What can happen to a comedy writer on a really slow day:
“Hey, here’s a kooky concept,” Kathy Griffin apparently mused. “Why don’t I pose for a picture while holding a fake severed head of President Trump? Then I’ll post it on social media!”
Everyone knows how that worked out.
After an instant backlash, Griffin apologized, admitting the stunt was “stupid.” She lost several stand-up gigs, and CNN fired her from her co-hosting role with Anderson Cooper on the annual New Year’s Eve broadcast.
She also held a strange press conference that veered from remorse to a rant against the Trumps for trying to sabotage her career, a feat she single-handedly achieved with no assistance from the First Family.
“I’m not afraid of Donald Trump. … I’ve dealt with older white guys trying to keep me down my whole life, my whole career,” Griffin fumed. “He picked the wrong redhead. … This wouldn’t be happening to a guy. This is a woman thing.”
So wait … Chris Rock could wave a fake bloody Trump head on stage and nobody would get upset? Seriously?
Griffin’s attorney, Lisa Bloom, added this: “It is Trump who should apologize … for being the most woman-hating and tyrannical president in history.”
Very helpful, Lisa. You should open your own PR agency.
Meanwhile other veteran comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld and Ricky Gervais have spoken out in Griffin’s defense, dismissing the faux decapitation photo as a really bad joke for which she should be forgiven.
Technically, though, it wasn’t just a bad joke, because even bad jokes are devised with a hope of making somebody laugh. As a rule of comedy, public beheadings and political assassinations are two subjects that seldom crack up an audience, especially when combined in the same gag.
Whether it’s a cartoon, column, or TV sketch, sharp political humor always pisses off somebody, but it’s typically delivered with a premise — and a point to be made.
Displaying the fake head of a sitting president like a trophy bass doesn’t even qualify as a failed attempt at wit. It isn’t cutting-edge art. It isn’t pushing any envelope.
It’s just an ugly, unsophisticated political statement. Barack Obama was the target of similarly morbid messaging, though it was usually posted by anonymous degenerates, not celebrities (unless you count Ted Nugent).
Even people who can’t stand Trump were repulsed by the Griffin photo. You know who else probably didn’t find it so hilarious? The family of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was beheaded on video by al-Qaida in 2002. Or the families of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, two other journalists decapitated in front of cameras by ISIS in 2014.
Or the family of British aid worker David Haines, who was kidnapped in Syria and beheaded for another ISIS video. Or the loved ones of any of the victims whose barbaric murders have been gloatingly posted by jihadists on the internet.
Griffin insisted her spoof was aimed strictly at Trump, which, if true, reveals a serious lull in her creative process. A decapitation gag is the cleverest idea you can come up with?
No other new president has provided such rich material for those in the humor industry. The Trump White House is basically a nonstop factory of free jokes.
Not since Bill Clinton’sMonica Lewinsky scandal have comedy writers had it so easy. Witness the soaring TV ratings for “Saturday Night Live” and Alec Baldwin’s mercilessly “huge” impersonation of Trump.
Stephen Colbert’s late-night show on CBS has surged since his opening monologue became a lacerating recap of what the president tweeted or did that day.
The news flow from the chaotic West Wing is so bountiful that John Oliver says his staff struggles to fit non-Trump segments into his terrific HBO program, “Last Week Tonight.” Same goes for Trevor Noah on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.”
These days, any comedy writer who is unable to compose a legitimately funny joke based on what’s happening in Washington needs to find another line of work. There might never again be such an unsettling abundance of inspiration.
It’s always in such worrisome times when Americans look for relief — and occasional insight — from political humor.
But it’s actually a serious job. If you treat it the way Griffin did, you end up as the punch line of your own terrible joke.
Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: The Miami Herald, 3511 N.W. 91 Avenue, Doral, Fla. 33172; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.