Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rush To Judgement

One of the toughest gigs for a comedian is the White House Correspondents Dinner. Trying to make Democrats, Republicans, liberal and conservative reporters, and celebrities who don't read the newspaper, all laugh at the same time is even harder than getting John Boehner to smile. And your opening act is the President of the United States, who watches your show in a seat five feet away.

I thought Wanda Sykes did a great job Saturday night. She got steady, consistent laughs, and even some applause breaks. And when the crowd groaned on occasion, she got them laughing again by saying "Too much?"

The outcry about her Rush Limbaugh jokes ignored the fact that she joked about Democrats and Republicans and the President and Michelle Obama as well. And while critics focused on her morbid Limbaugh reference, they didn't mention her equally morbid reference to Presidential succession and Nancy Pelosi. And they left out the many witty jokes and insightful satirical remarks she made about torture and other topics.

Those who say Sykes went over the line with her Limbaugh jokes, should be asked how many times Limbaugh himself goes over the line with mean and often factually incorrect innuendo on his radio program. None of these critics are suggesting Limbaugh's words be silenced yet they think Sykes' jokes should have been censored.

Comedy is the most subjective of art forms. What one finds funny another might deem offensive. Case in point. Early in my career, I was performing on a show with Andrew Dice Clay, a nice guy whose stage persona includes material about women and ethnic groups, considered by many to be offensive. I am a political comedian who uses no "dirty" language and doesn't go after minority groups and women. Yet that night, I was hissed for my Reagan jokes and Clay got a standing ovation. That night, I was the offensive comedian.

I have worked with Wanda many times, and think she is a very talented comedian and a warm, funny person as well. Her humor tends to be blunt, pointed and in-your-face, as the Limbaugh lines attest to. She wasn't joking about September 11 itself, nor was she wishing for Limbaugh to die. These were jokes, over the top to be sure, but not over the line. Because the intent was to make people laugh, not to hurt anyone. And in the end, her jokes were the gift that keeps on giving for Limbaugh, who will milk her routine on the air for the next few weeks. Which is his right. Because both Limbaugh and Sykes are entertainers. To me, there is nothing remotely funny or entertaining about Limbaugh. And I find Wanda Sykes to be very funny, even if some of her jokes are not my kind of humor.

This is America folks. Laugh at what you think is funny. And if you're not laughing, turn the channel. But don't stop other people from laughing. Whatever we comedians say, in the end we're just men and women trying to make people happy.

But if you want to talk offensive and mean, let's go back to the 2004 White House Correspondents Dinner when President Bush narrated a slide show depicting him looking around the Oval Office for weapons of mass destruction. And like in Iraq, not finding any. The media assembled that night roared with laughter, as complicit then as they were in the run up to the war where they hardly challenged the Bush Administration's unfounded and manipulative case for war. There was little outcry then about President Bush making jokes about the fact that the whole basis for invading Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, was a false one.

Rush Limbaugh jokes may or may not be funny to you, but going to war under false pretenses and then joking about it, shouldn't be funny to anyone.