Friday, April 1


Back on March 12th, I published this post expressing more than a passing annoyance with Jay Leno, the host of NBC's "Tonight Show" and heir to Johnny Carson, who has been lacing his opening monologue with double entendre jokes about Michael Jackson and the pop singer's current trial in Santa Maria, California, on charges of pedophilia. Needless to say, the trial certainly falls under the category of "topical" and, to be sure, many comedians draw their comedic material from current events and major news stories, and most certainly those with television talk shows do. But the issue here is one of propriety, good taste, discretion, and the implications of making one's living, in part, by writing and delivering salacious jokes about something that is anything but funny in the real world -- the sexual abuse of children. After all, Jay Leno is on nightly television, not on the stage of some obscure, back alley, burlesque club.

In that post, I wrote of a particular Leno monologue:

There was a perverseness to Leno's concatenation of jokes that went far beyond defaming a pop music icon on trial for purportedly molesting a young boy at his Neverland Ranch. The jokes were not just mean-spirited. They suggested that pedophilia is just a funny fetish, rather than the sick, horrific crime it is, a crime perpetrated on innocent, unwary children. And as if this so-called "Jackson Monologue" were not distasteful enough, the NBC star felt duty-bound (effete Hollywood Liberal that he is) to draw in a President George Bush look-alike to complete the tasteless routine, suggesting that even the president of the United States finds the charges leveled against Jackson a source of amusement and his purported fondling of a young cancer victim appropriate fodder for comedians and presidents alike.

I admit to being a David Letterman fan, but the night before last I tuned into the "Tonight Show" just to see if Jay Leno had toned down the "Michael Jackson jokes" and found different fodder for his opening monologue. In short order, I found out that was not the case and, in point of fact, that Leno's pedophilia references had become even more egregious and distasteful. Among his jokes was a set-up before running a short film clip prepared by the "Tonight Show" production staff in which a limousine pulls up in front of the courthouse, a Michael Jackson look-alike emerges from the vehicle, and, as he begins walking towards the courthouse surrounded by his retinue of lawyers, handlers, and body guards, he suddenly stops. One of the body guards crouches down behind him, and as the camera zooms in you can see the man removing a small pair of boy's jockey shorts caught in the heel of the shoe of the Jackson look-alike. The camera lingered on the pair of shorts before the scene dissolved. Oh, it got a big laugh from the audience and Jay Leno played it up for all it was worth. In my mind, it wasn't worth a damn thing.

So why do I bring this all up again? Apart from the lurid evidence and testimony that has emerged from the Michael Jackson trial, we have had two tragic news stories in recent weeks in this country -- the abduction, sexual assault, and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford and the abduction, sexual assault, and murder of 10-year-old Jetseta Marrie Gage. Fact is, pedophilia and other serious crimes against children are major problems in this country and throughout the world. I seriously doubt that the parents, family, and friends of Jessica and Jetseta would find Jay Leno's incessant jokes about pedophilia funny, and even in the context of the Michael Jackson trial, which itself is no laughing matter to the accused pop icon or to his young accuser.

In this morning's edition of the "Houston Chronicle," there's a large photo on the front page of the "City & State" section that carries the headline, "Shoes Of The Children," and under which a caption reads, "Victor Diaz, of Galveston, looks at some of the 680 pairs of children's shoes hanging outside the Galveston County courthouse." As the story by Ruth Rendon reports, "the shoes hanging from the trees ... represent the hundreds of Galveston County child abuse victims last year." In that context, the bizarre sight of the shoes becomes terribly poignant and altogether chilling.

I imagine were those trees outside the Santa Maria, CA, courthouse where Michael Jackson's case is being tried, and were those trees decorated with hundreds of pairs of children's underpants, Jay Leno would find the scene absolutely hilarious and make it the centerpiece of tonight's monologue.

Fun is fun; but, sick is sick.