Wanda Sykes' Jokes About Rush Limbaugh Prompt Debate

There's some chatter in the blogosphere and on cable TV about comedian Wanda Sykes' routine at the White House Correspondents' Dinner last night, particularly her jokes about conservative talk radio giant Rush Limbaugh.

"Rush Limbaugh said he hopes this administration fails," Sykes said. "So you're saying, 'I hope America fails', you're, like, 'I don't care about people losing their homes, their jobs, our soldiers in Iraq'. He just wants the country to fail. To me, that's treason He's not saying anything differently than what Osama bin Laden is saying. You know, you might want to look into this, sir, because I think Rush Limbaugh was the 20th hijacker. But he was just so strung out on OxyContin he missed his flight."

Sykes then said, "Rush Limbaugh, I hope the country fails, I hope his kidneys fail, how about that? He needs a good waterboarding, that's what he needs."

TIME's Karen Tumulty wrote   "It will be most interesting to see how well Rush Limbaugh can take the sort of stuff that he dishes out on a daily basis."

But London Telegraph US editor Toby Harnden had a very different reaction, writing "Obama seemed to think this bit was pretty hilarious, grinning and chuckling and turning to share the 'joke' with the person sitting on his right. There's not much room for differing interpretations of what Sykes said. She called Limbaugh a terrorist and a traitor, suggested that he be tortured and wished him dead. What was his crime? Hoping that Obama's policies - which he views as socialist - will fail. That's way, way beyond reasoned debate or comedy and Obama's reaction to it was astonishing...Obama laughing when someone wishes Limbaugh dead? Hard to take from the man who promised a new era of civility and elevated debate in Washington."

Pat Buchanan, who has his own history of offensive comments , likewise said on MSNBC that Sykes's jokes about Limbaugh will "hurt the dinner."

On CNN's Reliable Sources today, host Howard Kurtz asked if his guests if Sykes' jokes went "way, way over the comedic line?"

"I think it does," said the Washington Times' Amanda Carpenter. "I mean, there is a willingness for these jokes to be a little saucy at these dinners. I think that went over the line."

Carpenter also expressed distaste for two other Sykes' jokes, including: "Gov. Palin, she’s not here tonight, she pulled out at the last minute. Somebody should tell her, that’s not really how you practice abstinence.”

Said TIME's Joe Klein: "comedy is by definition inappropriate. I mean, this is just comedy. And we're talking about a guy in Rush Limbaugh who is inappropriate half the time I hear him on the radio."

"But he doesn't do it at a White House Correspondents' dinner." said Carpenter.

"He describes himself as an entertainer," said Klein. "Wanda Sykes -- entertainer. This is entertainment."

What do you think?

- jpt

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