Comedians apologizing — what a joke
I hate fake apologies. A true, sincere apology is a real, solid gesture that can bring people together and aid them in healing. But what sends my eyes rolling is the forced apologies we see these days where an aggrieved person or group demands an apology and the apologizer offers that limp, “If anyone was offended, here’s a generic apology so this dust-up won’t hurt my career” nonsense.
Lately, it’s been comedians forced to apologize for offensive material that bothers me.
Recently, Steve Martin invited fans to ask him grammar questions on Twitter. One fan asked, “Is this how you spell Lasonia?” To which Martin responded, “It depends. Are you in an African-American neighborhood or an Italian restaurant?” Outrage ensued and Martin apologized.
I think it was funny. The only thing that irked me was that he used “African-American” instead of black.
What’s strange is that if Martin had delivered that same joke in the ’70s at the height of his popularity, I’m willing to bet there would’ve been no outcry.
The latest comedian being raked over the coals is Natasha Leggero who appeared on NBC’s New Year’s Eve coverage with Carson Daly. First some background: SpaghettiO’s took some heat for tweeting a picture of a cartoon SpaghettiO holding an American flag with the caption, “Take a moment to remember #PearlHarbor with us” Many people felt it was a pathetic way to exploit a national tragedy to market their soggy pasta in a can. Leggero stepped into the line of fire when she quipped, “It sucks that the only survivors of Pearl Harbor are being mocked by the only food they can still chew.” Some people were outraged, claiming Leggero was mocking World War II veterans. But Leggero did the unthinkable: She refused to apologize.
Instead, she put out a statement saying, “On the one hand you have me making a joke about how old people can’t chew tough foods very well. On the other hand you have Veterans who receive inadequate care upon their return from active duty, rampant sexual assault against female soldiers, staggering rates of suicide, traumatic brain injury, PTSD, substance abuse and depression among soldiers and political gridlock that prevents these problems from getting solved quickly.”
Then she asked where does the public think their outrage would be better served?
I’m way past tired of people getting their feelings hurt and demanding comedians to apologize for their jokes. You might find their jokes offensive, juvenile, or unfunny but apologizing for jokes?
Comedians have always pushed buttons and boundaries. The number one job of a comedian is to be funny and sometimes offensive things make us laugh. Sometimes even the most painful subjects can be addressed through humor. It’s where the terms “black comedy” and “gallows humor” come from.
It’s not that I think some of the racist, homophobic, misogynist and xenophobic language and jokes some comedians say are appropriate or funny. But the context does matter. In the case of Leggero’s joke about SpaghettiO’s and Pearl Harbor veterans, the joke was about being elderly, not about war heroes. Now you may think it was still offensive or tasteless, but at least get the context right. To make it about disparaging veterans is that same fake umbrage that usually only politicians use when they’re trying to score cheap political points.
Sometimes a joke falls flat. A couple of years ago I saw Bill Maher in Sacramento and he made a joke about Sarah Palin’s son Trig who has Downs Syndrome. The audience groaned its disapproval. He moved on and that was the end of it. He didn’t have to come out the next day with a faux apology. (Believe me, if Maher apologized to Palin, it would definitely be a faux apology.)
There’s no doubt that some comedians cross the line with their material. They offend and provoke. But to me, the biggest sin for a comic isn’t being offensive, it’s not being funny.