Politically Savvy: Where’s the Line Between Funny and Offensive?

This past Saturday, while we were all cramming for finals, Washington, DC was alive and full of journalists, politicians and celebrities all converging at the Washington Hilton for the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, also affectionately known as “Nerd Prom.” It was a lot less nerdy than usual though, since the dinner was filled no only with media and political elites, but stars like Ashton Kutcher, Eva Longoria, and Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, to name a few.

The highlight of the evening, which is always broadcast on cable TV, is the two speeches given every year: one by the President, and one by a hired entertainment speaker or comedian. The President, in my opinion, really hit it out of the park with his speech this year, delivering punchline after punchline (video below).

After the President came comedian Wanda Sykes, who also delivered some impressive jabs, but then she had a few controversial ones, too. At one point, she discussed conservative talk show host and radio personality, Rush Limbaugh:


Rush Limbaugh said he hopes this administration fails,” Sykes said. “So you’re saying, ‘I hope America fails’, you’re, like, ‘I don’t care about people losing their homes, their jobs, our soldiers in Iraq’. He just wants the country to fail. To me, that’s treason He’s not saying anything differently than what Osama bin Laden is saying. You know, you might want to look into this, sir, because I think Rush Limbaugh was the 20th [9/11]  hijacker. But he was just so strung out on OxyContin he missed his flight.”

Sykes then said, “Rush Limbaugh, I hope the country fails, I hope his kidneys fail, how about that? He needs a good waterboarding, that’s what he needs.”

At the moment, it seemed funny, but she did also get a few boos and within moments the room was hushed, realizing that Sykes might have toed the line with that joke. On Sunday, the debate began: was it just plain funny, or seriously offensive? How much leeway do you give to someone for the sake of humor? Is it too early to make 9/11 hijacker jokes?


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