Political satire teaches us in maddening terms. It exposes the absurdity of the actions of the powerful, many of whom we elected. But with it comes a risk. Risk that your audience will misunderstand.
When word came down that Ann Coulter had referred to John Edwards using the "F" word, I wondered why in the world would she use a four-letter word. Her wit doesn't need that kind of insidious jolt to spice up her inevitable, spot-on satire. Using the "F" word would simply be offensive, and that's just not Ann.
That's when I read the actual transcript and found out the "F" word she used to refer to John Edwards was "faggot." See. Now that's funny. Not as funny of saying that 9/11 widows were "self-obsessed women... enjoying their husband's death," but you can't hit a home run every time up. Many on the left didn't get that one, but Ann was confident to stand her ground and not belittle her work by explaining why it was funny. Suffice it to say that satire can be defined as smart, biting wit, irony or sarcasm used to expose vice or folly, particularly of the powerful. And what could be more folly than to find out that the husband and father of your children who had left for work that morning and expected to return home to you and the kids later that evening, had disintegrated into ash just after a terrorist flew 450 tons of jet plane into his office? If you don't see the humor in that, well I'm guessing that you're probably too "self-obsessed" to get Ann's "faggot" gag.
First of all, if you really think that Ann believes the seemingly happily married Edwards is a "faggot" or what some less clever than Coulter might call, "gay," or even the far less humorous, "homosexual," then you probably believe that when Ann said "Liberals love America like O.J. loved Nicole," that she meant liberals would like to murder this country. If you don't know already, you can't murder a nation. Believe me, over the last few years we've tried and checking the satellite photos, it's still breathing.
She meant it as a metaphor. Like "Loving America like O.J. loved Nicole" is a metaphor. Or a simile. Either way, it's far more compliment than indictment, lest we've forgotten that O.J. was acquitted. Now should liberals get upset with being complimented? No, but they did. Why? Because they don't really understand satire.
It's been accepted thought that the left owns satire; that the likes of Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert or Bill Maher or Harry Shearer or Matt Groenig or Gary Trudeau or Sacha Cohen or Al Franken or the hundreds of others far outnumber those sharpened wits on the right. But to believe that you'd have to discount the effulgent satirical instincts of Coulter or Tim Hardaway or...I'm sure plenty more.
But back to Ann's CPAC joke. I really hate to have to explain why it was funny. Explaining the humor that emanates from Ann's satire is like explaining the smell behind fertilizer. You don't need to understand why fertilizer stinks. It just does.
Let's put it in context. Most people only know that Ann used the word "faggot." In itself, not particularly funny, except, perhaps, if you're Borat. But the word placed within the framework of the actual joke, different story. And a funny one at that.
Ann was performing in front of a lot of powerful Republican politicos at the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee). How powerful? Presidential candidate, Mit Romney who performed before Ann said, "I'm happy to learn that after I speak you're going to hear from Ann Coulter. That's a good thing." Damn right it was a good thing. Just imagine if Mit had to follow the "faggot" joke. You just can't. I've followed Andrew Dice Clay at The Comedy Store and believe me, once an audience is presented with that kind of comedy gold, anything after it is...well, let's just say, unless you have a better"faggot" joke - and that is probably unlikely - it's best to just feign nausea and duck out the back door.
Ann was just finishing her performance. She had killed. But while any real pro knows that you should always leave them wanting more, if you're a satirical hitman like Ann and still have a bullet in your holster, well, you just got to shoot.
"I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards," said Coulter, "but it turns out that you have to go into rehab if you use the word 'faggot,' so I'm . . . kind of at an impasse, can't really talk about Edwards, so I think I'll just conclude here and take your questions."
See? Within context the humor works beautifully on so many levels. Edward IS a presidential candidate and we all know he's rich as a very successful lawyer. Knocking the powerful down a few pegs is a super staple of classic satire. The almost effortlessly blending of "rehab" into the commentary brings to mind so many of the contemporary political and cultural icons who have ended up in one rehab or another. If nothing else, it's hip, and hip spells satire. Not literally. More allegorically. But what's even funnier? She never took a single question. Bam! Irony at its best.
The use of "faggot" in itself was a gutsy choice. Genius really. No one on the left seems to want to acknowledge Ann's raw courage. She could have used "pansy" or "Mary," or even "flamer," but she went for the dynamite...or dyn-O-mite as the great satirist Jimmy JJ Walker once observed. It reminds one of Ann's legendary "Press passes can't be that hard to come by if the White House allows that old Arab Helen Thomas to sit within yards of the President." Does anyone doubt that given the opportunity, the eighty-six-year old Thomas could snap Ann in two. Why do you think they put her in the second row?
The real brilliance is in the fact that in the joke she never told us where she would have used the word "faggot" if in fact she didn't have to go to rehab. Similar to when Ann opined that, "My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building." Never did she say what McVeigh might do when he visited the times. That shows enormous respect for the audience. She left them to imagine where they would have found it funniest. That isn't comedy, ladies and gentleman. That is what we call in the business, a gift. And that masterful crafting, along Ann's long and remarkable history of utilizing incisive satire to make a powerful point should exclude her from such harsh criticism.
But the critics on the left would rather demean her import even when she bodies up with the left. Deftly cutting through all the White House doubletalk and clearly defining this administration's foreign policy - "We should invade their (Muslim) countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity" - you would have thought that the grande satirists like Stewart or Maher or O'Reilly would have applauded. Jonathan Swift would have. But no matter how many examples of knee-slapping, yet profound repartee, her critics would rather crucify than learn. (Deep breath) That is one of the crosses greatness must bear. Ask Jesus.
Perhaps one day the left will truly appreciate the greatness of Ann Coulter. Then again, these are the same people who think "faggot" isn't funny. Ironic, ain't it?
Award-winning TV Comedy Writer Steve Young is the author of "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful" and his weekly column appears in the LA Daily News Sunday Opinion page...to the left of O'Reilly's...really. And if you want to overdose on Steve, click here for :Steve"s Latest Blatant Infomercial. His next book, "The Power of Satire...The Secret Weapon That Can Win The 2008 Election For The Candidate Who Is Less Of A Joke Than The Other," threatens to be finished any day.