Legally Weird - The FindLaw Legal Curiosities Blog

The Last Laugh: Comedian's Jokes Are Protected Speech

A standup comedian, Sunda Croonquist, can continue telling jokes about her mother-in-law as they are protected speech. Now, she gets the last laugh.

A judge sided with the comic who is half-black, half-Swedish and threw out the case brought against her for making her Jewish mother-in-law the butt of her jokes in her stand-up routine, the Associated Press reports.

For background on the lawsuit and to see the original complaint, see FindLaw's Courtside.

According to the ruling, the comic's jokes have been categorized as protected speech.

In general, protected speech is the right guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to express beliefs and ideas without unwarranted government restriction.

U.S. District Judge Mary L. Cooper of New Jersey concluded that many of the jokes were clearly statements of opinion and not fact and therefore protected by the First Amendment.

Croonquist's family, including her mother-in-law, sister-in-law and brother-in-law sued her two years ago.

In one of her jokes, she says her sister-in-law's voice sounds like a cat in heat, but according to the 21-page ruling issued, that too fell under the category of protected speech.

Her family augured that Croonquist's material was holding them up to public ridicule.

"Can you imagine, Rodney Dangerfield not being able to make a mother-in-law joke," Croonquist said in an interview with the media. "I was petrified. Suppose I lost, there would be no mother-in-law jokes."

Another legal twist in this story is that Croonquist's husband, Mark Zafrin, is a partner in the law firm which represented her.

The comedian plans to continue telling more in-law jokes during her performances around the country, including at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood.

Croonquist says the ruling is a victory for all comedians.