August 15, 2006

“Holocaust joke” comedians hit back at critics

By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - Two stand-up comics accused of making
light of the Holocaust at the Edinburgh Fringe festival hit
back at their critics on Tuesday, igniting a debate about
where, if anywhere, to draw the line in comedy.

The famously irreverent Fringe is renowned for over-the-top
humor, and this year religion has been a popular target of
ridicule in a trend welcomed by commentators arguing for
freedom of speech over religious sensitivity.

But Jamie Glassman, a Jewish comedy writer who has worked
on the often outrageous "Da Ali G Show," said at least two
comedians had gone too far and reflected broader anti-Jewish
sentiment at the festival which he called "shocking."

"Stand-up comedy is as good a prism as any through which to
look at the changing attitudes in our society," Glassman wrote
in the Times newspaper on Tuesday.

"If my past few days are anything to go by then it is
becoming increasingly acceptable to hate the Jews. Again."

One Edinburgh comedian singled out in the article was
Reginald D. Hunter, an African-American with a show called
"Pride and Prejudice and Niggas."

At one point Hunter says he should go to Austria, where it
is illegal to deny the Holocaust, get arrested for saying
Germany's genocide against Jews did not happen, and tell the
judge he was talking about the Rwandan holocaust all along.

"The joke isn't about the Jews, it is about freedom of
thought and freedom of expression," Hunter told Reuters.

He referred to the Holocaust as "one of those things
considered to be off-limits; that's what I'm poking fun at.

"There have been loads of holocausts. Jews have the honor
of having their Holocaust known as the Holocaust and that's
fine. That's the way the world works."

Hunter said he found it "amazing" Glassman could extract
anti-Semitism from his act.

Also criticized was Australian Steve Hughes, whose show
"Storm" includes a gag that indirectly equates playing cowboys
and Indians to playing Nazis and Jews.

Glassman recounted how at the show he attended audience
members shouted "Throw them in the oven" in response to the
joke, but Hughes defended his routine and said his remarks were
taken out of context. He said the actual joke was:

"I grew up playing cowboys and Indians, which as an adult I
can see is very strange; that you market the genocide of an
indigenous people as a game for kids.

"Australians are far from perfect - I've never played Cops
and Aboriginals, and you wouldn't play Nazis and Jews!"

Hughes added that he was not responsible for what hecklers
shouted during his act.

But he did apologize for describing Richard Perle, formerly
chairman of the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee under
George W. Bush's administration, as "that fucking Jew."

His spokesman said the phrase was made "off the cuff" and
Hughes regretted using it.