Controversial comedians often follow the “never complain, never explain” rule. But earlier this week, Sarah Palin complained about some jokes David Letterman made at the expense of her and her daughter, and last night, Dave explained, at some length.
The jokes, if you haven’t heard, riffed off the Palins’ taking in a Yankees game in New York; Letterman joked that they had a problem keeping Elliot Spitzer away from the Palin daughter, and that during the seventh-inning she got “knocked up” by Alex Rodriguez. (There was another about Sarah Palin stopping at Bloomingdale’s to update “her slutty flight-attendant look.”)
But which daughter? The Palins, and their supporters, charged that Dave meant 14-year-old Willow, and thus was joking about statutory rape. Dave, last night, said the joke was about 18-year-old Bristol—”who, excuse me, was knocked up”—and that he would never joke about rape.
You be the judge. Personally, Dave’s explanation flies with me, simply because the joke only makes sense if it’s about Bristol; but I’ll admit that I’m a bigger Dave fan than a Palin fan, so call me biased. I also think that the jokes were sleazy. One of the most scuzzy elements of the fall campaign were the cheap shots taken against a pregnant teenager who never made the decision to run for anything.
This was, in any case, one of those mutually beneficial controversies for the parties involved. Sarah Palin may well have been legitimately offended at the insult to her family and herself. But her response was not just personal, but clearly calculated to sound the same Real-America-vs.-the-elites notes as her Vice Presidential campaign did in 2008, and maybe as her 2012 campaign will: “it reminds us some Hollywood/N.Y. entertainers have a long way to go in understanding what the rest of America understands—that acceptance of inappropriate sexual comments about an underage girl, who could be anyone’s daughter, contributes to the atrociously high rate of sexual exploitation of minors by older men who use and abuse others.”
Meanwhile, Letterman extended an invite to Palin to appear on his show and bury the hatchet. Mighty big of him, because you know nobody will watch that episode if she does. One thing’s for sure: all this is the last thing Conan O’Brien needs.