By now, most people have heard the controversy over a joke that late-night host David Letterman made about Alex Rodriguez and a daughter of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Though the Palin's have accepted Letterman's apology, I think the controversy has shed an irreversible light on David Letterman. The problem was not so much in the joke, as it was in the defense.
The critics of Letterman have charged that the comment amounted to a joke about the rape of an underage girl, Willow Palin. Letterman and his apologists have contended that he simply gaffed because he thought he had joked about, Bristol Palin.
To me, late-night humor is an inextricable part of who I am. It is important to me, so laugh if you will, but the interest goes back to when I was 13-16 in 1996-1999. Back then, I would watch Leno, Letterman, and O'Brien on an old black and white TV that barely worked. All that mattered was the sound and the humor.
I would even do a report on late-night humor that covered Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Ernie Kovacs, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Conan O'Brien, while The Daily Show was then still hosted by Craig Kilborn. The only joke of his that I remember is, "Kenny G blows."
Anyone who can honestly say that they were shocked to learn that David Letterman has lowbrow taste in humor should get their head examined. Comedians will joke about anything under the sun if they think it will goad a laugh.
With that said, Letterman's defense that he did not know who he was joking about strikes me as an admission to being an incompetent comedian. Generally speaking, "I didn't know" is not a valid defense.
If the joke resulted from bad research then either a) Letterman should be fired for not doing his job, or b) the researcher should be fired, or c) that he understood the joke he made but lazily overlooked the blatant implications, because he thought it was funny and didn't care about possible reactions.
That reminded me of the, "The Yada Yada" episode of Seinfeld where Jerry expresses his frustration to a Catholic priest about how his dentist 'Tim Whatley' converted to Judaism simply to tell the jokes, and that Jerry was mostly offended as a comedian—not as a Jewish person.
I am not Jewish, but Letterman's defense offended a person whom does self-identify as a comedian. Letterman's defense has been simply that, 'I'm not a pervert, I'm just a hack!' Kinda like Krusty the Clown in that episode of The Simpsons with Jay Leno, "The Last Temptation of Krust."
I am generally tolerant of bad humor, though.
Nevertheless, even I have a line. Do not make jokes about lynching or racial assault; do not make jokes about killing animals, babies, kids, teens, or adults; and do not make jokes about child abuse and sexual assault, especially when you do not know whom the joke is-about.
There is also a very fine line between making a joke about the content of someone's character and the color of his or her skin; their sex, or ethnicity. There is also another line -- you can joke roundabout on people whom think that type of humor is funny. In other words, you can joke about the content of someone's, "comedy."
If you're thinking: What's left? Then I suggest that you expand your horizons.
Articulation of the mind's eye is similar to the life of a tightrope walker. In that, the rope is the qualities on which you balance and the quantities are the rod from which you balance. If you fall off, it could be a gruesome end.
The fact is that people who make those types of jokes are just bastardizing the idea of 'comedic license' as an excuse to be a sociopath, because they have no interest in the craft or art of humor.
Jokes about cold-blooded murder or animal torture for kicks (not for sustenance), child abuse and sexual assault, lynching and other bigotry-motivated jokes are inherently and simply not funny. So try harder, there are plenty of other topics to joke about.
It is best then not to call someone a hater for a hack joke.
There is no better way to deflate the ego of an idiot than to call him or her a hack. When you call that person, hateful -- they will feel persecuted for their beliefs. You call them a hack -- and suddenly, they feel cornered (unless they truly believe in the material)
An easy rule of thumb to knowing what is funny and what is unfunny is simply that the best humor will humanize that which has been dehumanized, thus you cannot humanize something that doesn't apply to you. Ergo, white people can't say the n-word in a joke, while white people have been stuck with rednecks.
That is my personal opinion and taste though. The question though is -- why would you want to tell jokes on or laugh about those topics? It will only reflect badly on your character.
However, I think that everyone can agree that if you make a joke, you can't defend it with, "I didn't know," because the whole idea of being funny is that you 'know' the things that others don't know.
If you told your boss, "I didn't know" then you would likely be fired, especially when you have been at the job for more than 30 years.
If Letterman had done some basic fact checking, then he would not have had to defend himself because he would not have told the joke. Thus, Letterman in effect wasted his time, that of the audience, and that of CBS.
In an age of the Internet where facts are at your fingertips, "I didn't know" is a very poor and lousy excuse. Unless then you make it clear that you are making-up facts --then check your facts.
I personally, am willing to defend just about any form of free speech from Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Michael Savage to Michael Moore, Louis Farrakhan, and Jeremiah Wright. If you are going to be an extreme blowhard of wild interpretations, though, then at least check your facts, even if you cherry-pick them.
Some people sympathize with one of those people more than others do, but if a person is truly being honest, they would say that each has occasionally said something interesting (even to your chagrin).
Frankly, Letterman just cannot admit that he made a disgusting joke, without the type of spin you would expect to hear from a career politician—the type of people that Letterman makes fun of for a living.
Then that tells me that Letterman just makes disgusting jokes and can no longer claim a higher ground over those he impugns for being insincere, phony, and unable to tell the truth.
If Letterman had been honest, the researcher would have been fired. Alternatively, Letterman would be fired, because he has admitted to being an incompetent humorist, regardless of apologies. Or that he understood the joke he made but lazily overlooked the blatant implications, because he thought it was funny and didn't care about possible reactions, only for it to backfire.
"I didn't know" and "I didn't care" is the calling card of a hack, or "I didn't do it" as Bart Simpson said in "Bart Gets Famous," which is also the episode that included the first appearance of the Late Night with Conan O'Brien show in 1993.
Thus, in that case, Letterman has no business being a comedian, because true comedy is about brutal honesty. The fact is, Letterman is unable to be honest, and therefore, is not acting like a comedian.
Whatever happened to the David Letterman whom delivered that great monologue (of brutal honesty) after the attacks of September 11, 2001?
He has become those he has mocked and ridiculed—nothing more, nothing less.