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

Thursday, March 22, 2012 - 04:16 PM

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?”’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.      


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Comments [2]

Fella from Queens

The problem is that most morons laugh "at" not "with". The same way racist humor is supposedly making fun of racists. I've been in many situations where I see and hear people laughing for the wrong reasons. They're laughing "at" but also participating in the racism. Same goes for the people who write and perform the material. (See Howard Stern for, oh, the past 25 years)

But please, elaborate, how does sick humor help us to "deal" with things? You just made a statement but didn't explain what you mean. Got any yuks about people jumping out of the WTC on 9/11? Man, there's a whole treasure trove of material waiting there, eh? How about your mother's breast cancer? I'm really waiting to whoop it up about that!

And by the way, Limbaugh's daily garbage spew doesn't fall under the joke category.

Jun. 05 2012 12:29 PM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

Maybe it's because what wingers think is funny ia rarely funny at all. Like George W. Bush's joke about '...a sucking chest wound...' during his 2000 appearance on Letterman. The only person laughing in the entire studio was Dubya. But he thought it was a corker. Limbaugh picking on Sandra Fluke repeatedly by name crossed the line. El Rushbo didn't get when it was time to put a sock in it. Having a loathsome disease, professional ineptitude, criminality and unchastity in a woman are all actionable slander. Was Rush's point that he doesn't want to pay for contraception for unmarried woman or giving testimony before Congress that Rush doesn't agree with will get your name dragged thru his particular mud pond? That's what the lawyers usually call 'a chiling effect'. I, for one, am happy that his advertisers are fleeing.

What's the Rihanna joke? She's a public figure. She can take it.

Mar. 22 2012 08:07 PM

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