Former Mad Magazine editor speaks on First Amendment in Great Falls

site-masthead-logo-dark@2x.png

BY TRACI ROSENBAUM

You won’t find many people from New York who are happier to be coming to Great Falls than Joe Raiola.

For over 30 years, Raiola was a contributing member of the editorial staff for Mad Magazine. Now, he travels the country talking to folks about free speech and the First Amendment.

“I spent pretty much my entire adult life — if you could call being editor of Mad Magazine having an adult life — at Mad,” said Raiola. “Given Mad’s history, the First Amendment and free speech have long been something that has been really important to me.”

 

Great Falls is one of the stops on Raiola’s speaking tour titled “The Joy of Censorship: Free Speech in the Age of Trump.” The event is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, June 14, at the Great Falls Public Library.

In two decades of speaking, this is Raiola’s first public appearance in Great Falls.

Founded in 1952, Mad Magazine satirizes all aspects of American life, from politics to entertainment to public figures. It’s well-known for its gap-toothed cartoon icon Alfred E. Neuman.

“Mad was created as a magazine in an era of tremendous censorship,” said Raiola. “I kind of think of Mad as a comedy writer’s revenge because in an era of tremendous repression, there was this magazine that revolutionized comedy and revolutionized satire. It’s kind of proof, also, that in the long run, censorship doesn’t really work.”

For Raiola, it’s always been the comedy writers and comedians who stood on the front lines of the battle against censorship, stretching the boundaries of the First Amendment and daring to criticize those in power.

“Without free speech, you have no satire, and without satire, you have a dictatorship,” he said.

Although his speaking engagement’s title is about censorship and free speech under President Donald Trump, Raiola discusses the subject from many angles under many regimes. He even dives into how the First Amendment relates to the Second Amendment.

“In a way, (the First Amendment) is under constant attack and scrutiny. It’s got to be redefined in every era,” Raiola said. “I think those two amendments are central to the way we talk about ourselves as a culture.”

Raiola’s subject matter is volatile, but he knows he’s making people think when he can stir up people from both sides of the aisle.

“I especially like performing in red states,” he said. “I’ve been walked out on in California and Mississippi over the many years I’ve been doing this. It’s the job of the satirist to expose truth through humor, no matter who’s in power.”

Throughout his long career, one of the moments working at Mad that stands out most to Raiola is the shooting at “Charlie Hebdo,” a French satirical weekly newspaper that was targeted by a terrorist attack in 2015 that killed 12 people and injured 11 others.

“Everyone at Mad, we all felt that it could have been us,” Raiola said, “and it had already been made clear to us at that time that publishing satiric cartoons could be a dangerous game.”

The incident made Raiola and his fellow writers take stock of the importance of what they do. He wrote a statement in support of the publication and appeared in public to deliver it.

“Talk about an important free speech issue,” he said. "The idea that you could potentially be murdered for expressing your opinion in a cartoon is a pretty chilling thing. But I’ve got to tell you something, it didn’t stop us.”

Raiola is also proud of Mad’s influence with young readers, its continued ability to be sharp politically and its dedication to unapologetic satire.

IMG_1003.jpg

Joe Raiola: Nonprofit President Helps Cancer Fighters Find Harmony Through John Lennon's Music

Spectrum_News_NY1.png

BY PAT KIERNAN

Even for just a small audience, Judith Caporale gives a passionate performance.

A proud Joe Raiola watches as she does what she loves.

She wasn't sure she'd ever be able to sing and dance again after doctors discovered a brain tumor in 2012.

Raiola's "John Lennon Real Love Project" is a free songwriting workshop for cancer fighters and survivors. 

Since joining, Caporale has built confidence and once again feels at home in the spotlight. 

"This has given me life," she said.

Raiola is the president and artistic director of the nonprofit "Theatre Within." He launched these workshops in 2014, first at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore and now at Gilda's Club in Greenwich Village.

Raiola's love for John Lennon inspired him to use his music as medicine, lifting the participants' spirits through song.

"One of the things about John is, he was not just a great artist and a singer/songwriter and a rockstar, he was an activist, and he had an important message, and part of that message was giving a damn," Raiola said.

Participants are given a guitar and, over the course of a few months, learn the basics of songwriting through Lennon's music.

"The workshop participants are really inspired by John because he frees them. He gives them permission to write about whatever they want to write about," Raiola said.

Raiola says watching people’s growth over the course of the workshop is proof that life doesn't have to stop after a cancer diagnosis.

"I'm touched by people's bravery to be fully expressed. And it is a leap of faith, the creative journey of the heart, of the voice and to be full and to take that risk of really being yourself on the page or on the stage."

So, for helping these cancer fighters find harmony in their lives, Joe Raiola is the latest New Yorker of the Week.