th century formal (who carries a walking stick these days?), must be some sort of geek.

I'm not interested in the problems of men. I've seen them portrayed ad nauseam.

And on this last point you'd be right.
Feig (pronounced FEEG) is not only a geek, he's a proud, self-professed geek. He earned this reputation with the much-loved and critically revered 1999 high school TV series Freaks and Geeks, which he created and which introduced audiences to James Franco, Seth Rogen and Jason Segel. Now, at 53, Feig is a master of the Hollywood universe. Although he's arguably the best comedy director around, he doesn't look like a Hollywood heavyweight, doesn't act like one and, he'll be quick to tell you, doesn't feel like one. The Beau Brummell clothes aren't the only things that make him different, though he admits they're another way he's out of sync with Hollywood: He used to wear jeans and T-shirts to meetings with the so-called suits, then decided he'd meet them on their own sartorial turf by wearing suits too. It was the very moment the suits did a 180 and decided to dress down. "And it immediately became this thing," he says, "where they're like, 'Here's this rube who's got his Sunday suit on.' "

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Artist In Residence

Molly Crabapple

bunny Artist In Residence

Molly Crabapple

by Art Spiegelman

I first met Molly Crabapple, the sexy goth girl next door—she'd be as comfortable in the PLAYBOY of yore as she is in this feature—at an alt-comix festival in lower Manhattan about eight years ago. At the time, she was drawing an erotic fin-de-siècle-styled comic book about a Jewish fire-eating burlesque queen named Scarlett O’Herring. Molly, who had actually worked as a fire-eating burlesque queen herself while a struggling art student, soon figured out that comix was a sucker's game: One usually gets paid far less for making lots of illustrations on a page than for drawing just one. "Comix required a work ethic I didn't have," she tells me.

Comix required a work ethic I didn't have.

Living across from Zuccotti Park when it was ground zero for the Occupy movement radicalized her—though if the personal is political, she always had a heightened political awareness— and Molly reinvented herself (she’s done a lot of that) as an artist-reporter engagé. She’s an accomplished writer (her jazzy memoir, Drawing Blood, proves that), but her journalistic drawings return art to its Goya-like function of announcing, "I saw this."

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