In a recent blog on HuffPost, Dennis Perrin criticized Jon Stewart for apologizing the day after he agreed with a guest that President Harry Truman was a war criminal. He wrote that "Stewart did what well-regarded mainstream entertainers do when expressing an unpopular opinion. He groveled for forgiveness....When an American 'satirist' apologizes for stating the truth, you can really appreciate 'free expression' in a corporate-owned culture." Since Perrin stated that, "before The Daily Show, Stewart was not known in a Paul Krassner/Barry Crimmins/Whitney Brown way," I feel especially compelled to disagree with his premise.
As a performer, I was a bundle of paradoxes. I was a hermit, yet I would go out to do shows and talk to a hundred people at once. I was a social critic, yet my spiritual path was trying not to judge others. Irreverence was my only sacred cow, yet I tried not to let victims become the target of my humor. So, there was one particular routine that I stopped using in 1970, when abortion was still illegal and I ran an underground referral service. It called for a "rape-in" of legislators' wives in order to impregnate them so that they would then convince their husbands to decriminalize abortion. But feminist friends objected.
I resisted at first, because it was such a well-intentioned joke. But I reconsidered. Even in a joke, why should women be assaulted because men make the laws? Legislators' wives were the victims in that joke, but the legislators themselves should have been the target. For me to cease doing that bit of comedy wasn't self-censorship, it was conscious evolution. I publicly apologized, in print and on the air. Of course, if you think I was merely kowtowing to political correctness, I hereby grovel for your forgiveness.
Perrin admitted that his take on The Daily Show was "a tad personal," because they had once rejected material he submitted because it was "too dark." Actually, I had a similar experience with Dennis Miller. He had called to invite me to submit material--several jokes and a rant--when he hosted his own TV series. This was when he mistook spouting obscure references for being hip, but before he became such a political reactionary. He never let me know his decision. After a few weeks, I wrote and asked him, but he didn't have the courtesy to respond. I learned from a staff writer that Miller considered my material "too radical." However, I did read it on the radio one Sunday morning when Harry Shearer invited me to substitute for him on Le Show.
I also feel compelled to disagree with Jon Stewart. I think that Harry Truman was indeed a war criminal. Actually, I believe that in most wars, both sides harbor top-level war criminals, but that the victor determines who they are. As Lenny Bruce said in 1962 at the Gate of Horn in Chicago, "If we would have lost the war, they would have strung Truman up by the balls...." Lenny was arrested for obscenity that night. One of the items in the police report complained: "When talking about the war he stated, 'If we would have lost the war, they would have strung Truman up by the balls.'"