Michael Abrahams | In defence of Michelle Wolf
I absolutely enjoyed comedian Michelle Wolf’s presentation at the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Wolf took shots at several targets, including herself (referring to her hair, small breasts and voice), journalists and Democrats. But most of her stinging zingers were aimed at Donald Trump and members of his administration. Although political humour, including jabs at prominent politicians, are expected at this event, many Republicans found Wolf’s set to be crass, unkind and offensive.
Among other things, Wolf has been attacked by Republicans for ridiculing the appearance of another woman, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. During her set, Wolf said that Huckabee Sanders burns facts and uses the ash as eye shadow. There was an uproar by some conservatives that ridiculing a woman’s looks was hitting below the belt, and unacceptable. But Wolf’s comments about the press secretary were not about her appearance, but her dishonesty.
Huckabee Sanders does lie. For example, during the fight to repeal Obamacare in 2017, the White House tried to blame Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran for the demise of the repeal, saying that he was hospitalised and was the deciding vote. Cochran was neither hospitalised nor was he the deciding vote, but Huckabee Sanders repeated these fallacies.
Regarding illegal voting in the 2016 election, Huckabee Sanders said that “there were a large number of incidents reported”, which was not true. She also falsely told the press that Trump never encouraged violence, even though he was recorded during campaign rallies doing just that. For example, in February 2016, during his presidential campaign, Trump told a crowd in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, "If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Just knock the hell ... . I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. I promise." The same month, at a rally in Las Vegas, referring to a protester at the venue, Trump said, “I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you."
But even if Wolf did make fun of Huckabee Sanders’ appearance, what is astounding is the blatant hypocrisy of those who bash Wolf but stand firmly and resolutely behind a man who has a penchant for uttering mean-spirited remarks about women’s appearances. For example, he called television personality Rosie O'Donnell “disgusting”, referred to her as a “slob” and described her face as being “fat” and “ugly”. When New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote a piece about him that he did not like, he sent her a copy of her article, with her picture circled, and "The face of a dog!" written across it.
Referring to Carly Fiorina, his former Republican candidate rival, Trump said, "Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?” He also said that Huffington Post editor and co-founder Arianna Huffington was “unattractive, both inside and out”, adding, “I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man … he made a good decision.”
Former Miss Universe Alicia Machado claimed that when she gained weight, Trump called her “Miss Piggy”. Regarding the late Nancy Reagan, Trump said that “she was never very beautiful”, and after the second presidential debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump said that when she walked in front of him, he “wasn’t impressed”.
I find it amazing that Trump’s supporters are willing to make those comments slide but are wounded by someone theorising about the source of a woman’s mascara.
Following the event, Trump referred to Wolf as “filthy” in a tweet, adding to the already overwhelming hypocrisy swirling in the Twittersphere. Yes, Wolf did use some words that would be bleeped on network television, but so has Trump. He was captured on tape bragging that he can grab women “by the p***y”. Some defended the president, saying that it was a private conversation and was “locker-room talk”. However, on the campaign trail, at a rally, on stage, Trump repeated what a woman in the crowd said about his rival, Ted Cruz, that, “He’s a p***y.” Also, Trump referred to athletes who kneel during the anthem as “sons of bitches” and to certain Third World states as “s***hole countries”.
Trump also tweeted that Wolf “bombed”. That was a lie. When a comedian bombs, he or she fails to elicit laughter at an appreciable rate or gets booed. One of the things that is important in stand-up comedy is laugh frequency. A good comedy set elicits laughter at least four times a minute, or every fifteen seconds. Michelle Wolf’s performance lasted for about 19 minutes and her comments elicited laughter more than 120 times, giving a frequency of laughter of about every nine seconds. For a stand-up comedian, that indicates a solid set.
So, by taking jabs at Republicans for their hypocrisy and dishonesty, Wolf succeeded in eliciting more hypocrisy and dishonesty from them, validating the comments made during her performance. They trashed Wolf, but what she did was what an intelligent comedian does. She held up a mirror to them and illuminated it - and the nastiness that they saw was their own reflection.