JonBenet: Thank God I Made the Right Call
This arrest in the JonBenet Ramsey case gives me the chills. If it is true that they have the real killer there is no amount of apologies America could make to the Ramsey parents, especially the Mom since she recently died. As with everything that becomes a big national news story, the late night comedy writers eventually deal with it, and I am a part of that. I am SO grateful that I called this one correctly. "Correctly" in this case means "don't blame the parents because you can't be sure." I would hate to have written jokes about the Ramseys' guilt, and have it turn out as it now looks. That would be sickening to live with. It would be 10,000 times worse than the Richard Jewell thing and that was bad enough. Do you remember Richard Jewell? He was the pudgy security guard living with his Mom, who was involved with the bombing during the Atlanta Olympics. All he did was his job - in fact Richard was a hero and probably saved a bunch of lives, but then the story went out that he was responsible and they pounced on him with the full weight of the American media machine. My recollection of that was that I was innocent by sheer luck. I probably wrote some jokes about it, but they weren't used. Still, the feeling was ugly. I remember thinking you have to make a determination sometimes that's based on guesswork, and it's still better to have this in the public eye, than buried. But that's just a fancy way of saying you're selling gossip. My worst fear in this area is comedians who might be so callous they just say, "Screw it. If I'm wrong I'll just apologize later." I'd like to believe the jokes are based on honest assessments - not just the opportunity to trash someone. At any rate, they came down on that guy like a ton of rocks and it really, really sucked. I'm going from memory here but I think there was some kind of situation in the Los Angeles Olympics where a security guard did something for attention, so it looked plausible. But in Atlanta, the authorities, the newspapers, and alas the late night comics all participated in a devastating attack on this poor security guard, and it was not right. He was a hero.
That situation was bad enough, but this Ramsey thing? Oh my God. If it turns out that all the people who went after the Ramseys were just adding to their pain after they had already lost a daughter to a maniac...Jesus Christ, there's no way to calculate how bad we all should feel. Don't get me wrong. There was a ton of weird evidence in this one too, and it serves a purpose when we all point it out. I mean ultimately we are sticking up for the girl, aren't we? We're not going to let this slide just because some wealthy members of society got the breaks from the system. I can clearly remember the thought process I went through when it came to this story. You can do comedy about anything. That's not something I'm proud of, but it's part of the human experience - how we process things. I had the first monologue joke on national TV after 9/11. It's part of life. The key for any aspiring comedy writers out there, is to find the right component in the joke to attack. Obviously only the sickest comedians would make jokes about the little girl in this case - but they do exist. The numbers of pundits and comedians who wrote jokes based on the Ramseys' guilt is a lot longer. Without mentioning any names, there are a lot of people who might have to feel really badly looking back on this. We'll see. I'm SOOOO grateful I didn't join in. Thankfully, I have nothing on this to apologize for. Now if O.J. Simpson should turn out to be innocent, I would have a LOT to apologize for. Still, it gives me chills to think back to how these parents were treated. I remember thinking no matter how unusual the circumstances were, I just couldn't accept the parents doing this. Maybe the kid brother, maybe. But I wasn't going to go there. My approach was to write the jokes about the Boulder Police department, for the screwed-up job they did investigating the case: "There's been a breakthrough in the JonBenet Ramsey case - The Boulder Police Department has located the Ramseys' address." Make fun of the authorities who were paid professionals. That's the component of the joke to attack. And my material went on national TV. So yes, I admit I profited from the JonBenet murder as I did with the murders of Nicole Simpson, Ron Goldman, and so much other tragedy. Just as I'm sure you've laughed at jokes about some pretty sad subjects - it's how we eventually deal with pain. I'd like to think I help sometimes, but the idea that I'm connected to the comedy profession doesn't sit particularly well with me tonight. There were many jokes about the Ramseys' guilt. If the mother was innocent, imagine a scene with her watching TV and hearing laughs about how she killed her daughter. Sometimes I wish I wasn't in this business.