Defending Bill Maher, Part 2

      This argument regarding white people not being “allowed” to use the word nigger is akin to an orthodox religious person saying, “I abhor the use of swear words, you fucking cocksucker motherfucker.”
      I despise the use of the aforementioned word. But I hate it just as much coming from white people as from black people. I believe that it is inappropriate in all circumstances, except comedy. It is an ugly, offensive, impolite word. In my neighborhood here outside Detroit, composed of whites, blacks, Muslims and Chaldeans, I have two white neighbors – one of whom I like, the other I don’t like – who frequently use the word nigger when referring to black people and I bridle every single time they use it. But I’m never going to tell them that they can’t use it. I don’t like it but I accept that all words in the English lexicon are up for grabs, and that all of us Americans are free to say whatever we’d like – except yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater.
      Bill Maher did an expert job this week of restoring his reputation (and keeping his job) by groveling before a black academic, a black journalist and a black rapper. I found all three of these people’s friendly condemnation to be fatuous and ridiculous. Ice Cube stated, “We own that word.” Guess what, Mr. Cube, no you don’t. You don’t own any single word in the language and neither do I. Nigger doesn’t belong any more to black people than kike belongs to Jews or spick belongs to Latinos, etc. We all own the whole damn thing.
      I do appreciate that Bill Maher loves his job and wants to keep it. I love his show and I watch it every week. He said that he lost “political capital” by using the word, but he also lost a bit of credibility capital by not owning it. It was a joke, plain and simple. He didn’t call anybody a nigger (except himself), he made a joke. This is why comedians can’t play college campuses anymore – everybody is too fucking touchy.
      I just rewatched Chris Rock’s first HBO comedy special, Bring the Pain, from 1996. That’s as funny as Chris Rock ever was, which was hysterically funny. The most famous routine in the show was why black people hate niggers. Excuse me for paraphrasing, but I’m too lazy to watch it again and take notes. “A black woman has two kids and works two jobs. A nigger has nine kids and lives off welfare. The black woman would happily give one of her jobs to the nigger.” He goes on to say, “Niggers hate books. Books are like kryptonite to niggers. If you don’t want a nigger to steal your money, hide it in books.”
      I don’t believe that college students or HBO would tolerate that routine anymore. It’s severely politically incorrect, and that’s what makes it funny.
      To be fair, here’s a Jewish joke that I inconveniently remembered after writing the first of these essays. There’s a synagogue near here that’s about five stories tall and comes to a point. When it was built in the early 1970s some wag named it, “Kike’s Peak,” which made laugh then, and made me laugh again when I just remembered it. I wasn’t being called a kike; a pun was being made about a tall, pointy synagogue. I just repeated this quip to three of my friends, two gentiles and a Jew, and all three laughed. If it’s funny, it’s fair.
      Mr. Raimi (Sam’s father), a wonderful, intelligent, thoughtful, observant Jew, told me this joke about thirty years ago. A reporter at the U.N. comes up to three ambassadors, a Russian, an American and an Israeli, and asks, “Excuse me, gentlemen, but what do you think about the meat shortage in Rwanda?” The Russian asks, “What’s meat?” The American asks, “What’s a shortage?” The Israeli asks, “What’s excuse me?”
      Here’s a Jewish/black joke without the objectionable word, although it contains what might be considered the Jewish variation of it. Two black men are driving a pickup truck loaded with garbage that’s blowing out into the street. They are stopped by a cop who says that they can’t do that. The driver of the truck suggests, “What if Willy here gets out and lies down on top of the garbage and that way it won’t blow away?” The cop agrees and Willy gets out, lies down on the trash and they drive away. When they get to a red light, two old Jewish women pull up beside them. One of the women says to the other, “Look at that, someone threw out a perfectly good schvartze.”
      When I was a kid the butt of most jokes around here were Polish people, referred to in a derogatory way as Polacks, because there is a large Polish population, mostly located in the hunk of Detroit (that’s its own city), called Hamtramck (which, in my opinion, has too many consonants in a row). My grandfather was from Poland, but I never took the slightest offense at any of these joke, and there were hundreds of them. They all went something like this: What do they do with dead Polacks? They bury them with their asses out of the ground so they can use them as bicycle racks. Why don’t Polacks have ice cubes? They forgot the recipe.
      Let’s throw in another Jewish joke. Why do Jews have big noses? Because air is free.
      Here’s one that takes on two ethnic groups at once. A Latino walks into a bar and says to the black bartender, “Hey, nigger, give me a drink.” The black bartender says, “I don’t like being called that. How would you like it?” The Latino man says, “I don’t know, let’s try it.” So they switch places. The black bartender walks in and says, “Hey, spic, give me a drink.” The Latino man replies, “Sorry, we don’t serve niggers here.”
      I think I’ve made my point. Yes, there are jokes that aren’t offensive to anyone, but they’re usually not all that funny. What kind of fish has two knees? A two-knee fish.
      No, wait, there’s always sex, right? The doctor says, “I’m sorry, Mr. Smith, but you’ll have to stop masturbating.” “Why?” asks Mr. Smith. “Because I need to examine you.”
      Personally, I’ll take humor over political correctness any day of the week. It seems to me that everybody just needs to lighten up.

—Josh Becker



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