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In-law jokes ruled protected speech

Wed., May 5, 2010

LOS ANGELES – A standup comedian who was sued for making mother-in-law jokes has had the last laugh after a federal judge threw the case out of court.

Sunda Croonquist, whose shtick for years has been to describe her life as a half-black, half-Swedish woman who marries into a Jewish family, was sued two years ago after her mother-in-law, sister-in-law and brother-in-law said her jokes were holding them up to public ridicule.

In a 21-page ruling issued Friday, U.S. District Judge Mary L. Cooper of New Jersey concluded that the examples they cited – including one in which Croonquist says her sister-in-law’s voice sounds like a cat in heat – fell under the category of protected speech.

Many of the jokes, Cooper said, were clearly statements of opinion and not fact and therefore protected by the First Amendment. The cat-in-heat joke, the judge said, quoting from a previous court decision, was “colorful, figurative rhetoric that reasonable minds would not take to be factual.”

Croonquist, who is appearing at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood on Saturday night, said her audience should expect to hear more in-law jokes.

“In honor of Henny Youngman, why would I stop?” she asked, citing the legendary comedian whose signature line was “Take my wife – please.”


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