Hitchens' rules of comedy: If it bends it's funny; if it breaks it's not


Christopher Hitchens reviews the comedienne Wanda Sykes' performance at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Short description: Sykes died up there like Mary Jo Kophechne, and it's all because she was "vocalizing the talking points of moveon.org and Air America."

Every article has a stated purpose and a true purpose, and Hitch's real aim here is to call Sykes a "Sable Sapphist" (twice), and also to retell some old racist chestnuts under color of a disinterested examination — the comedy equivalent of having your cake and eating it too. (Full disclosure, my real aim is to use the word "comedienne.") I also think there's some connective tissue missing in the claim that the Sable Sapphist wouldn't be caught "lampooning a black equivalent of Limbaugh for an addiction to, say, crack."

But there's an excellent discussion of the whole phenomenon of bootlicking comedy stylings before the National Leader — a spectacle Hitchens, who claims to have endured WHDC jokesters for a truly horrific three decades, knows well:

President Bush used to tell jokes about his weaknesses, the most salient of these being his tragic struggle with grammar, itself quite possibly rooted in dyslexia. Many of President Obama's jokes, his speechwriters should take note, were at the expense of his strengths-"I might lose my cool"-and were thus bordering on the narcissistic. (If I have a fault, and I'm the first to admit it, it's probably this: I am too sweet and too patient and too tolerant of the mistakes of others.)

Any tendency to narcissism doubles the need for a follow-up speaker who can make the president wince, not smirk. This we did not get. And Limbaugh's dependence, like Bush's dyslexia, is actually a disability. Can you easily picture any jokes from the Sable Sapphist that would in any other way breach the protocols of the Americans With Disabilities Act? Any other person of whom she would dare say, "I hope his kidneys fail"? Any other context in which torture would be funny enough for her to yell, "He needs a water-boarding, that's what he needs"? Reality and comedy check here: Would she even say this about Osama Bin Laden?

When comedians flatter the president, they become court jesters, and the country becomes a banana republic.

And yet, and yet, check out the Jesse Venture PWNS Elizabeth Hasselbeck video:

I got an actual laugh out of The Body's last line. For whatever reason, the juxtaposition of waterboarding, Dick Cheney and the Manson murders = Comedy. Go figure.