Did you hear the one about conservatives calling a comedian “mean” for the jokes he told at Saturday night’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner (WHCD)? Or how about the one where conservative media outlets claim President Obama’s one-liners at the WHCD were “mean-spirited”?
To be honest, when I first heard the outrage from some on the right to comedian Joel McHale and President Obama’s jokes at the WHCD, I could only assume they were joking. Apparently to some on the right, mean has no place in comedy. Rather mean should only be used when demonizing gays, Muslims, women or minorities.
First, there was former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein calling McHale’s jokes “mean spirited” and dubbing the performance as “bad comedy.” In Stein’s defense, he often appears on comedy network Fox News so he does know a thing or two about “bad comedy.”
Then the conservative media outlet Hot Air featured this headline about the WHCD: “Obama’s mean-spirited sense of humor.” The article concluded with the questions: “Was any of Obama’s humor over the line? And are things like this beneath the dignity of the office…?”
And conservative media outlets Breitbart and The Daily Caller ran headlines calling out McHale for his quip that the GOP liked to screw over black people: “I know the Kardashians are Republicans, because they’re always trying to screw black people.”
And even before the dinner began, the right-wing Newsbusters attacked my Daily Beast article that simply pointed out how Obama had weaponized comedy, using it more efficiently and in different ways than past presidents.
Let me be brutally candid: No one really likes getting mocked. So when the right hears Obama or McHale comically slamming their beloved Fox News, Rand Paul, or Cliven Bundy, they get mad. They can’t just laugh it off. Instead, they channel their inner Donald Trump and get even angrier —if that’s even possible.
In Stein’s defense, he often appears on comedy network Fox News so he does know a thing or two about “bad comedy.”
To be fair though, not all on the right are like that. Chris Christie, who was the target of many jokes on Saturday night—including some cheap fat jokes—publicly laughed them off and even commented to The Washington Post: “Listen, baby, it’s better to be relevant than ignored.” (When I say McHale’s fat jokes were hack, I’m not saying they were offensive, but they are simply too easy for a professional comedian.)
I might have more sympathy for the conservatives upset by Obama and McHale’s “mean” jokes if I heard them denounce the truly hateful crap spewed in the past by people in their camp. Instead, we heard Rush Limbaugh’s despicable comments calling Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” defended by Rick Santorum because he views Limbaugh as an “entertainer.”
In December, we were treated to Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson—another “entertainer”—likening gays to terrorists and drunks whom God will sort out later. In response, Republicans like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal rushed to defend Robertson against, in his words, the “politically correct crowd” who are tolerant of all views, “except those they disagree with.”
And where was the conservative outrage when two weeks ago former Texas GOP Chair Cathie Adams made vile anti-Muslim comments at a meeting of the Texas Patriot Tea Party? Adams told the audience you can’t trust any Muslim because they are taught to lie to non-Muslims and will welcome you in their home and then shoot you in the back as you leave. (Of course, if these comments were made about another religion or race, it would’ve received national coverage like we saw with Donald Sterling and Cliven Bundy’s comments. But apparently Muslims don’t merit that type of coverage by any in the national media—right- or left-leaning.)
Objectively speaking, none of Obama or McHale’s quips came even close to the hateful comments we have seen by the right’s “entertainers.” But to those on the right outraged, here’s my advice: Laugh a little more, you might actually find that you like it. And if you have lost the ability to laugh, then why don’t you simply change the channel.