I’ve written jokes for more than 30 years. I know jokes.
Some of my best pals are joke writers, like the brilliant “Tonight Show” veteran Jay Taylor. Every time I get an email from him, I’m blessed with a laugh. My best bud Elliot Glicksman, the world’s greatest personal injury lawyer, comedian and human encyclopedia of Borscht Belt humor, can crank out classic bits on a dime. So can my pal, playwright Nick Seivert, who wrote brilliant musical comedies for the late Great American Playhouse. Get us together with comedians Nancy Stanley or Kristine Levine and all we’ll talk about is the art of the joke.
We jokesters know a joke when we hear one.
What Roseanne Barr tweeted was not a joke. When she blamed the tweet on Ambien — that was a joke. Hoo, boy, what a knee slapper!
Barr’s racist tweet made use of a common joke formula: Blank crossed with blank spawned the sap you’re roasting. Example: What do you get when you cross the Aryan Brotherhood with a sheep? Roseanne Baaa.
Let’s dissect Barr’s zinger aimed at the great African-American public servant Valerie Jarret: “Muslim brotherhood + Planet of the Apes=Vj.”
I had not heard the phrase “Planet of the Apes” used in such a fashion since I was in Norfolk, Virginia, in the early ’80s, when a white reporter took this new hire for a walk in downtown’s largest open-air pedestrian mall. I was stoked. New paper. New city. New people.
My guide was a white native of the area, a grizzled Vietnam vet and a writer in the manner of Hunter Thompson. As he was telling me the history of the area, he whispered this random gem: “The locals call this mall ‘Planet of the Apes.’” The mall was frequented by black residents. Nearly 40 years later, I’m still ashamed I pretended not to hear him as we walked past black professionals taking their lunches and black families shopping, laughing and gossiping. I never forgot the cruel relish with which he whispered his comment.
The president said it’s not fair for ABC to fire Roseanne because other comedians have said horrible things about the orange orangutan in the White House and none of them got fired. He’ll make Roseanne great again. She’ll go on a Confederate USO Tour of America’s Aryan Compounds. Run for president in 2024.
Trump believers believe HBO should cancel Bill Maher’s show because Maher called Trump the spawn of an orangutan, an insult so profoundly disturbing to these Nellies that it upended the cosmos and sent the chickens clucking. In joke writers’ circles, this huffing is known as crapola.
First, every president gets ridiculed. Donald, check out the long tunnel of vicious anti-Abe cartoons at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, in Springfield, Illinois, and then feel sorry for yourself, you sad, humorless snowflake.
Second: Wow. You indignant whiners don’t have a clue how much you sound like fascists itching to censor speech in 21st century America.
Maher’s joke was not about Trump’s race. Isn’t he half-Prussian and half-tangerine? It’s about the fact Trump has orange hair and long arms and so do orangutans. There is no historic centuries-old racism tied to using orangutan imagery to insult fair-haired Caucasians like the president. The phenomenon of their resemblance to Trump is so widely acknowledged in the animal kingdom that thousands of orangutans gather in the spring to hold a Trump lookalike contest, which is televised across Borneo.
To whine that Maher’s “Trump looks like an orangutan” jibe is as offensively racist as the “Planet of the Apes” slur must be a joke.
What do you get when you cross a privileged white president who retweets racist posts with a snowflake who claims he’s persecuted? A joke with no sense of history or context.
Barr’s slam was the sub-species of a joke you’d hear repeated by white slavers on slaving expeditions, or whispered during the slave auctions of mothers and children, or celebrated in vulgar minstrel shows, or swapped in the shadows of lynch mobs a generation ago, or retweeted by the ignorant today under the flickering glow of a tiki torch.
Thanks, ABC, for standing up to the crapola.
And that is no joke.