The last time a Jew was in this much hot water…

by Brian McKim & Traci Skene on March 1st, 2013

Here we go again. And again. And again. A comedian makes a joke. It offends some folks. People attack the comedian in the most vile ways (and by “people” we mean the media, advocacy groups and, most sickeningly, fellow comedians). And a mighty effort is made to shame the comedian and extract a meaningless apology.

We wrote about this last summer when Dane Cook was forced to issue a meaningless apology for making a joke about the Aurora theater shooting.

And that posting, which was entitled “Showtime at the Apology,” referred back to a posting that we had put up three years prior! So this nonsense has been going on for at least four years. And it’s been going on for longer than that. We said last summer that it’s getting “a little tiresome, defending our colleagues (against scurrilous comments often made by our colleagues!), but we can’t just let it slide. But it’s also getting tiresome watching our colleagues apologize.”

To save time and effort, read what we wrote seven months ago, but substitute “Joan Rivers” for “Dane Cook” and substitute “the holocaust” for “the Aurora shooting”:

Particularly nauseating are the comments on the websites– sites that cater to both the left and the right– which trash Cook, trash comedians in general, and fail miserably to understand that one of the functions of a comedian in our society is to say the unsayable, to give voice to our darkest or most uncharitable thoughts in the service of evoking laughter. We often fail in doing so, but we should be given wide latitude. Cook, by the way, did not fail in this case– the reaction to the joke was described thusly: “His comments regarding the shooting were met with groans that morphed into loud laughter and cheers.” (Daily Caller) Which is as it should be. Does anyone, for one nanosecond, think that the assembled comedy fans who laughed and cheered that night were doing so out of some sort of vulgar or wretched disrespect for the victims or survivors of the Aurora shooting? Can we explain their reaction in a way that allows for some coarseness but also recognizes a healthy catharsis? Are we not told that one way we deal with our darkest fears is by laughing at them? Is this not a case of dealing with fears by laughing? Is it too soon? Apparently, not. Not for the people who showed up at the Laugh Factory a week after the shooting. They were probably keenly aware of the misery and death in Aurora. And they might have been at a comedy club to blunt their fear or their pain. And, who knows– maybe they were subconsciously skittish about being packed into a theater one week after the worst mass shooting in American history. Their reaction might have been borne of that collective consciousness. It may have been that Cook addressed their long-term as well as their vague, immediate fears. We’re speculating, of course. But have you seen some of the speculation as to Cook’s motivation? Have you seen the comments that call him everything from an insensitive douchebag to a has-been to a homosexual? (Yes… that’s right– the comments from left, right and center employ the the “triumvirate of ultimate put-downs.” So far, no one has figured out how his comments were “racist.” Give them time.)

And we just noticed that, in our last few posts, we’ve spent a lot of time defending the people who laughed. That’s kind of important, as the people who laugh are the people who buy our product– live, recorded, televised, etc. It would be deadly if the folks who laugh are made to feel– through repeated tongue-lashings from perpetually offended busybodies– that their laughter is almost as egregious an offense as the “reprehensible” jokes being told by the “potty-mouth” comedians. We stand by them, just as we stand by the comedians who’ve come under fire. Who would you rather have in the audience? The folks who laugh at “inappropriate remarks” or the people who videotape them and seek to squeeze apologies out of the most successful comedians on the planet?

For those of you living under a rock, Rivers commented on a picture of Heidi Klum, on an episode of E!’s Fashion Police.

The last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens

Without getting too deep in the weeds, we’ll start out by saying that the joke was either written poorly or delivered poorly. It should have been, “The last time a German was this hot…” But this is a minor flaw.

And though it has become tiresome, we probably would not have been moved to comment had we not turned on the television and seen a quote from Andy Dick who condemned Rivers’ joke and said further (and we’re paraphrasing) that perhaps some subjects are off-limits when it comes to comedy.

Let that sink in. Andy Dick said that some subjects are off-limits.

It gets worse. We were treated to a sickening lynch mob on Facebook that took off after Penn Jillette, who had the audacity to defend Rivers. Jillette was called all kinds of names– by fellow comedians and by civilians– and one comedian, Andy Kindler, tweeted the following:

Unpleasant blowhard Penn Jillette ignorantly defends the terrible comedy of Joan Rivers. No apologies says Donald Trump’s employee.

It’s official Andy Kindler has jumped the shark.

From the man who said that Dane Cook is worse than Hitler, “because at least Hitler had a point of view,” we are lectured on the “terrible comedy of Joan Rivers.” Kindler once said, “If slavery were legal, VH-1 would be South Carolina.” Doesn’t that trivialize the suffering of millions of Africans who were brought to this country in chains? We call upon Kindler to renounce these jokes. How dare he invoke the ugly episode that was slavery to make such a trivial point about the labor practices of a cable outlet.

Does Andy Kindler, of all people, really want to play this game?

No bigger fans of Kindler were we. We were present for nine or ten of his State of the Industry addresses at the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal over the years. But something’s changing. There were portents of this “evolution” (for lack of a better word). Like this, from our recap of Episode 01, Season 07 of NBC’s Last Comic Standing:

We’re puzzled as to why the show finds it so worthwhile to delve into Andy Kindler’s likes and dislikes when it comes to choice of material. We were upset when a print interview with Kindler quoted him as being disgruntled when it came to jokes about the homeless. He was “uncomfortable.” He doesn’t like it. He also said it on camera, on LCS.

This is not a good thing. We’re not sure why we’re treated to Kindler’s personal preferences when it comes to premises. Isn’t Kindler an Alt Comedy God? Are not the Alts noted for being free to choose what they joke about and how they go about it? Do they not represent a vanguard of free-thinking, daring and sometimes offensive performers who have thrown off the bonds that previously held back so many “conventional” comedians? It is more than ironic then that their patron saint be depicted as the Chief of the Premise Police… on a network television show.

And the fans don’t exactly agree with Kindler on this particular point. Indeed, one of the most tweeted and re-tweeted jokes from Episode One was Taylor Williamson‘s bit about the homeless still being able to own cats.

And was it Nikki Glaser who did the joke last night about the concept of love at first sight being the reason she can’t look a homeless person in the eye? Both great jokes. Both make light of the homeless.

Aside from it being somewhat upside down (and somewhat wrong) that a judge (particularly this judge) be so vehement about his dislike of a particular category of jokes, it then sets an odd tone and furthermore taints any enjoyment of jokes that might touch on that premise.

Witness the Jew Montage. Was there really a need for that? Depicting a group of comics as anti-Semitic merely because the happen to mention Jews? We’re puzzled as to why the producers would go out of their way to make a comic (or a group of comics) look bad because of a premise.

We’ve always been vehemently anti-Premise Police. Someone making a homeless joke– a clever joke that hinges on one participant or another being homeless– is doing nothing wrong. Thousands of jokes have been written that mention Jews and that weren’t automatically anti-Semitic. Indeed, Kindler himself has done it countless times. If a line is drawn arbitrarily and a whole topic is declared off-limits, we are poorer for it. We’re reminded of the comedy club or casino patron who bitches loudly to the club manager (or, in rare cases, to the comic himself) that he “doesn’t like it when the comedian makes jokes about (fill in the blank).” This person is usually regarded as a crank. And rightfully so.

We’re coming up on three years since that was written. (And actually three years almost to the day since the words were spoken by Kindler, since the show was taped in March of 2010.) We suspect, in that time, his views have hardened further. And hardened to the point where he is calling Penn Jillette “ignorant” and an “unpleasant blowhard” for daring to defend fellow comic Rivers.

From the CNN transcript of the Jillette interview on Piers Morgan Tonight:

MORGAN: Back now, my favorite atheist, although of course he can’t bring himself to actually believe that, Penn Jillette, author of “Every Day is an Atheist Holiday.” Let’s turn to this little fury building up over Joan Rivers.

So she made a joke about Heidi Klum in her post Oscars show. And she said this, “the last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens.” Now the Anti-Defamation League’s response, as it has been to quite a few of Joan Rivers’ Holocaust jokes in the past, is that she should know better. “The remark is so vulgar and offensive to Jews and Holocaust survivors and indeed to all Americans.”

Joan Rivers has responded, doubling down, saying the reason she does this kind of joke is to keep the memory of what happened at the Holocaust — and many of her family members died in it — alive with people. Is that a good enough excuse?

JILLETTE: I don’t think she needs an excuse at all. First of all, Joan Rivers knows as much about comedy as anybody alive in the world.

MORGAN: That doesn’t give her a license to be —

JILLETTE: It does, it really does.

MORGAN: Heidi Klum, though, has every right to feel offended by her statement. Is that acceptable?

JILLETTE: You have every right to be offended by it. But she will not and should not apologize. I felt that when “The Onion” did their apology, they actually made it worse, because they took it out of the realm of joke and into something that maybe they could have —

MORGAN: Quvenzhane Wallis (ph), the little nine-year-old. I thought that was completely unacceptable and very, very offensive.

JILLETTE: Absolutely. But when you are doing transgressive humor, when you are trying — when the idea is to be shocking, when the idea is to get a laugh from something that’s outside of the realm of what someone else would say, when that’s your position, that is clearly her job. Her job is to cross certain lines so we all get to think about it.

MORGAN: No limits?

JILLETTE: I think there are limits to each one of us and our tastes and what we will enjoy. But as a society, I think blaming her or — and this whole idea that people are supposed to apologize for jokes seems out of line. It’s not funny. That’s fine. But she is not in any way, shape, or form condoning the Holocaust. To even —

MORGAN: I agree with that. I think the only person who probably should feel rightly offended is Heidi Klum, who had absolutely no reason to be linked to what Germans and Nazis did during the war.

JILLETTE: The joke is actually backwards from what the Anti Defamation League is claiming. It’s actually a joke against Germans. And the Germans might very well want to say, can’t we even have a hot model without that being brought up. She had nothing to do with that. So they are kind of, again, on the wrong side.

But I just don’t know how I can support Joan Rivers more. I mean, I just think that it’s absolutely OK to try anything in comedy. And it’s also OK for people to rise up and argue about that. But she does not need to apologize.

MORGAN: Let’s take a look at the all-star “Celebrity Apprentice,” which premiers this Sunday, March the 3rd. You’re in this.


MORGAN: And the reason I know that is I’m in the premier episode.

JILLETTE: But you’re on the other side of the desk.

MORGAN: I went back on Donald Trump’s boardroom side, and I reengage with my old friend Omarosa, which I can only assure people is extremely entertaining. I went back with one objective, to get her fired. And I’ll leave it hanging in the air, but I left a happy boy. I go back into several episodes, actually.

But we’ve got this extraordinary situation where one of your colleagues in it, Dennis Rodman, is currently in North Korea telling everyone that Kim Jong-Un, the supreme leader, is now his best mate. What on Earth is Dennis up to?

JILLETTE: Isn’t that the most beautiful thing in the world?

MORGAN: Not really. Does he know what he’s doing?

JILLETTE: It absolutely is. You know, we’re talking about what really is going to bring people together. The first thing is always going to be — is Elvis. Elvis wins every battle. We have cool. We have rock and roll.

MORGAN: These pictures are just too ridiculous.

JILLETTE: And you’ve got a fan of basketball who’s over in this horrible country, treating their people terribly, nuclear stuff, and they’ve got Dennis Rodman, a good old American, who is over there doing great stuff.

MORGAN: We’ll agree to disagree on that. You’re getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on April 5th.


MORGAN: It’s great to see you again.

JILLETTE: Wonderful to see you, Piers. Thank you.

MORGAN: We’ll be right back.

We re-read Jillette’s comments and we failed to find any evidence of ignorance. We suspect that the only reason that Kindler has labeled Jillette a “blowhard” is because Jillette holds a (clearly) well-thought out and valid opinion that doesn’t quite match up with his own. We here at often call people names when we disagree with them. It’s part of our charm over the past 13 years and 11 months. But we follow that up with a logical (and frequently passionate) defense of our position and a passionate (and occasionally logical) flaying of the other guy’s position. We know it’s difficult to do that within the 140-character confines of a tweet. But we can’t seem to find any kind of long-form rebuttal to Jillette’s opinion. Either by Kindler or by anyone else.

But all this hectoring of comedians is troubling. And we normally wouldn’t pounce so hard on Kindler had he not been so vicious when attacking Jillette. And had we not had the creeping, sinking feeling that Kindler represents a more widespread and (dare we say it) dangerous tendency on the part of so many to declaw comedy and try to declare wide swaths of subject matter off-limits. That kind of thinking and speaking is poisonous to comedy and death to the creative process. Of all the arts, of all the forms of creative expression, comedy is the one that is most susceptible to such proscriptions. It’s supposed to be out there on the edge, pushing the limits. If you blunt that edge, you tinker with the fundamental function of comedy.

For the longest while, we comics became a little too comfortable with the notion (that hardened into a dictum, a truth a principle) that only members of a group were entitled to joke about members of that group or their travails or foibles. “I’m black, so I can say that about a brother.” And it’s corollary: “You’re white, so you can’t do humor about black people.” This is in itself, stifling, arbitrary and a symptom of the disease that is political correctness. Now we’ve reached a point where an elderly Jewish comedienne can’t make jokes about the Holocaust. This cannot lead anywhere good.