Let's say that your beloved pet suddenly died, and his death was then mocked by strangers on the radio. How would you feel? Slightly homicidal, right?
When Bill Clinton's dog Buddy died in 2002, the Imus cast naturally had a field day with it. The following article describes that day, but it also discusses what makes the Imus show so special: its ability to make us laugh at the truly horrible things, to somehow probe our id and find the things that we would never dare say in public.
The Imus crew always used humor that cut very close to the bone. Let's hope that they keep that when they come back.
BILL'S LOSS, WISE GUYS' GAIN
New York Daily News
January 9, 2002
I saw a T-shirt recently that read "It's Only Funny Until Someone Gets Hurt. ... Then It's Hilarious."
Naturally, I thought at once of radio comedians, whose lifeblood is the misfortune of everyone else. Then I thought of it again last week when Bill and Hillary Clinton's Labrador retriever, Buddy, was killed by a car and WFAN morning man Imus pounced on the story like a starving man who just found a case of Imus Brothers salsa.
Basically, said Imus, who fires up the chain saw every time he hears the word "Clinton," this proves again that Bill and Hillary take so little responsibility for anything that they couldn't even bother to keep their dog from running into traffic.
When Imus read the Clintons' statement that Buddy had been a wonderful, faithful companion, Imus sidekick Bernard McGuirk cracked that this sounded like the statement they issued when Vince Foster died.
And so it went, because that's what Imus and his posse do. They make wise-guy remarks. They're funny.
But I also know that when your dog dies, it hurts, and I started thinking about those pictures of Bill Clinton taking Buddy for walks. Maybe those were only photo ops. Maybe not. Maybe, like dog owners everywhere, the most powerful man in the free world realized that Buddy, in contrast to his human friends, was actually happy to see him even when he'd acted like a jerk.
On your worst day, your dog still likes you. Small wonder we get attached to them. Maybe when Buddy dies, we could just say we're sorry.
Of course, the fact the Imus banter made some people uncomfortable also probably means it worked. If you can't flat-out offend someone in the radio comedy game, making them uncomfortable is a good second choice.
In that way, the Buddy riff recalled the day Rush Limbaugh admitted to his listeners he was going deaf.
The words had barely left his lips before the on-air jokes started - not on the Imus show - about how no hearing in his left ear for Rush wasn't a problem, it was an answered prayer. Or, alternately, that it was redundant.
Loss of hearing, like the death of a pet, is for most of us just sobering. We think about it - what if you loved music and could never hear it again? - and we instinctively feel bad for anyone to whom it happens.
So maybe the challenge for radio comedians is to push through that moment of human weakness and make the jokes anyhow. Once you learn to ignore the "Do Not Offend" signs, the little town of Hilarious can't be far up the road.