Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Did Wanda Sykes Go To Far?

I've been hearing a lot about the White House Correspondent's Dinner this past weekend. Keith Olbermann on his show last night put his discussion of the dinner in the #1 spot when he stated that comedian Wanda Sykes went too far when she suggested that Rush Limbaugh was the 20th high-jacker and also "I hope his kidney's fail." When she then said, "Too far?" Keith responded, yes.

I'm a huge fan of Keith's and usually agree with him, but on this, I'm really torn. I like to think I'm the bigger person, that I wouldn't stoop to this level. That because I have been deeply offended by similar remarks made by Rush Limbaugh, I am of course, deeply offended by the same remarks turned back towards him. But I'm having a hard time being offended, and I think it's because of who they are.

Wanda Sykes is a comedian. She's edgy. Richard Wolffe, Keith's guest said that she was chosen because she is edgy, but he agreed with Keith that jokes about 9/11 and jokes about kidney failure are never appropriate. Richard Wolffe offered a wonderful insight about this dinner and the humor of previous presidents attending the same event. He said that Reagan made fun of people who weren't in the room and everyone laughed, Bush made jokes about people who were in the room and was "frankly mean to them" and everyone laughed because he was president, while Obama made jokes about himself and people laughed because he was funny.

This attitude about Wanda Sykes appears to be the conventional wisdom. But. Humor is what keeps us grounded. It gives life zest. It also gives another way to look at our world. It gives us permission to laugh at ourselves, to take life a little less seriously, and to temper our grief. Going over the line and making us laugh about serious issues is almost a tradition - especially about our most sacred traditions. To me, I guess it depends on the situation, the context, what is said, how it's said, why it's said, and all the other intangibles that determine whether something is funny or not funny. Ten people can tell the same joke, so why do some people laugh, others smile politely, and others become deeply offended?

I normally don't post other posts or articles in their entirety, but because it is what generated this post, and because it is important to this discussion and important to many discussions taking place today, below is the blog from the Monday 11th TAPPED blog at the American Prospect which you can find here.


Wanda Sykes' comedy routine at the White House Correspondent's Dinner was really offensive. In it, Sykes suggested that conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh is supported by Hamas, and that Islamists are "constantly issuing Limbaugh talking points." She joked about terrorists supporting conservatives in general, suggesting that recent violent events in Iraq are attempts by terrorists to swing the upcoming midterm elections in favor of Republicans.

Then she got really personal. She joked that Limbaugh was a racist who doesn't want black people to "escap[e] the underclass." She accused him of being responsible for killing "a million babies a year," and aired her friend's theory that Limbaugh himself was a terrorist attack," a followup to 9/11. She also, most disgustingly, said that if conservatives kept apologizing to Limbaugh, they'd eventually contract "anal poisoning." She wondered when Republicans would finally stop "bending over and grabbing their ankles" for Limbaugh, and finally concluded that Limbaugh was just a "bad guy."

Oh wait. Wanda Sykes didn't say any of these things. These are things Rush Limbaugh has said about Obama or other Democrats in the past year, the kind of statements few reporters found offensive enough to write about, despite the fact that most of them were said with the utmost seriousness. And while Sykes is a mere comedian whose influence on the Democratic Party is negligible, Limbaugh's influence in the party is so great that Republican leaders can't even criticize him without having to issue apologies after the fact.

The difference? Rush Limbaugh wasn't funny when he made those comments. Rush Limbaugh wasn't trying to be funny. Rush Limbaugh was and is deadly serious. Rush Limbaugh may be an entertainer, but he is not a comedian. Rush Limbaugh may be an entertainer, but he has deluded himself and others into believing that he is the head of the Republican Party, that he is an intelligent, important man with intelligent and important things to say. That's why I can be deeply offended when Rush Limbaugh says one thing, and laugh when Wanda Sykes says the same.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

1 comment:

  1. Sykes' Limbaugh routine was perfectly appropriate. It's a shame that Olbermann chose to engage in such blatant butt kissing for Limbaugh.