(UPDATED Wednesday, see below)
How clean a comic is Wayne Brady? Clean enough to play the Kennedy Center. Clean enough to host the Miss America pageant. And now, clean enough to host a big Washington media-political gala in the year 2012.
The Radio & Television Correspondents’ Association announced Tuesday that the PG-rated singer/comedian/game-show host will headline its annual gala in June — replacing raunchy comic Louis C.K., who abruptly dropped the gig last month after Greta Van Susteren threatened a boycott.
C.K. ended up in the Fox anchor’s crosshairs because of a vulgar 2010 Twitter rant in which he called Sarah Palin a word that we not only cannot repeat here but which is widely regarded as the worst thing you can call a woman. (He told The Wrap this week that he dropped out because “I wasn’t that excited about it” and “I didn’t want to cause them problems.”)
As for his replacement? “Wayne Brady is as close to safe as you can get,” said Adam Frucci, editor of Splitsider, a blog devoted to comedy. “He’s pretty squeaky-clean.”
Sources close to the dinner tell us that finding a fill-in speaker was not easy, especially at this politically sensitized moment. (C.K.’s hiring made no waves when it was announced in December; Van Susteren launched her attack in the days after Rush Limbaugh was pilloried for his slurs against birth-control advocate Sandra Fluke . Update 4/4: Van Susteren tells us she only learned about C.K.’s Palin rant in March and that her objections were unrelated to the Limbaugh controversy.)
“The thing that makes comedy good is being able to say anything, and that goes against the ‘gotcha’ rules of 24-hour cable news,” Frucci observed. “Most comedians have something they’ve said. . . that people looking for reasons to be outraged aren’t going to like.”
It’s hard to find reason for outrage in Brady’s work. (Though do let us know if you can! Update, 4/4: Outrage found!) The improv comic, 39, mostly avoids four-letter words and cutting jokes; now the host of “Let’s Make a Deal,” he’s also an R&B singer who sold out the KenCen’s Concert Hall last week with his tribute to Sam Cooke and Sammy Davis Jr. His wholesome style has been mocked by other comedians: “White people love Wayne Brady,” went the joke on “The Chappelle Show” some years back, “because he makes Bryant Gumbel look like Malcolm X.” (Brady later parodied himself on the same show, posing as a drive-by-shooting, drug-pushing pimp to terrorize Dave Chappelle.) Oh wait — here’s something a little naughty!: On a 2008 talk show, Brady described his horror at watching TV with his young daughter and seeing “Britney Spears’ [slang for ladyparts but hardly the worst word].” Hmmm. We predict he’ll survive this. Brady’s rep did not return our calls.
The question remains: With whom will Brady share the dais? Jay McMichael, the CNN photojournalist who is chairing the dinner, told us the group is in discussions with the White House in hopes of luring President Obama, who hasn’t attended the gala since 2009.
Update: Yes, Wayne Brady did once say something that offended someone, 4/4/12
Read earlier: Louis C.K. and the peril of Washington media dinners, 3/12/12