24 October 2019

Free Exchange: Konstantin Kisin on free speech in comedy


With the support of the Atlas Network, CapX is publishing a new series of essays, podcasts and interviews on the theme of Illiberalism in Europe, looking at the different threats to liberal economies and societies across the continent, from populism to protectionism and corruption.

CapX Editor John Ashmore speaks to comedian Konstantin Kisin about growing up in the Soviet Union, the perils of policing free speech and the worrying role of big tech companies in censoring debate.

Konstantin Kisin on…growing up in Soviet Russia

I grew up in the dying days of the Soviet Union, in this very oppressive, restrictive society which only 20 or 30 years prior had been sending people to the gulags and to mental institutions to be shot for having the wrong opinion. So when you introduce me as a free speech advocate, I don’t really consider myself an advocate. I just think that free speech was precisely the reason that my parents did everything they could to get me to the West – it’s one of the great things about the West.

My parents would have a chat with me before they sent me to school to say, you must not discuss the things that we talked about around the kitchen table at school because that would mean you and us and other members of our family getting in trouble and this is in the late 1980s, this isn’t 1930 Stalinist Russia, this is the recent past.

On…freedom of speech

We we are in this crazy place now where, like I say anyone who disagrees with this kind of hyper liberal Orthodoxy is automatically an Nazi, and it’s just a way to not have to deal with what they’re saying.

It is now a right wing issue to be pro free speech. But that isn’t where the country is at. That’s where the media world is at.

It boggles my mind that, increasingly, a lot of people don’t view the freedom to express your opinions and beliefs as a fundamental part of what it means to be a member of Western civilization.

On…capitalism and the appeal of socialism

I understand why young people would have not much truck with capitalism at the moment  – we now live in a society where as a young person, your chances of ever having capital are slim to none.

And what we’re seeing now, I think, is a response to certain excesses and problems of crony capitalism, where the power and money and wealth and influence become concentrated in the hands of a very small number of people, and ordinary people feel locked out of that. And when that happens, you will get problems and therefore you will get people clamouring for these ideas that have never worked.


There are no topics that should be out of bounds for comedy.

There’s some extremist people who want to create safe spaces in the comedy world. There’s a guy who runs a comedy night in London, where, like the audience members get handed out stickers, and if they’ve got a sticker that means that you can talk to them as the comedian and if they haven’t got a sticker then you can’t.

On…tech companies and social media

Anything to do with feminism, anything to do with the race, anything to do with trans rights, anything to do with contentious issues, like let’s say, the grooming gangs in this country  – those videos get demonetized by Youtube and de-ranked by social media companies. They close down debate.

John Ashmore is the Acting Editor of CapX