Tag Archives: Lenny Bruce

No subject is off limits for comedy…but it needs to be funny

-Casey Klekas

Two subjects of comedy that have gone stale–if they were ever even fresh–are fat people and the Holocaust. Joan Rivers is a “comedian” in the very loosest sense of the term: someone who tries to make people laugh. Appearing on Late Night with David Letterman, Ms. Rivers made a “joke” about hit-singer Adele. The two met at last year’s Academy Awards and Rivers thought she’d try to get a laugh at the expense of Adele’s weight.

“What is her song? ‘Rolling In The Deep’? She should add fried chicken!” Rivers later said in an interview for the Huffington Post, “She’s a chubby lady who’s very, very rich, and she should just calm down—or lose weight!” She claimed that Adele “wanted an apology,” so, Rivers said, “I took an ad out on her ass. I said, ‘You are not fat.’ And then I had room for a lot of other ads. Adele is beautiful and successful and has what, $100 million? Let’s face reality: she’s fat!”

Rivers is unapologetic and claims that there is no subject safe from comedy. I agree. The problem is that Rivers isn’t funny.

This was just the first in the list of not-funny jokes that Rivers has recently made. On E!’s Fashion Police she commented on German model Heidi Klum and her deliciously revealing dress displayed at this year’s Academy Awards. Rivers said, “The last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens.”

Soak it in.

The Anti-Defamation League, an organization committed to fighting anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry, responded, “This remark is so vulgar and offensive to Jews and Holocaust survivors, and indeed to all Americans, that we cannot believe it made it to the airwaves.” Personally, I think the Anti-Defamation League took offense on somebody else’s behalf. The Germans, Frau Klum in particular, have as much cause to be offended as do Jews and Holocaust survivors.

I am one of the staunchest defenders of free speech you’re liable to find. Joan Rivers is protected by law to say whatever she wants at the expense of whomever she wants. This isn’t a question about “rights;” it’s a question about comedy.

Rivers later responded to calls for her to apologize by scoffing, “Learn what comedy’s about, tell that to Richard Pryor, tell that to Chris Rock, tell it to Louis C. K. , go back to Lenny Bruce. I’m very proud to be a part that group.” You aren’t. She isn’t. The difference between these masters of comedy and Joan Rivers is that they are/were funny. Louis C. K. could make a joke about Schindler’s List because he’s talented enough to pull humor out of everything. Comedians have the special role of pushing the limits of what we say, and making light of the taboo. The only deal is—they have to be funny. Louis C. K. can make a joke about being fat, too. Because he’s funny.

In an embarrassing interview Rivers said, “It’s a joke, number one. Number two, it is about the Holocaust. This is the way I remind people about the Holocaust. I do it through humor.”

She has said elsewhere that she reminds people of the Holocaust “because half the people now don’t even believe it ever happened.”

“My husband lost his entire family in the Holocaust, so let’s just start with that. Your generation doesn’t even know what I’m talking about. My doing a joke gets them talking. Doesn’t bother Heidi, doesn’t bother me.” Nice retrospective justification, I’m sure that’s what she was thinking when she made the joke, ‘This will get them talking about the Holocaust, cause this generation doesn’t even know.’

There are a lot of people who say you should apologize.

“For what? Why don’t you worry about Mel Gibson? Why don’t you worry about the anti-Semites out there and not pick someone who doesn’t have a single living relative, hmm?” Any subject that’s too serious that you wouldn’t take on in humor? “I think that’s how we get through life. That’s how I deal with [it]. You make people laugh. You laugh, you can deal with it.”

First, Mel Gibson is talented, even if he is allegedly a rabid anti-Semite. He also has nothing to do with this conversation.

Secondly, you know gosh-darn well you’re making up some excuse like you’re on a crusade against Holocaust deniers. You were trying to be funny. You weren’t. If you still claim to be a comedian, you should apologize for not doing your job. You should apologize for not being funny.

Image by David Shankbone.