Louis C.K. and Rush Limbaugh Are Not in the Same League

Louis C.K. and Rush Limbaugh Are Not in the Same League


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


    • Well said? It was laughably STUPID. What are you talking about? The whole piece is a screaming contradiction. What's worse is that he minimizes Seekay's rants so as to do a comparison… there isn't one. The worse by far comments from Seekay is mocking the Pailin's "retarded" son. Sorry dude, but that's just classless. You can't apologize for that or clam you were drunk. Making fun of "Reeee-Tards" is adolescent humor.. .and BAD adolescent humor. Defend that? Not me. I defent Van Sustren – THAT is character I want to emulate.

      I'm sick of hypocrites.

  1. This is a gag article right?

    Jon Stewart and Bill Maher are hiding behind this comedian thing all the time. And don't say that Stewart isn't a political commentator. He OWNS a political show… and influences public opinion the same as Rush does.

    Neither of them are correct, and you need to condemn the left and the right. Otherwise, you're standing with hypocrites

    • Sorry… no gag. When I heard it, the second I heard it, I KNEW this was the beginning of a new chapter in culture that was to be as sickening as the sum of all that has come before.

      "Well…. yuck… it depends on what your definition of is is".

      Hypocrisy is now an INSTITUTION with some people.. It's deemed somehow to be 'intellectual'. It's bullcrap. Once can make excuses for all sorts of human frailty and illness. What happens when you not only don't have to make excuses, but you're literally *expected* to act out ignorantly?

      Louis CK is ignorant, and defending him is even more so.

  2. John Stewart is a comedian, he started in stand up comedy, he now does a political comedy show that has a liberal slant. He can be criticized for his jokes, or his politics but does not pretend that he isn't involved in either. Rush Limbaugh is not a comedian, he is not a satirist, he is a political commentator who is actively involved in the political process. When he, or others like him say something racist, or sexist or violent their defenders often try to characterize it as "comedy" or "satire" when that is not the main content of the commentary or the program.

    Louis C.K. is a comedian. That's it. He's not a social activist, nor does his comedy usually have anything to do with politics. He did a bit about Sarah Palin because she's a famous person he doesn't like her or her politics. But that's what comedians do. They make fun of famous people, political, social or whomever. If you don't like his comedy fine, but to compare the relatively obscure stand up comedy of Louis C.K. (Most people don't know him or his show on FX) with the most listened to radio host in America Rush Limbaugh is false equivalency at it's best.

    • Bullcrap "Doctor". They're not funny. All these "Reee-Tard" jokes of Palin? You'd think a "doctor" would know better.

      But you don't. That's why you need to shaddap before you embarrass all professionals, "doctor".

      Putting Dr. in front of your name tries to promote a false superiority. You fail. Sickeningly.

      • Your hostility, mixed with your lack of context speaks volumes about what you consider to be reasonable political discourse. Rush Limbaugh and Louis C.K. are not even in the same universe when it comes to political sophistication, influence or dedication. The issue is not whether Louis C.K. is funny or not. That is subjective and not worth arguing over. The issue is whether or not you can compare his routine about one politician that he doesn't like 2 years ago, that he apologized for, to Rush Limbaugh who is a political force in America who called all women seeking birth control coverage from their employers to be sluts who should send in sex videos. Louis C.K. influences no one politically, Rush does. Louis C.K. generally avoids politics in his comments, Politics is Rush's job. However I suspect that someone who thinks it's reasonable to tell others to 'shaddup' and has such a virulent reaction to the education level of a columnist would not be inclined to make that distinction.

        • With all do respect, you have your head up your ass. You want to claim Rush Limbaugh as a political force even though he has argued on air that all drug addict should be put in prison. This was right before he was busted for oxycotin and admitted he was an addict. How can someone like that ever be trusted? I'm not saying Louie CK didn't step out of bounds with his comedy but that's exactly what it was…comedy. Get a life, lighten up and learn to laugh once and a while.

    • Louis C.K. is a comedian. He does comedy. Whether you find it funny or not has nothing to do with whether that was his intention. Comedians are often extremely offensive, that works for some consumers and doesn't work for others. But it does not change the fact that the product being produced is comedy. More specifically I did not say that Comedy and political commentary are separate issues, only that Louis CK is a comedian that acknowledged he said something about someone political, whereas men like Rush make political comments, and when they are criticized for it, they claim it was comedy.


        Louis CK is a great comedian, and I've seen three of his shows… But still, how is it appropriate to justify that sort of language whether it is "comedy" or "political commentary."

        Your back is against the wall here, and, as a satirist and a comedian, I never cross the line with language of that level. As a libertarian satirist, I've been called out and condemned over far less than this… but I've never hid behind the "Oh, I'm just a comedian line."

        In satire, we point out the absurd in order to create a dialogue. But we don't need to go and call women vile things in order to do that. If that is comedy, then he needs new writers. It's absolutely sad that just because someone has a clown nose, you're willing to justify their language simply because of "shock value."

        Just pointing out your ilk. Here's a shining example of the people I've met with your mentality.

        So Kathy Griffin saying that Sarah Palin gave oral sex to McCain was ha ha funny because she's a comedian.

        But when I wrote this…

        I was tarred and feathered by women's groups because THIS was considered sexist. The fact that I had the word "doll" was over the top and offensive to women. Why, because I'm a libertarian satirist, and don't fall in line with your views.

        Got it… Thanks.

  3. Just because Limbaugh a) discusses politics and current events, b) is a demagogue and, c) routinely makes offensive remarks in public, doesn't disqualify him as an comic entertainer, just like Louis C.K. Limbaugh would prefer we see him as a comic because it gives him license to act the bully. The difference is more people find Louis C.K.'s humor funny, if not authentic and less offensive.

    Limbaugh's right to express himself is to be protected, just as yours, mine, Louis C.K.'s, and every other American. What he doesn't have a right to is a job; especially a job as a broadcaster. Right wingers crying 'censorship' simply don't have a valid argument in his case, for it's not the gov't who's looking to take action against him.

    • So, Bill Maher is not a bully? Bill Maher using his TV show to call people names and then never do it to their face is not hypocritical and comedy.

      But when Rush does it… It's bullying.

      What planet do you live on? No one is crying for censorship. We're pointing out a blatant double standard. Both voices need to tone it down. Both sides need to stop with this.

      Listen, if you make any remark about any politician, you're not being a comic. You're engaging in political commentary. And calling a woman, especially someone you've never personally met, is vulgar and shows how far we are falling. Stop with the hypocrisy.

      Conservatives were told that Hate is Hate with Prop 8. Well so is this talk from both sides of the aisle.

      Let me ask you this. Is Bill Maher funny without calling women these names? If not, he needs to get new writers… Because if that's all he's got, he's a pretty sad human being.

      • Bill Maher is not part of the conversation. This column is about Greta Van Sustren comparing Louis CK a 'non-political' comic to Rush Limbaugh a political analyst and commentator. If Bill Maher were the guest then I could understand the indignation a bit better, but again, I see a distinction. Bill Maher is a stand up comedian, long before he was doing politics, he was a stand up and he still does stand up across the country. His job is to make people laugh, not change their minds politically. He clearly wants to do both but again, that's not his main job. Rush's job is to change minds, he occasionally uses comedy to do it, but there is a difference. A few years ago Fox tried to make a 'conservative version' of the Daily Show. It failed. Why? Because they were trying to make a political point first, THEN be funny. That's the difference. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fns5lOisXco

        • Bill Maher's milieu is politics, just as is Limbaugh's. So is Jon Stewart's. Ditto for Stephen Colbert. Plenty of entertainers and artists' work is political in context. The distinction you're attempting to make here disregards context, which is a type of fallacy.

          Greta Van Susteren's false equivalence is a separate type of fallacy. Rush Limbaugh is as much an entertainer as Maher and Louis C.K. However, Limbaugh slandered a private citizen on broadcast radio; Louis C.K. and Maher did not.

          • I disagree. Rush Limbaugh is not an entertainer, he is a columnist, a commentator, an analyst and some would say a journalist. He may entertain some people but he is not an entertainer, political or otherwise. Bill Maher is an entertainer who derives most of his material from his politics. Louis C.K. is a stand up comic who did a political joke about one political figure that he doesn't like. Huge differences here.

          • You're completely incorrect here. All three men are entertainers; performing artists who, in one fashion or another, just so happen to comment on current affairs. Limbaugh explained himself as such with that non-apology.

            AAMOF… journalists are entertainers too, as journalism is a form of entertainment; an art form. All you're doing here is substituting Van Susteren's fallacy for one of your own.

  4. That is a very fair question, even though Fluke would not possibly be able to successfully sue Limbaugh. First, there is precedent for people who voluntarily insert themselves into the public dialogue. Second, Limbaugh's lawyers would be able to range far deeper into her arguments on employer-sponsored sex change operations while she is on the stand, and she will not want to do that.

    Obviously, the solution is to allow the market to decide how to set the necessary reaction moving forward. The tragedy here is that Limbaugh is now picking up listeners in reaction to this…

    The reality is that the First Amendment does not protect a person's speech. It is a law that states that the government cannot create a law that limits your speech. But it doesn't say anything about people leading boycotts or calling for people to be called off the air. The argument that liberals are violating Rush's first amendment rights for calling him off the air are not justified. People lack a general understanding of the difference between the government punishing him and the market punishing him. The obvious way is to target his advertisers.

    Currently Expedia is taking flak for Michael Ian Black's comments for saying things about Santorum. Expect Black to be gone in the next few days. If enough people were to have an impact on Rush's sponsors, he could lose his show. It's not about stiffling speech, because the government isn't doing that. It's the market. If enough people cancel HBO and then let HBO know that say, 1 million people are leaving the network over Maher's comments, then they would obviously listen. I have no problem with boycotts or organization, but it seems the more people push against these champions of the left and right, the more their sides begin to organize around them and spread mistruths about what the First Amendment actually says in the first place.

    • Should Fluke decide to sue Limbaugh for defamation, she likely stands on solid legal footing. The 'limited purpose' standard is more rigorous than merely publicly weighing in on an issue or simply testifying before Congress. Limbaugh and Clear Channel clearly have the financial resources to prolong litigation, although arguments about, "…employee-sponsored sex change operations…" and the like would not be permitted as part of a legitimate defense against defamation/slander.

      The First Amendment protection of free expression isn't absolute. There is no protection for speech that presents a threat to the public safety. With broadcast radio and TV, the FCC has authority to punish broadcasters for indecent, profane, and/or obscene comments. I'm only pointing this out to demonstrate neither Limbaugh nor Clear Channel are beyond gov't authority here. However, FCC action is unlikely given the nation's political environment. Whether such an action would be tantamount to censorship is a legitimate matter for debate.

      Like yourself, I prefer market-based alternatives for holding Limbaugh accountable. The problem with a sponsor or station boycott in this case is the broadcast radio industry isn't competitive as is pay TV, e.g.; HBO. A Clear Channel can redirect its revenues in such a way whereby none of the ads air on Limbaugh's program, but the program continues subsidized by other programs and stations owned by Clear Channel. As this type of monopolistic power over the market represents a threat to the public interest, a different type of gov't intervention is warranted. My solution would be to revive a version of the Fairness Doctrine, so a private citizen like Flake, you, or myself can immediately and directly respond to a broadcaster's comments.

  5. If the 'God Hates Fags' people can perpetually, continually show up at the funerals of dead soldiers and proclaim they are rotting in hell due to being fag lovers without being sued and stopped, then how does anyone expect Rush to be punished?

    Furthermore, why would you want him to be? Fluke decided to speak in front of congress, thereby entering the public discourse. The second she opened her mouth she became fair game.

    If Rush really stuffed up then he'd lose listeners, advertisers would pull out and his show would be cancelled. For liberals to wage a campaign to get him fired under the guise of protecting women or something is just retarded and delusional.

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