June 1, 2018

There seems to be a theme to this week’s news: controversial comediennes derailing their careers by making offensive attacks. First came Roseanne’s 2 a.m. Ambien tweet about Valerie Jarrett that got her entire career thrown down the PC memory hole. Then former “Daily Show” cast member Samantha Bee, who has a low-rated weekly "rant against Republicans" show on TBS (her ratings among Millennials are down 47% from last year), was forced to apologize to Ivanka Trump and lost two sponsors -- but not her show, naturally. It all started when Ivanka tweeted a sweet photo of her holding her two-year-old son, which for some unfathomable reason inspired Ms. Bee to call her an obscene sexist slur I won’t repeat and demand that she somehow make her dad stop enforcing federal deportation laws. (Just for the record: if you want someone with access to power to plead your case, calling them an obscene name on TV probably isn’t the best way to win them over.)

This story consumed the media on Thursday, with conservatives using it to point out the double standard and even liberals admitting Bee went too far.


Frankly, I’m a little burned out on talking about this subject (and I didn’t even get into former comedian Kathy Griffin’s sad attempt to remind us she’s still alive by tweeting an obscene attack on my daughter in defense of Bee). So I thought I’d turn this one over to an expert. I have someone who does freelance writing/research work for me and was also the longtime co-writer of a worldwide-syndicated daily topical humor service for radio. He writes jokes about the news for clients across the political spectrum. In today’s hyper-sensitive comedy world, he prefers to remain anonymous, but here’s his comedy writer’s take on the Samantha Bee brouhaha…

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“First of all, let me dispense with the predictable response that I must be one of those male comedy writers who think women aren’t funny. There are countless female writers and comics I admire, from Tina Fey all the way back to Fanny Brice. My writing partner, one of the best writers I’ve ever known, is my wife, and she can’t stand Samantha Bee’s show. So no, the problem isn’t that women aren’t funny. It’s that simply calling a woman the C-word isn’t funny.

I should also mention that I’ve spent my life studying such controversial comics as Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Sam Kinison and Robert Schimmel, so I’m immune to getting offended. But in my profession, I have to know what offends my client’s audiences. I’m pretty sure calling the President’s daughter the C-word not only runs way past the line, it walks back and urinates on it.

What does offend me as a professional comedy writer is that Bee’s line wasn’t funny. It was angry, partisan, provocative, sexist, unfair – and I could still forgive all that if it were funny. But it wasn’t. It was just calling someone a nasty name. There was no wit, no clever twist, no joke structure, no creativity, no originality of language (I sometimes say my job is to rearrange the dictionary to tell the truth in funny ways that have never been said that way before). It’s the one thing I find truly offensive: bad, lazy comedy writing. It makes Ambien tweeting look like Mark Twain. It’s on the level of using the F-word to get a rise from a club full of drunken frat guys.

Celebrities like Michael Moore who declare such mindless junk “brilliant” just because it’s aimed at people they hate insult the art of comedy as much as they’re insulting our intelligence. Just as TBS does when it feigns shock over a line that obviously went through countless levels of writers, editors, producers and standards and practices people and that was even excerpted online to promote the show.

Granted, the cheap shot did get the expected response from the studio audience, which is known in the business as ‘clapter.’ It’s not laughter, which is hard to earn, but clapping at something you agree with. That doesn’t take wit, it just takes pandering. Again, pandering is easy, comedy is hard.

That’s why clapter has replaced laughter on most late night shows as the Comedy Central influence has infected everything from CBS’ ‘Late Show’ to ‘SNL.’ You know the style: a smug, usually Ivy League-looking guy in a suit (the formula sometimes varies to a black guy or a British guy or a woman in a blazer, but always with the same condescending elitist attitude) gives us the DNC spin on the day’s news, often more in lecture than joke form, tossing in the occasional hyperbolic metaphor or goofy graphic to remind us that it’s supposed to be humor. Real humor makes people look at things in fresh ways, and sometimes forces them to reassess their opinions and makes them uncomfortable. This stuff just preaches to the choir. I hope recent downtrends in ratings for these shows are a sign that the audience is finally getting tired of having anger over the 2016 election reinforced every night, and comedians will get back to trying to appeal to a broader audience and being funny again.

I usually avoid Samantha Bee’s show, but what I have seen was usually based on attacking whatever negative stereotype of the joke’s targets is most popular on the left. Little effort seems to go into understanding the point of view being ridiculed. This laziness also brought on her last forced apology, for ‘joking’ that a bald teenager at a conservative gathering was a racist skinhead when he was actually a cancer patient.

For what it’s worth, I’m a staunch defender of free speech. Comedy requires pushing the envelope, and sometimes, comics rip it. It’s an occupational hazard. It’s sometimes hard to tell where the line between “hilarious” and ‘too far’ is. I’d rather have comedians who accidentally go too far than who play everything too safe. But I grant that freedom to comics on both the left and right.

Comedy shows should be canceled only if nobody’s watching them. If people would just stop watching unfunny shows that traffic in partisan venom instead of wit, that would solve most of the problem. Or as the space aliens told Woody Allen in ‘Stardust Memories,’ ‘If you want to do mankind a favor, tell funnier jokes!’”


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Comments 1-11 of 11

  • carol johnson

    06/02/2018 03:22 PM

    What no one has seemed to touch about Samantha Bees comment is the "implied" incest of President Trump with his daughter. "Put on something tight and low-cut" The implication that Ivanka would dress that way for her father, and the implication that her father would be turned on by it is disgusting and unforgiveable.

  • Sheryl Jones

    06/01/2018 11:51 PM

    I couldn't agree more. All the late night monologues and comedy routines lately leave me wishing for a resurgence of people like Bob Hope and Johnny Carson and the brand of humor that was intellectually stimulating, but most importantly funny! The early days of SNL were far and away more entertaining than the stuff that is coming out today. When did vulgarities and insulting people and their families become funny? That sounds more like bully speak to me. Maybe I'm just getting too old and it has affected my sense of humor because I just don't get it....

  • Laura Belden

    06/01/2018 07:11 PM

    Thank you, sir, for your witty and intelligent article. I would like to read more of your work if that’s possible.

  • Marianne Davis DDS

    06/01/2018 06:48 PM

    Dear Governor Huck, et al
    It is refreshing to hear a sane voice above the noise. You were my fave but almost as a higher blessing we got Sarah. You raised her up right. I am a divorced senior citizen. Just turned 70 acoupla months ago and have decided to stop the practice of dentistry and move close to my one and only daughter. I worked hard for everything I have. (Thanks to starting a practice in the early 80’s when interest rates were 22% and begging, money was tight for a long time).
    I sold my practice after 20 plus years , took some time off but went back to work for a corporation which is busy buying up small single doctor practices. After 5 years of the Corp thingy, I’m moving from my home in Indianapolis to a small town in Virginia. My daughter and her husband are there and work hard raising 3 children. He is in the United States Congress fighting the good fight. She’s is a family judge parsing out thoughtful consequences for those who have made mistakes. I will spend as much time as I can with them and work a part-time position at a dental insurance company.
    Thank you and your family for your contributions to our country. You guys find the fun and humor in what is a fairly tawdry business. May God Bless America. MAGA

    Thank you again,

    Dr Marianne Davis

  • SSG Robert H CLEMONS, US Army (Retired)

    06/01/2018 04:19 PM

    There are a lot of great women comedians, for instance: Carol Burnett (my favorite), Betty White, Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, Phyllis Diller & Queen Latifah. But I have found lately most comedians all they want to do is put people down or humiliate them. There jokes are just NOT funny! I remember comedians like Bob Hope who would make fun of the President of the United States in fun. But he did it with respect to the office and respect to the person. It seems like NO one respects anybody anymore and comedians tops this category.

  • Karol Wise

    06/01/2018 03:24 PM

    I agree. Why do people keep watching shows like Samantha Bee and The View , and for that matter, Maury Povitch? They’re not informative or entertaining. Just irritating.

  • Joanne Woodruff

    06/01/2018 03:06 PM

    Yes I agree wholeheartedly. Thank you

  • Karen Phillips

    06/01/2018 02:44 PM

    Good commentary. This sounds so much like my cousin (by marriage) as your guest writer. “Tommy Moore.”

  • Gail Childs

    06/01/2018 02:35 PM

    Good article....Well written & thought out. I must have missed something in the news. I'll get with a friend to see if I'm thinking what the C-word is correct. Everyone is saying C-word & for those of us (whose head must be under a rock) who didn't read or hear the whole story don't know. I just spoke to my bff & I was correct about the C-word. A word that is one of the worst that you can say about a woman. I'm 72 & haven't heard that word used in a few of decades. I'm amazed at how everything now-a-days is a double standard. Great for one side & not so much for the other side. I'm so tired of the Politically Correctness of today. Thank you for your input & honesty. It's refreshing!

  • Mike Ginsberg

    06/01/2018 01:46 PM

    I am curious of what your take is Mr. Huckabee of Ted Nugent and what he said about Hillary Clinton referring to her as a "Toxic C*** in 1994, or when he told a radio host on Friday that he was sorry for calling President Barack Obama a “subhuman mongrel,”. There are countless racist statements to blacks and Muslims and even questioning if the wrong side won the Civil War.
    And Donald Trump had no problem inviting him into the White House in his first 90 days.
    And Ted's musical lyrics and his life style with underage girls. You even tried to justify playing clean cut versions of his music or saying it is an "Adult song," Yet you have or had no problem playing along with him.
    So why don't you have the same scrutiny for Ted Nugent as you do for Samantha Bee or Michelle Wolf ?


    06/01/2018 01:24 PM

    I agree completely with your article - I just wish those that watch these obscene shows would get some smarts and just stop watching.