Former SNL comedian and impersonator Dana Carvey struck a serious note when he lambasted the comedy industry for going soft on America’s first black president for fear of arousing the “snake” of political correctness.
Dana Carvey, who has given brilliant impersonations of political leaders from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, thinks comedians are overly sensitive of being branded racist by cracking jokes about the black Democratic leader.
“I always grew up with ‘Question authority,'” he said in a talk with Radio Titans podcast Kozversations, adding that US comedians today are worried about crossing the line between humor and racism.
“I’m from the old school: You go where the power is and you try to make fun of it,” he said. “When it becomes off limits to say or do certain things without being brutalized or censored or whatever, it’s unfortunate.”
Carvey said that race, color or creed should not prevent comedians from employing political satire – a craft that has been around as long as politics, and arguably just as important. But that is what has happened, Carvey argues, since the election of America’s first black president.
That is terribly unfortunate because quite often political satire allows people to grasp the absurdity that is taking place in the dank halls of government, thereby thrusting open the door to more serious, refreshing discussions. The very essence of political satire also makes people take an interest in their political system, which many people find boring or difficult to comprehend.
Political satirist Jon Stewart has been an exception to the liberal rule that commands, “Thou shalt not mock America’s first black leader,” when he opened a recent show by laughing at the US leader’s slumping popularity: “Everybody hates him. Even Democrats running frantically from Barack Obama like he was a bad guy in one of those chainsaw massacre movies you have here every couple of years. It’s the subject of tonight’s Democalypse 2014: POTUS-Partum Depression.”
Yet Stewart’s jibe at Obama didn’t really take him out on a limb, since he’s basically hitting Obama when he’s already down. For other comedians, however, who dared poke fun at the Democratic leader at the beginning of his presidency, the stakes were a lot higher. Carvey deliberated upon what happened to his fellow colleague, Dennis Miller, another former SNL veteran, who dared to touch the third rail, which he calls the “PC snake.”
“You know, we’re part of this deal too and we feel completely estranged to you,” Miller said in an interview with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News shortly after Obama’s reelection in 2011. “I’m a guy out here thinking that this is the first time in my 59 years I’ve got a president who I believe actively dislikes people like me. That’s a weird place to be for a country.”
Carvey said Miller has been “brutalized” for speaking such things, which some say comes uncomfortably close to racism.
“If you live in New York or LA and you’re liberal and you’re playing to a liberal crowd it’s almost like a rally … it’s not edgy,” he said. “The true edge is what Dennis Miller did, and he’s been brutalized for it.”
Carvey, whose impersonations of former president George H.W. Bush won the accolades of Bush himself, said people in his profession are “afraid to make fun” of the president in more liberal venues in NYC and Los Angeles because they’ll be “labeled.”
However, there have been some rare instances of Obama being dragged over the comedy coals by political satirists, with perhaps the most successful attempt being performed by Obama impersonator Reggie Brown.
Brown was even invited to perform his Obama impersonation before the Republican Leadership Conference in 2012. However, while telling a joke about newly declared presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, his microphone was turned off and he was escorted off the stage.
With the increasing possibility of the next US president being Hillary Clinton, America had better develop a sense of humor, and fast.
Robert Bridge is the author of the book, Midnight in the American Empire, which examines the dangerous consequences of extreme corporate power in the United States.
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