Did a guest on Fox News just make one of the smartest points about comedy this year?
On December 24, Bill Maher sent out a tweet that read: "Wow, Jesus just f****d #TimTebow bad! And on Xmas Eve! Somewhere in hell Satan is tebowing, saying to Hitler 'Hey, Buffalo's killing them [sic].'"
Predictably, many in the conservative media were upset that Maher broadcast such a rude and blasphemous joke at the expense of the NFL star. Glenn Beck's site The Blaze reported on the story and the outrage that followed.
But on Wednesday night's episode of "Hannity," guest hosted by Mark Steyn, the panel discussion on the matter took a surprisingly thoughtful turn when commentator Andy Levy shared his opinion: That comedians should not be held to the same standards as other media figures for making jokes, and Maher's tweet should be judged on whether or not his joke was funny -- which it wasn't.
"Bill Maher tweeted this for one reason and one reason only: To get a rise out of people. Why give him the satisfaction?" Levy told Steyn after his fellow panelists claimed that Maher's tweet was a "vile" attack on religious freedom.
"He's a comedian. People need to stop being outraged by what comedians say. Part of their job is to say things that are outrageous," said Levy, a regular on Fox's "Red Eye," and who has a lengthy background in show business and comedy himself.
He's not a politician, he's not running for office. He's got a show on HBO, and he's a comedian. Who cares?
Maher's tweet is only the latest in a series of comedians' jokes (or poor attempts at jokes) being taken at face value and sparking outrage in the media. Notably, Tracy Morgan went on a lengthy apology tour after telling a joke in a stand-up set that allegedly implied endorsement of violence toward gays. Less successfully, Fox News accused "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart of racism over a Herman Cain characterization earlier this year.
Stewart came up during the "Hannity" discussion over Maher's tweet. Steyn mostly agreed with Levy's assessment, but argued that political comedians such as Maher and Stewart should be held to similar standards as the figures they mock if they want their opinions to matter.
"I don't agree. I think Jon Stewart is in a separate category from Bill Maher," Levy responded, to the agreement of the panel. "One, he’s funny."
More to the point, Levy indicated that he found Maher's joke as disingenuous as the attacks that followed. "That tweet was hacky. 'Okay, let's throw Satan and Hitler in there and say something about Tebow. Ooh, that's outrageous.' It's stupid."
But no matter what Levy thinks of the joke, the point that he makes about the reaction to Maher's tweet -- that equating a comedian's jokes with a serious statement is harmful and dishonest to the very foundation of comedy -- is an opinion worth noting. Louis C.K. defended Tracy Morgan similarly, tweeting that his fellow comic "was on a comedy stage, not at a pulpit."
Levy himself has been the target of ire from those offended by his jokes, most notably earlier this year when he sparked the outrage of Chris Brown fans after Brown tweeted "No more planking for me, unless it's on a sexy lady" and Levy responded "You spelled 'punching' wrong." He then took to "Red Eye" with a sarcastic "apology," implicitly making the same argument as he did on "Hannity": That comedy is most successful when it effectively speaks truth to power, and the discussion should end with whether or not the joke is funny and therefore effective.
To watch the full clip of the "Hannity" discussion on "Maher's Tebow Attack," as Fox called it, click over to Mediaite.