You know what the difference is between a comedian and a politician? Okay, I’ll make it easier: what is the difference between a comedian and a political pundit or satirist or journalist? I know these are hard questions to answer because as you move from a Dick Gregory to George Carlin to Chris Rock to Dennis Miller things can get a little confusing right?
Well, I have the answer for you.
The difference between comedians and political pundits is that COMEDIANS ADMIT WHAT THEY ARE DOING. They acknowledge that they’re going for a laugh, poking fun at someone and taking a piss at whatever the political issues are at a given time.
Political pundits on the other hand, especially on the right, seem to pick a role whenever it suits their political interests. And all of this amounts to me not getting to see Louis C.K. at the Radio and Television Correspondents Association Dinner.
I’m not happy about it.
Not that I was going to personally show up at the Radio and Television Correspondent’s Dinner, anyway. But, the event tends to provide some very good television highlights and clips afterwards. This shouldn’t be confused with the famous (or infamous) White House Correspondent’s Dinner which always features some major comedian like Seth Myers, Don Imus, or Stephen Colbert; the RTCD is a smaller less prestigious affair, but none the less brings out some of the biggest names in Washington.
The Bush Administration just loved this award dinner and prominent figures often took the stage of tell jokes, roast one another and liven up the event. I’m sure that thousands of U.S. soldiers and Iraqis got a huge belly laugh when Bush joked about not finding Weapons of Mass Destruction in 04’. And who can forget when Dick Cheney joked about beating that whole “Shooting his friend in the face” rap in ‘06.
And speaking of rap, I’m still waiting on the remix of Karl Rove spitting hot fire with an impromptu rap on stage in ‘07. Obama hasn’t been since 2009 and the organizers felt they could add some punch and excitement to the night by having one of the best comedians out there, Louis C.K., as the keynote humorist for the event.
That is, until Fox News’ Greta Van Sustren jumped in.
Sustren wrote on her blog that she would not attend the event because of offensive comments that C.K. made about Sarah Palin during a stand-up routine 2 YEARS ago. While Louis C.K. has apologized on several occasions for calling Sarah Palin a ‘c**t’ (among other things), that wasn’t good enough for Van Sustren who called for a boycott of the event and compared Louis C.K.’s comments to Rush Limbaugh’s “Slut” monologue a week ago.
All this because … well, let’s see: the comments of a stand-up comedian about a specific politician should be weighed equally with the comments of a long term political pundit who called women with employee-covered birth control “Sluts” … who should post their sexual behavior online for the world to see.
If there were ever a “False Equivalency Olympics,” the Republican Party would win every gold medal (or gold plated metal, y’know because it’s basically the same thing.) The GOP leadership and talking heads are famous for trying to compare their own outrageous supporters’ behavior, sloppily comparing it to some non-equivalent Democratic action.
Examples? Joe Wilson yells at Obama during a State of the Union address and GOP talking heads say that’s no worse than Democrats calling Bush a “War Criminal.” Thing is, no Democratic elected official ever said that to Bush’s face during a public event – in the entire 8 years he was President.
But, the false equivalency Olympics gets even better the more extreme the behavior is. During the hottest part of the Healthcare Bill debate in 2010, dozens of Democratic members of Congress received death threats; but Republicans attempted to spin it into a discussion of reengagement on both sides of the aisle. A coffin was placed on the front lawn of Russ Carnahan (D-MO); bricks were thrown through campaign offices of Democrats; Black members were spat on and called racial slurs; and, in one instance, a Tea Party member attempted to sabotage the gas lines of Tom Perriello (D-VA), all because they were voting for Obama’s Healthcare bill. But when someone shot through the window of Eric Cantor’s campaign headquarters in Richmond, VA, suddenly Democrats were extremists and had to be stopped at all costs.
Greta Van Sustren succeeded in her task. Louis C.K. dropped out of the event citing that he didn’t want nor need to be involved in the political controversy. And while I am a big fan of Louis C.K. and this is a loss to the dinner, the bigger loss is in the perpetuation of these false equivalency arguments by the right.
Louis C.K. is a comedian. John Stewart is a comedian. Bill Maher is a comedian. These men may have political leanings that they explicitly state, but their goal is to make jokes first; and political commentary second. It doesn’t work too well when you try it the other way around.
When Rush Limbaugh, Don Imus and the like make offensive statements, suddenly they are no longer political analysts or journalists with professional obligations – they are re-cast as humorists or satirists that are misunderstood by those they target with their ‘humor.’ Hopefully, Greta’s indignation about being in the same room with a comedian like Lous C.K. will also result in her boycotting a whole slew of right wing events where Rush Limbaugh will appear. But somehow I doubt it. They’re both playing for the same team.
DR. JASON JOHNSON, Politic365 Chief Political Correspondent, is a professor of Political Science at Hiram College in Ohio and author of the book Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell. You can read more at www.drjasonjohnson.com or follow him on Twitter @Drjasonjohnson