Louis C.K. — the sometimes raunchy and always dark comedian — abruptly canceled plans Friday to entertain at one of Washington’s biggest media banquets, a day after Fox News host Greta Van Susteren urged a boycott if he stayed on the bill.
While offering no explanation for his pullout from the Radio & Television Correspondents’ Association dinner on June 8 (the comic simply “just didn’t want to do it anymore,” his rep told CNN), he dodged a Limbaughesque firestorm in the making: Van Susteren on her blog Thursday had called C.K. a “pig” for his “filthy language about women” — Sarah Palin in particular. “I think the organization that hired him” — the RTCA — “is just as bad as he is,” she wrote.
Does this mess sound familiar? Folks, this is what happens when journalists go into the party-throwing business.
The appearance of insider coziness at these affairs — reporters hobnobbing with politicians — may be the least of the pitfalls.
There’s a good cause behind most of these dinners, like raising money for scholarships. But in the push to sell tickets, hosts try to build buzz by hiring the hippest performers — who aren’t always the most comfortable dais neighbors for the president of the United States.
In 2006, Stephen Colbert gave a routine archly critical of George W. Bush at the White House Correspondents’ dinner; in 1996, Don Imus joked about Bill Clinton’s womanizing at the RTCA gala. And yes, the presidents were sitting just feet away. Whether to laugh or not became an awkward political litmus test for everyone in the room.
And as media organizations compete to invite the hottest celebrities to sit at their tables, the stars leverage the events for their own PR — witness Sheryl Crow’s 2007 WHCA confrontation with Karl Rove over global warming, a sideshow that prompted the New York Times to stop attending these events.
C.K. — currently riding high with a hit FX sitcom — was an edgy pick for this kind of dinner. On Twitter in the fall of 2010, he dropped many vulgar words on Palin, including — well, about the worst thing you can call a woman. (If not in C.K.’s mind: “There’s beauty in that word,” he once claimed onstage. “I don’t use it as an insult.”) He later told GQ he deeply regretted the tweets — part of a drunk, nonsensical binge — because he avoids political humor and cherished a non-partisan reputation (Andrew Breitbart was supposedly a fan). But he did not apologize: “I have said many indefensible things onstage,” C.K. told the magazine. “It’s [expletive] comedy.”
Who’ll take his place? No word yet, but dinner chairman Jay McMichael vowed in an email to put on a “great evening. . . with plenty of surprises.”
This story, appearing in print Monday, March 12, contains elements of a Web-only story from Friday, March 9.