Sean Hannity and the panel on his Fox News show were triggered into a right-wing hissy fit Monday night after a comedian joked about a political issue in a way that offended them. Before you laugh that off as just another example of the right ratcheting up the outrage machine, keep in mind we are in a new place in America, a place where the GOP is doing more than complain about words they don’t approve of and are are enacting laws to “cancel” those who dare speak or write them.
The GOP is doing more than complain about words they don’t approve of but are are enacting laws to “cancel” those who dare speak or write them.
In this instance, Hannity and a panel that included former President Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump and former Florida Attorney General and Trump impeachment lawyer Pam Bondi said they were disgusted by comedian Laurie Kilmartin’s abortion joke on Ayman Mohyeldin’s MSNBC show Saturday night.
Referring to the person who leaked the draft of a Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, Kilmartin, an Emmy-nominated comedy writer, said, “I would like to find out who the leaker is, so I could make sweet love to that person, because that person is a hero to me. Ok? And if the leaker — a lot of people are saying it could be a conservative — if the leaker is a Republican, and if I get pregnant during our lovemaking, I will joyfully abort our fetus, and let them know.”
That was too much for Hannity and his panel. The host somehow connected Kilmartin’s joke with pro-choice protesters allegedly committing acts of violence. Lara Trump shrieked, “That comedian was not funny … there’s nothing funny about the abortion issue” and added, “Shame on that woman.”
But Florida’s former attorney general took it further and said that because Kilmartin had joked about God in her past comedy performance, she "shouldn’t have been on TV.”
After that panel, Kilmartin had to lock her Twitter account after a tsunami of vile comments and threats of violence. Given the anti-abortion movement’s long history of violence, including bombings and murder, threats against Kilmartin are deeply worrisome.
People can criticize a comedian’s jokes. But Hannity’s panel was part of the right’s ongoing effort to silence, that is, “cancel,” comedy they don’t like. They had to have known that attacking Kilmartin on such an emotional issue would lead to a backlash against her by Fox News viewers.
The right’s war on comedy isn’t new. During the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump called for "Saturday Night Live" to be canceled for jokes and sketches that mocked him. And as president, Trump not only lashed out against late night comedians, he even called on the Federal Communications Commission to investigate SNL for its jokes at his expense. Think about that: Trump tried to use the government to silence a comedy show.
Richard Nixon also viewed comedy at his expense as a threat, to the point where, in 1969, he reportedly pressured CBS TV executives to cancel The Smothers' Brothers weekly television comedy show. And even after the show was off the air, Nixon campaign funds paid a private investigator to look into the comedy duo, according to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. But what was then considered Nixonian, i.e., uniquely corrupt and paranoid, is now becoming more and more Republican, in that the whole party seems to be trending that way. That means that what we’re seeing from today’s GOP is more dangerous to our democracy.
The increasingly undemocratic GOP hates comedy because it scares them. In fact, comedy scares dictators and autocrats worldwide. In a recent interview with The Atlantic, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a former comedian, stated that Russian leader Vladimir Putin fears comedy because it’s a “powerful weapon” given it’s accessible and a “shortcut” to explaining complex issues.
As for Trump, he wanted to be feared, not laughed at. That explains why he broke a presidential tradition that began in 1924 with Calvin Coolidge and never attended the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. Contrast Trump’s refusal to President Joe Biden attending the event this year knowing he’d be the target of many jokes. Unlike Trump who lashed out at those who mocked him, Biden laughed heartedly at the barbs at his expense and joined in the standing ovation for “The Daily Show’s” Trevor Noah after his roast of Biden and others.
Richard Nixon reportedly pressured CBS TV executives to cancel The Smothers' Brothers weekly television comedy show.
A free society includes the freedom to mock our leaders and speak out on political issues without fear. But this GOP puts that freedom at risk. The party isn’t just threatening to “cancel” what it doesn’t don’t approve of, it is enacting laws to do just that. We see it with the GOP’s ban on books, ban on what they wrongly call “critical race theory,” laws empowering parents to sue school districts for allowing discussions of LGBTQ issues, and a Florida law that punishes Disney for daring to speak out against a Florida anti-LGBT law. Also, this week, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., introduced legislation to further punish Disney by reducing copyright protections for the company.
This is not a drill. The GOP is waging a war on freedom — from freedom of thought to freedom of choice to the freedom to joke. They’re coming for comedy because it is a unique threat to those who reject democratic values. Today’s plans to control every part of our lives, and nothing is off the table, including the jokes we tell.