A female comedienne using social media to make a nasty comment many found vulgar, distasteful and mean spirited.

A female comedienne using social media to make a nasty comment many found vulgar, distasteful and mean spirited.


Because of that, she loses a lucrative television contract. She apologizes, but her detractors — and even some supporters — call it too little, too late.


This woman has made her living speaking out in ways which were offensive to many people, although a large number of supporters hailed her work as ground breaking and innovative. But after the social media stunt many of her supporters have charged she went too far.


It’s very possible her career is over.


And who was that woman?


Kathy Griffith.


Forgot about that one, didn’t you?


It seems like ancient history since Griffith was lambasted for posing with the bloody fake Donald Trump head. As a result, she lost her regular CNN New Years Eve gig with Anderson Cooper, many of her standup shows were canceled and she admitted she had been unable to get any work since then.


Griffith tried to apologize, but no one seemed to listen. And many in the gay community, a group she had championed for most of her career, either stayed silent or joined in the attack.


And as the conservatives howled about how distasteful and sordid her “comic” stunt was, liberals pointed out those same people had said nothing when photos of a dummy with a monkey’s body and President Obama’s head being lynched appeared on the Internet.


Fast forward to today.


Rosanne Barr’s tweet comparing a Clinton advisor to a character on “Planet of the Apes” led to her show being canceled by ABC (although as I write this there are rumblings Fox has picked up the show). Her apology has not cooled the furor, particularly since the drug company she blames for causing her to make the tweet denies obnoxious, racist tweets are side effects of their products.


Some of Barr’s co-workers have publicly taken issue with the tweets, expressing disappointment and anger with the message it conveyed.


And while liberals cheer the quick action taken to bring down Barr’s show, conservatives are calling for ABC to cancel “The View” as well because of their offensive comments about Trump.


As I listen to all the outrage, which will disappear as soon as the next scandal comes out this weekend, another name keeps popping up in my head which makes both Griffith and Barr seem like naughty children mispronouncing a dirty word in front of their grandparents.


Lenny Bruce.


Not long ago I mentioned Bruce to a fairly progressive young man who informed me he had never heard of him. I was reminded once again the rebels of the past are either co-opted into the mainstream or pushed out of mind altogether.


But Bruce is different. Back in the Fifties and early Sixties, when TV houses did not have bathrooms and Lucy and Ricky and Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore slept in twin beds, Bruce was making jokes about drug addiction and venereal disease. Some of his sketches could not be played on the air today, for example a take in which the Lone Ranger deals with what we now call alternative lifestyles and his relationship to Tonto.


Bruce was arrested for pornography at some of his club appearances. But even when trying to silence him law enforcement and civic leaders actually managed to spread his message. At one of his trials, a detective began reading portions of Bruce’s club material for which he had been arrested. As the detective read, the spectators in the courtroom began to laugh at the jokes, prompting the detective to begin imitating Bruce’s delivery just as he was trying to convict Bruce for obscenity with the material the courtroom was enjoying.


The most controversial aspect of Bruce’s comedy, however, was not sex but racism. Bruce made it a point to attack the racism of his day, which was not only acknowledged but approved at the time. By doing so, particularly using horrible racial epithets, Bruce said he was trying to wake people up to the disease of racism and its harmful effects.


In one story, Bruce was performing his act in a night club when two famous African American basketball stars were in the audience. At one point, Bruce asks one of the players for a puff on the cigarette he was smoking. When the man handed him the cigarette, Bruce gasped and said “He n——————lipped it!” The entire white audience immediately froze but the two basketball players laughed.


You can imagine the reaction that remark would have prompted today.


Bruce later said his use of the “n” word was to push it in people’s faces and make them acknowledge how awful it was. He also said he wanted to take away its power over people and free them to respect each other as individuals.


The difference between what Bruce said and what Barr and, to a lesser extent, Griffith, did is subtle but important. Barr’s tweet was a vulgar attempt to get a laugh. Bruce’s provocative comments were made to get people to think. Griffith’s photo could be seen as something in between.


Art, particularly comedy, at its best has always been provocative. Since ancient Greek theatre, when Aristophanes was writing about women denying men sex unless they stopped fighting, laughter has been used as the sugar coating to get people to take needed medicine. The hope is that after people stop laughing they will begin to realize what they are laughing at is actually no laughing matter.


What is most tragic about this whole mess is that tweet will overshadow what Barr has done throughout her lifetime.


Barr’s horrible tweet offsets much of what she has done throughout her career. She pioneered giving voice to the working class, particularly working class women, in a way that was not condescending or stereotypical. She also offered positive insights into prejudice against the LGBT community. The finale of her first series was, in my opinion, one of the most brilliant moments of television since the original Twilight Zone series.


But now all people will think about is the Ambien tweet. Her reputation has been ruined. The good she has done has been destroyed, just as Cosby’s positive message for African Americans has been trashed by the sexual assault scandal, Griffith’s stand for gay rights has been overshadowed by the bloody mannequin head and Bill Clinton’s economic success will always be compromised by a blue dress.


What can we learn from all of this?


There are consequences to your actions. Think before you do or write or tweet. And take some time before you hit that button. You could be paying for it the rest of your life. And others could as well.


Just ask anyone who decided to drive when they were “a little buzzed” and got into an accident. No amount of regret or apology will take back the injuries, the reputation, the loss of life which occurred.


Be sure you can take the responsibility or don’t do it.