When Is It Okay to Use the 'It Was a Joke' Defense? When It Was an Actual Joke

Because the world is a stupid garbage place, Robert De Niro has apologized for the joke he made Monday night at a presidential fundraiser, in which he questioned whether or not the country is "ready for a white first lady." Newt Gingrich was sooooooo personally offended by the public acknowledgement of racial inequality in America that he demanded an apology not only from De Niro, but also from President Obama (Commander in Chief and Grand Arbiter of Chuckles). Because clearly the biggest problem facing our nation right now is that there haven't been enough white first ladies. Newt is just sticking up for the 99%, you guys! The 99% of first ladies who have been white. Won't somebody please think of the white ladies???

In a statement, De Niro said:

"My remarks, although spoken with satirical jest, were not meant to offend or embarrass anyone — especially the first lady."

Boooooooo. Okay. Look. Can we just take a second and break this down? 1. Robert De Niro does not really believe that our country isn't ready for a white first lady. Is this really not clear to everybody? 2. Newt Gingrich is not really offended. He is being a disingenuous and opportunistic fuck. 3. IT'S A JOKE.

There's been lots of discussion the past couple of days/weeks/years about the validity of the old "it was a joke" defense. It feels distasteful, as a liberal, to shout "it was a joke!" to defend a joke—it feels defensive, a little myopic, and it's a silencing tactic hugely popular among conservatives ("Shut up! My hate speech is hilarious!"). But sometimes a big fat unapologetic "IT WAS A JOKE" is a completely correct response.

Like, as in this case, when it's a fucking joke. As any emotionally crippled funny person can tell you (i.e. all of us), humor is a defense mechanism—it's not an attack mechanism. That's why—I'm not even going to equivocate here—there is no funny conservative comedy. Like, remember this? And this? And this guy? And look at THIS CRAZY SHIT (actually, don't). People in positions of power simply cannot make jokes at the expense of the powerless. It's gross, and it's not how humor works. Have you ever noticed that at a company party, you never have a roast where the CEO is roasting the janitor ("Isn't it funny how Steve can barely feed his family? This guy knows what I'm talking about!" [points to other janitor])? Because that would be completely fucking insane.