That peculiar tribute speaks to our apology-obsessed culture. It doesn’t show, alas, that said culture will be changing with the comedienne’s passing. The next time a comic tells a tasteless joke he or she can still expect a social media barrage meant to spark an apology -- or expedite his or her unemployment.
A few comedians still carry on in Rivers’ tradition, but their numbers are dwindling. Consider these five performers who still say whatever they want … when they want … for now.
- Adam Carolla: It helps to steer your own pirate ship. The podcast king routinely traffics in politically incorrect humor, often to make points other humorists avoid. Special interest groups and liberal sites alike pressure him to change his ways, but he ignores them unconditionally. He runs his own business and reports to only himself. That, plus a growing confidence in his comedic voice, make him as bullet proof as any comic today.
- Howard Stern: The self-described King of All Media created a space for himself, one where he isn’t held to the standards most other comics are. He’s his own best friend, making the public expect the very worst from him when it comes to unsavory jokes. He’s also too smart to stumble into PC traps. Beneath his bawdy behavior lies a keen understanding of cultural mores. Still, his cultural influence remains on the decline.
- Bill Maher: The HBO host says some pretty awful things in his monologues, and he doesn’t apologize for his opinions. If Maher were a conservative the calls to apologize would be deafening. Instead, he freely attacks GOP-friendly targets like Sarah Palin, cozy in the knowledge those who would rally against a comic who trashed, say, Michelle Obama, will stay silent as Maher prattles on.
- Anthony Jeselnik: Is a comedian really shocking if making us squirm is his signature shtick? The Pittsburgh-born comic is known for mining the darkest material in his act. He dares us to be offended, and so we often shrug our shoulders. His Comedy Central showcase ran for two seasons without electrifying the zeitgeist.
- Don Rickles: The master of the putdown would struggle if he started his career today. His brand of humor hearkens back to a time when skins were thicker and people couldn’t let off steam on Twitter. “Mr. Warmth” endures, in part, due to a rapid fire wit impervious to time or swirling sensibilities.