Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Navy Defends Country From Comedy

As a comedian, I hate jokes that are moronic, low brow, mean spirited and geared to the lowest common denominator. Which pretty much describes the excerpts of the videos by Captain Owen Honors which led the Navy to fire him this week.

If Captain Honors openly discriminated against gay soldiers under his command, and created the videos to foster an environment where gay sailors felt uncomfortable, his removal is the right thing to do.

But if the videos were simply the work of an unfunny, uncreative Captain, who thought gay jokes and sex jokes in general would make his sailors laugh, perhaps we should slow our rush to judgment. Because what is tasteless and offensive to one person can be a belly laugh for someone else. And I have the personal experience to back that up. Early in my career, I was working with the legendary Andrew Dice Clay, whom I met through comedy and consider to be a nice guy. His comedy persona is considered by many to be offensive, but on that night at a comedy club on Long Island, my political jokes about then President Reagan drew hisses and boos, while the Diceman's four letter tirades against women and other groups were greeted with a standing ovation.

Comedy should never have to be defended. It should be laughed at, hissed at or reacted to with silence. So if Captain Honors treated his sailors equally, with respect and appreciation, and confined his ignorance to stupid jokes, then he should not have been fired.

Of course, in keeping with the climate of our times, he won't have the chance to answer whether or not the videos were representative of any deep seeded negativity towards gay people, or simply the work of someone with a rather stupid sense of humor.

Last year, three personalities were abruptly fired after comments deemed to be offensive. Helen Thomas, Rick Sanchez and Juan Williams never had the chance to tell us if they stood by what they said, or felt the need for clarification. In an open society, we should reserve judgment and consequences until we know what the person really thinks. And even if they stand by opinions we find distasteful, not every situation calls for punishment and excommunication.

There are things I find offensive, distasteful and reprehensible. The deception in the rush to war in Iraq based on lies from our President, Vice President and other government figures. And the despicable embrace of torture, to this day, by Bush, Cheney and others. That is the kind of thinking and behavior that sets a bad example, and is a total failure of leadership.

If Captain Honors was a bad commander who treated gay sailors in a less respectful manner than everyone else, and harbored any ill will towards them, he has no place in the military. But if it was simply a case of making videos that were dumb and not funny, he deserved a chance to explain himself.