There’s a LOT of time to fill over the course of a New Year’s Eve telecast. How else would Carson Daly, on NBC’s New Year’s Eve, have come to broach the subject of an image SpaghettiOs tweeted in early December of an anthropomorphized SpaghettiO holding up an American flag to commemorate the anniversary of Pearl Harbor? There was nothing inherently offensive about the image, other than that the SpaghettiO might have seemed a little too chipper to be honoring lives lost in a tragedy.
Daly asked Jane Lynch and comedian Natasha Leggero for their opinion. After Lynch mentioned that the only thing she was offended about was that SpaghettiOs were being refereed to as “pasta,” Leggero said, “It sucks that the only surviving members of Pearl Harbor are being mocked by the only food they can still chew.”
I’m not sure what NBC expected when they brought a raunchy comedian on national TV and asked for her opinion on a “sensitive” issue (quotes denote the fact that an issue revolving around SpaghettiOs can only be so sensitive). Comedians tell jokes. It’s what they do. I’m pretty sure it’s in the dictionary and everything. They aren’t esteemed or dignified public figures. Leggero is a comedian. Her album is called “Coke Money.”
After she delivered the joke Daly looked like he realized a line might have been crossed, albeit playfully, and Anthony Anderson nearly fell out of his chair he was laughing so hard. It’s a wonder people aren’t calling on him to apologize for laughing so heartily at a joke about veterans. (It wasn’t really a joke about veterans, they were just mentioned in a context that wasn’t severely reverent.)
The next day Leggero’s head was called for, as so many other comedians’ heads have been called for recently in the aftermath of similar jokes indirectly related to issues that some might find sensitive, issues that often only provide a topical jumping off point for jokes about something else entirely.
In the eyes of many, this Salon piece from July was almost comically off base in its criticism of a joke Patton Oswalt tweeted in response to a Bay Area TV station intern muffing the names the pilots an Asiana Airlines flight that crashed. A joke about the ineptitude of the TV station was spun into a racial issue.
More closely echoing the response to Leggero’s veteran-related remarks, as the New York Observer points out, was the backlash Lena Dunham faced after tweeting about going to the bathroom in Starbucks on Memorial Day. The previous Halloween Dunham apologized for tweeting about dressing up as a Canadian couple and the sister they murdered, noting how “the boundaries of comedy are confusing.”
It’s hard to tell if these are cases of people “not getting it” and as a response to their confusion looking for a foothold on which to take offense, or if they’re just looking for a foothold on which to take offense, period. The truth is probably somewhere in between. Not everyone has the same sense of humor. As Dunham tweeted, it’s confusing territory.
Following Leggero’s quip, the pressure to atone for her sin mounted and on Friday she issued a statement on her blog, making it clear that she wasn’t going to be another comedian to give an “insincere apology” for a joke that was largely misinterpreted. As she mentions in her non-apology, the joke was directed at dentures and old people’s inability to chew, not veterans. Leggero even takes the outraged masses to task, noting that their energy should be directed toward getting veterans better care upon their return from duty rather than calling her “a cunt.”
Her full statement is below. Make sure you click where she links to some of her favorite responses…like “drink bleach.”
On New Years Eve I made what I thought was a harmless joke http://dailym.ai/1crNs71
Here is my response:
Well hello America!
It’s been a busy few days but rest assured, I have received all of your messages and have been busy sifting through the different creatively misspelled death threats, rape fantasies and most of all repeated use of the the C word. In the past few days I have been called a cunt so much I felt like I was in a British pub rooting for the wrong soccer team. Click here to see some of my faves!
I wish I could apologize, but do you really want another insincere apology that you know is just an attempt at damage control and not a real admission of guilt? Let me just try instead to be honest.
I’m not sorry. I don’t think the amazing courage of American veterans and specifically those who survived Pearl Harbor is in any way diminished by a comedian making a joke about dentures on television. Do we really believe that the people who fought and defended our freedom against Nazis and the Axis powers will find a joke about Spaghetti O’s too much to bear? Sorry, I have more respect for Veterans than to think their honor can be impugned by a glamorous, charming comedian in a fur hat.
That’s not to say I don’t think comedians are a problem in this country, they are a financial drain on the people who date them and talk far too much about themselves. I’m thrilled to see how passionate (death threats against a five foot tall woman are always the height of passion!) people are about our country and our Veterans. I am too. My own father lost his hearing in the Vietnam War so the issue is pretty close to me too. So rather than apologize, let me offer another perspective.
On the one hand you have me, making a joke about how old people can’t chew tough foods very well.
On the other hand you have Veterans who receive inadequate care upon their return from active duty, rampant sexual assault against female soldiers, staggering rates of suicide, traumatic brain injury, PTSD, substance abuse and depression among soldiers and political gridlock that prevents these problems from getting solved quickly.
Where do you think your outrage and action would be better served, calling me a cunt or doing something about the above problems?
For those of you that are currently doing both: Kudos!
To our vets: I love you. I truly hope you know that.
To Spaghetti O’s: Let’s do lunch.
To the Elderly: Chew!
To @nealrscott: It’s spelled Human Excrement not Increatment.
To those looking for an active way to address the above problems, do what I’ve decided to do instead of apologize: Make a donation to the Disabled American Veterans foundation. (link http://www.dav.org)
Not surprisingly, Leggero’s fellow comedians applauded the statement:
FINALLY, A COMEDIAN (@natashaleggero) WHO REFUSES TO APOLOGIZE. THANK FUCKING GOD. http://t.co/uepH9zAVSm— Neal Brennan (@nealbrennan) January 4, 2014
There are a lot of different types of people who feel that they know “the way things should be.” As long as that’s the case, these people are actively going to look for excuses to get pissed off at those on the other side of the spectrum. There’s a constant search for anything one can find to validate their belief that everything’s going to shit. Anyone looking for such validation is never not going to find it because, well, we basically have access to everything that’s happening in the world at all times.
For some, the validation might be Fox News; for others, on New Year’s Eve, it was Leggero. Fox’s Megyn Kelly issued a non-apology for her remarks about Santa’s staunch Caucasian-ism in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Thankfully Leggero decided to hold her ground, as well. Hopefully her statement will serve as inspiration the next time a comedian gets called a whore, is told to drink bleach or has their life threatened for trying to make people laugh.
Until then, Happy New Year.