April 15, 2007


Playing Along With Imus (SAM TANENHAUS, 4/15/07, NY Times Book Review)

Mr. Imus’s enthusiasm was unexpectedly long-lived. Months after his first mention of the book he was still obsessing, daily it seemed, about minutiae of the Chambers-Alger Hiss espionage confrontation, while his sidekicks histrionically greeted his recountings with a chorus of groans and protests of the “not-again” variety.

All this, I knew, was “good” for me — even the groaning. I was transcending the role of mere author and had become a bit player in the daily Imus comedy routine. I enjoyed all this, but knew it wouldn’t last. I had listened closely enough to the show to realize that Mr. Imus was capricious, and regulars on the program often became the butt of jokes or abuse, some of it quite cruel.

It was the price of admission. For all his self-assuredness, Mr. Imus often seemed perplexed by those who came from outside his own world. He had successfully remade himself into a quasi-establishment figure, but his roots were in the shock-jockery of the 1970s and 1980s.

This accounted, I suspect, for the elaborate courtesies he showed new guests. When I began to get the occasional live phone call, I was treated with deference. Mr. Imus’s second banana, Charles McCord, addressed me, with almost grave formality, as “Mr. Tanenhaus,” and the tone of respect was even more obvious to me when his guest was a woman, as though Mr. Imus wanted to atone for the lewdly misogynist fare he and his crew so often indulged in.

On the one occasion when I was invited into the studio for a full-fledged interview, Mr. Imus diffidently showed off the rare first editions of literary classics arranged in his office and modestly accepted my praise of the accomplished photographs he had taken.

The interview itself was a surprisingly sober affair of the C-Span variety: a direct, matter-of-fact, carefully paced tour through Chambers’s life. Mr. Imus had thoroughly mastered the material; he told me he was an admirer of the “Booknotes” interviews Brian Lamb was then doing on C-Span. A few minutes into the session I realized the only expectation of cheap laughs had been my own: the humorous “material” I’d worked up, but mercifully was spared from testing out.

By now, I was tuning in regularly. It had become part of my routine: waking up each morning to WFAN and the frisson of hearing my name broadcast on the radio. Of course, I was hearing other things, too, and they were disturbing at times: slurs against black athletes, an “impersonation” of Clarence Thomas that didn’t sound like him at all (unlike the impersonations of white figures), but instead drew on the stalest of the “here come de judge” grotesqueries of a previous era; the almost continual soundtrack of leering sexual comments.

Today, in the harsh light of Mr. Imus’s disgrace, it is hard to explain why none of this bothered me very much. But the truth is I tuned it out.

Much as I like Mr. Tannenhaus's work, including at the Times. that's just a lie. It doesn't bother listeners because the show is a comedy and comedy always crosses the line sometimes. You either accept the occasional transgression or end up a humorless git--like all of the PC Left these days.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 15, 2007 7:14 AM

Don't forget the PC Religious Right, like Donohue and his buddies at the American Catholic League.

Or Muslims who don't like Danish cartoons or South Park description of Mohammed.

Talk about not being able to take a joke.

Posted by: And Yet at April 15, 2007 9:36 AM

We can handle the religious right today, since they don't practice the murder profession.

Posted by: John J. Coupal at April 15, 2007 12:05 PM

As with Michael Richards, the problem in this situation is that what Imus said wasn't amusing. He was sliming a group of college athletes for no reason and, since it wasn't funny, he couldn't tell everyone to lighten up and accept that it was a joke.

P.J. O'Rourke once said that the difference between conservatives and liberals is that conservatives will sometimes say that you shouldn't make fun of somebody, while liberals will say you can't fun of somebody. O'Rourke said that was wrong, as anybody who's heard the joke about Helen Keller falling down a well and breaking three fingers crying for help can tell you.

That line is genuinely funny, which is why no one with a sense of humor holds it against O'Rourke.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at April 15, 2007 9:43 PM

He's talked for 4 hours a day every day for forty years. Some of it isn't funny. Get over it.

Posted by: oj at April 16, 2007 6:51 AM


Ding, ding, ding!!! You win the free car.

But when he's been unfunny in the past he hasn't attracted the attention of the professional race complainers. Once "White Interlopers" Sharpton and "Hymietown" Jackson got into the fray, Imus was toast. Anyway, he ought to know that such folks are out there and if he can't defend his comments as humorous (and thus not meant seriously) they won't hesitate to ruin his career. Breaking the unstated but obvious rules gets you canned, and should.

He forgot the first rule of ethnic comedy: If you're going to say it was just a joke, it's got to be a plausible excuse. Which means you had better make it funny, lest the race hustlers cometh for your livelihood.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at April 16, 2007 6:50 PM

He said similar stuff every day. He just got stuck in a silly storm. The reality is that if someone hired him today he'd have more listeners, though fewer advertisers.

Posted by: oj at April 16, 2007 7:38 PM


See, that is what's been irritating me: He was hired to be a professional jackass and everyone is up in arms over one comment that's not substantially different from any of the other stuff he's said.

I'm not upset about him getting fired, though, because I think he had it coming and if I ran a radio station he would've been out on his ear a long time ago. I'm not a big fan of being rude and offensive just for their own sakes. Other folks feel differently and they're more than welcome to listen to him being a creep on satellite radio.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at April 16, 2007 10:19 PM

He didn't force the comment on anyone--race hucksters did.

Posted by: oj at April 17, 2007 9:23 AM