We imagine that a good 40% of Lorne Michaels' day is taken up by muttering, "What have I unleashed on the world?" After hearing about the activities of many "Saturday Night Live" alumni, you couldn't fault him.
When Jon Lovitz guest hosted Dennis Miller's nationally-syndicated talk show on Monday, he and guest Dana Carvey spent several minutes discussing why people get so upset at Obama jokes. And in light of Lovitz's recent "Obama's A F***ing A**hole" bit, as well-crafted a jibe as one could possibly muster, one can only assume this is an issue dear to his heart.
Lovitz and Carvey start the discussion off by deriding the media for taking controversial bits of a comedian's act and conflating them to press statements. We agree! As card-carrying members of The Media, we also would call for an end to audiences recording comedy sets, and for newspapers and blogs to cover them less sensationally.
That's an easy thing to get on board with -- obey the rules of a performance -- but it's worth pointing out that Lovitz is hardly a victim of this trend. Let's run down Lovitz's quotes that have made headlines recently:
- On his podcast "The ABCs of 'SNL,'" Lovitz said: "This whole thing with Obama saying the rich don't pay their taxes is f*cking bullsh*t. And I voted for the guy, and I'm a Democrat. What a f*cking a**hole." (Lovitz claims that the quote is funnier in context.)
- In response to those who thought his previous comments were a bit harsh, he tweeted, "Last I checked, he's President, not King! This is America! Freedom of Speech."
- He went on Sean Hannity and Megyn Kelly's shows to blast Obama for throwing a fundraiser with George Clooney.
- Last week, he tweeted a picture in reaction to Obama's "you didn't build that" quote that somehow proved controversial, saying Obama "didn't earn" his Nobel Peace Prize.
Do it with us: Point your index finger up in the air, a la the Master Thespian. "Comedy!"
Alas, Jon Lovitz is not the victim of guerrilla journalists taking his hilarious jokes about Obama out of context. (Although the comedy credentials of Fox News are debatable.) All of the above instances were voluntarily released to the public by Lovitz himself -- and it should be noted, they all were picked up by right-wing blogs before they hit mainstream news outlets.
Lovitz and Carvey then went on to lament the fact that Obama humor is less well-received than, say, jokes at the expense of George W. Bush.
"Free speech is the coolest thing we have in this country," Carvey opined. However, a joke bombing isn't the same thing as a joke being censored, which is what free speech theoretically protects.
Comedians have previously remarked upon the difficulty of making Obama material really work. Before the 2012 White House Correspondents Dinner, host Jimmy Kimmel told Reuters that he was struggling for jokes. "Outside of his ears, there’s not a whole lot to talk about,” Kimmel said. Obama seems to be a president whose lack of mockable characteristics and relatively high likability numbers make him an unpopular target for most audiences.
But Lovitz and Carvey seem to agree that it's worth a shot. "In my lifetime, this is the edgiest area of political comedy," Carvey responded. "If you think of us growing up in Vietnam and Watergate, one of the biggest anthems of our generation is to question authority. It happens that right now the authority is President Obama," he continued.
A fair point, but it doesn't really prove that the thought-police are mobilizing in an attempt to silence Lovitz's presidential zingers.
Nevertheless, this new career phase seems to be working out for Lovitz -- it's gotten him more press attention than he's seen in years. It sure must beat sitting behind a merch table full of "That's the Ticket!" T-shirts.