Opinion: Leave De Niro (and Limbaugh) (and Coulter) (and Maher) Alone!

I know a thing or two about “inappropriate” humor. I have a Rihanna joke that no reputable outlet will print to this day.

But I judged the sixth annual Broadway Beauty Pageant at Symphony Space on Monday night – well, I judged it from the audience at least – and something that happened there reminded me of this hot new trend of outrageous outrage at run-of-the-mill comedy.  

You know what I mean.

The latest example is the exchange that Robert De Niro had with the crowd at an Obama fundraiser that same night in NYC:

De Niro: “Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney. Now do you really think our country’s ready for a white First Lady?” 

Crowd: “No!”

De Niro: “Too soon, right?”

HotAir.com’s Tina Korbe called De Niro’s joke racist and Newt Gingrich called it “inexcusable,” prompting Michelle Obama to issue a statement in which she deemed it “inappropriate.” It’s not inappropriate. But whatever.

Then there’s Fluke-gate.

Two weeks ago, Rush Limbaugh called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a slut in the midst of a comic riff after her statement to Congress about the alleged high price of contraception.

He apologized, but outrageous outrage ensued regardless, with Obama calling Fluke to commiserate, 53 percent of the public wanting Rush fired according to a Bloomberg poll, and Gloria Allred pushing to have him prosecuted for slander under some archaic Florida law.

Ann Coulter and Bill Maher have been victims of it too at one point or another.

But I thought of this at the Broadway Beauty Pageant because of a little exchange that comedian and judge Jackie Hoffman had with the audience during the interview segment. The kid from Godspell had just told the crowd that he’d come out to his mom on YouTube, and Hoffman chimed in, asking him if somebody had ‘taped him in his dorm room or something.’

That was a reference to Tyler Clementi, the gay Rutgers kid who killed himself after his roommate Dharun Ravi spied with a webcam on Clementi’s having sex and sent out tweets encouraging people to watch it. A jury had found Ravi guilty of a hate crime that weekend. 

Symphony Space erupted in groaning – almost in booing. A doormat might have apologized. But Hoffman, unruffled, barked at the crowd, “Ok, fine, get [Broadway sweetheart] Kristin Chenoweth.”

Even THAT’S not inappropriate.

Here’s something that people without a sense of humor don’t get: laughing at something disarms it. There’s no such thing as a topic “inappropriate” to joke about because joking about it makes it less formidable and easier to handle.     

There’s a scene from Joan Rivers’ movie A Piece of Work in which Joan takes on a Wisconsin heckler after making a Helen Keller joke. “It’s not funny if you have a deaf son,” he calls out from the crowd. Again, a doormat might have apologized to him. But Joan shouts him out of the theater - “YOU ARE SO F---ING STUPID” – telling him that jokes are supposed to help people deal with the tough stuff in life, and then goes on with the show.

Rivers said her mom was deaf, BTW.

Hoffman channeled Joan on Monday – and got a loud and sustained ovation for that Chenoweth line.   

There’d be less melodrama in Washington and elsewhere if other people followed her lead.  

Plus I’d be able to use that Rihanna joke.