When the laughter ends

I’ll forgive you if you don’t remember comedian Jackie Mason. His career was on an upward swing when in October 1964, he crossed the line during an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. When Sullivan, who was standing in the wings, signaled Mason that he had to cut his routine short (this was a live show) Mason gave him the finger. Sullivan, who had a lot of power in the entertainment industry, didn’t think it was funny and Mason didn’t work on television for almost two decades after. He was essentially blackballed by the industry. A long time later, Mason had a comeback of sorts, but he said, “It took 20 years to overcome what happen in one minute.”

While the envelope is constantly being pushed these days, there remain at least some constraints that reasonable people take into consideration. You don’t, for example, make jokes about the Holocaust or thalidomide babies. And you don’t make light of presidential assassinations. Comedienne Kathy Griffin’s attempted parody that featured the severed and bloody head of President Trump, crossed that line and she knew it. As I watched her tearful explanation as to what her intent was in the tasteless and unfunny skit, I saw a woman not sorry for what she had done but one who could clearly see that her career had probably ended.  I suspect that is the case. He claim of artistic freedom was almost as if Jackie Mason had tried to explain that his one finger salute was meant to let Ed Sullivan know that he was going to be finished in one minute. Griffin’s emotional news conference  was phony and self-serving. Those who flocked to her defense as a heroine of free speech–and there were many, should be ashamed of themselves.

There have been other comedians who have skirted the boundaries of good taste. Eddie Murphy and George Carlin come to mind.  But I have to say that their routines were actually very funny. No so Ms. Griffin. Billing herself as the Queen of the “D” list of entertainers, I’d say that she got an “F” for what she did earlier this past week. Perhaps in 20 years or so, Griffin, like Jackie Mason will have a chance for redemption.  But for now I’d guess that she’ll be lucky to be a headliner at a Holiday Inn lounge. She should remember Mason’s words: “It took 20 years to overcome what happened in one minute.” We might also ponder the wisdom in those words.

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