Why Doug Stanhope shouldn’t have to apologize for his Sarah Palin bit

By | August 8, 2011 at 4:56 pm | 12 comments | News, Opinion | Tags: , , , , , ,

The Down’s Syndrome Association in the UK is not happy with comedian Doug Stanhope. They’re also more than a little upset with the BBC. Here’s the deal: On Aug. 4, Stanhope was a guest on host Richard Bacon’s popular Radio 5 Live BBC radio show. At one point, Bacon says the following:

Richard Bacon (mp3)

Bacon or Stanhope said nothing vulgar or offensive during the above intro or the rest of the interview, and Bacon even frequently warned listeners of Stanhope’s possibly offensive stage act. The issue the DSA-UK has is that Bacon, as a BBC representative, encouraged his listeners to check out the Stanhope bit, wherein he jokes – in explicit detail – about Sarah Palin’s son Trig, who has Down’s Syndrome.

The DSA-UK immediately urged their supporters to file a formal complaint to the BBC, stating, “The DSA is shocked that a BBC employee has publicized the work of a comedian which is nothing more than a vile offensive rant and conflicts with BBC guidelines which state a responsibility to ‘protect the vulnerable and avoid unjustifiable offence.”

Meanwhile, Bacon took to Twitter on Aug. 4 and continued for days after, to profusely apologize to his followers, explaining over again that he wasn’t condoning the bit, but simply referencing a bit that would give listeners a good look inside the mind of Stanhope. By the way, today, both Bacon and Radio 5 Live issued an official apology to the DSA-UK.

Last night, Stanhope took to his Facebook page, writing:

To clarify – DJ only referred to a Palin bit w/o saying anything else. I just wrote this to the site @ info@downs-syndrome.org.uk saying in part ‘The best and highest use of your organization’s webpage is to give me publicity? How dare you pretend this is about you helping people rather than about your own personal, ego-driven agendas. Remember, you are supposed to be caring for victims, not making victims of yourselves. You are reprehensible.’

It’s shocking that there’s any protest at all since Stanhope didn’t break any radio guidelines, whatsoever. Congratulations and thanks need to go to Stanhope for not apologizing for his material. It would almost seem like he’s setting an unheard-of-precedent this year after a handful of comedians have apologized for what they said on stage. And why should he apologize? It was funny. And even if you didn’t find it particularly funny, he killed it with the Philadelphia crowd that night.

Some of the other comedians – notably Tracy Morgan and Jo Koy – who apologized this year share the unfortunate trait: what they said was offensive, had little to no joke context and most importantly, they weren’t funny. Regardless of the actual material in Stanhope’s Palin bit and regardless of what one might feel about Palin or Down’s Syndrome, it’s clear that Stanhope was creating a joke based on an absurd premise – that the Democrats should’ve ran their campaign on the idea that she can’t be a national leader because her son’s giant head destroyed her genitals during the birthing process. One could argue he’s satirizing the election process with a completely insane (and subjectively funny) argument.

The most surprising part of this story is that the DSA believe their actions are going to do anything. Staunch backers of the DSA in the U.K. and maybe in the U.S. will contact the BBC and complain, sure. Yet, their veiled whining over Stanhope’s act, which they could just choose to ignore, has only further empowered Stanhope, who had no issue with them before now.

Last night, I heard a comedian that I don’t like explore the hack, tired premise of Asians as bad drivers. The comic got huge laughs. After the show, I didn’t go up to him and verbally assault him for being tastelessly racist and negligibly clever. Why? Because it wouldn’t do anything. Even if I got an apology, I’m the one who looks stupid and close-minded as I just told the guy who killed it on stage, ‘You’re wrong.’ Even if he is actually wrong, he got 150 people to laugh, which trumps any argument that I would have.

Whether the subject of a comedian’s material is Down’s Syndrome, the Holocaust, 9/11, rape, the Tsunami or Amy Winehouse’s death, the one standard that has to be met is that it has to be funny. And Stanhope is consistently funny, albeit frequently offensive.

additional reporting, Dylan Gadino

About the Author

Jake Kroeger

Jake Kroeger has dedicated his life, for better or probably worse, to comedy. Starting and continually running the Comedy Bureau, a voice for LA comedy, by himself, he also writes and performs stand-up comedy in LA and watches more live comedy than is probably humanly tolerable. He's been a daily contributor to Punchline Magazine, now Laughspin.com because he loves and believes in comedy so much. Said of Kroeger, "...without his dangerously insane, unhealthy work ethic, certain comics would not have any press at all."

  • Fosl44

    When comics were told to back off on Chelsea Clintons looks, they obliged. No matter how funny, it wasn’t cool. Everyone understood, everyone. This isn’t cool either. It’s a baby for God’s sake

    • http://twitter.com/TheOnlyDanDodge Dan Dodge

      What you just said is ignorant, and I demand you apologize.

    • Here

      but that baby is a retard and retard jokes are funny

    • Sam Raffield

      It’s not a baby, it’s a living example of why Sarah Palin should never have been allowed to breed.

  • http://twitter.com/TheOnlyDanDodge Dan Dodge

    Great piece. No comic should ever HAVE to apologize for anything they SAY with WORDS that come out of their MOUTHS. If somebody gets carried away in the moment and says something they personally regret, and they choose to apologize, that’s a different story altogether. From now on, I’m going to ask if there are any retarded people or “activists” in the audience before I start a set.

    • Grey

      Does anyone HAVE to apologize? Stanhope is perfectly capable of not apologizing, too, if he wants to make that choice.

      People like to say, “You can’t joke about _____, it’s so unfair!” but you can. It’s just that if you’re an asshole about it (Not saying that Stanhope was, but previous offenders may have been) then people will react accordingly.

  • http://twitter.com/Zindiq Meredith

    This bit lacks the social relevance Doug’s comedy has had in years past and is just a series of big cunt retard jokes.

  • Lynn

    Doug Stanhope should apologize for his hairdo in that photo. 

  • Bong4meb

    “I think anyone is fair game.”
    -Sarah Silverman

  • Lawson

    Of course stanhope’s not going to apologize, he has nothing to lose. And that’s the way he likes it. That’s why he chooses to exist almost in the fringe of the comedy world, only remianing popualr through his own talent and merit. Anyone that knows comedy knows which comedians would never apolozige for anything, and it’s a short list that includes guys like Stanhope, Louis CK and Patrice O’neal.

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