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Too Soon? The Potential Pratfalls of Finding Humor in Weinstein Scandal

James Corden and other comedians are finding the line between mocking Weinstein and adding to his accusers' pain is less clear than the boundary the movie producer allegedly crossed.

The most effective lines delivered by a comedian so far about the sexual assault and harassment allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein proved more sad than funny.

"Everything old is new again. Producers are abusing starlets. There’s Nazis marching in the street. Suddenly nude pantyhose are on trend. I’ve never felt more at home!"  "Saturday Night Live" star Kate McKinnon spoke those words as Debette Goldry, a recurring old-time actress character who regularly recounts seemingly over-the-top tales about past abuse of women in Hollywood.

The skit used humor to offer sobering perspective as comedians on “SNL” and beyond grappled with a serious question: What's so funny about Harvey Weinstein?

Recent reports, starting with The New York Times and The New Yorker, used on-the-record interviews to detail decades of Weinstein preying on actresses (he denies sexual assault allegations, but concedes his behavior “has caused a lot of pain”).

Folks expect comedians to weigh in on high-profile cases like this –  "SNL" faced criticism after failing to tackle Weinstein’s disgrace during its Oct. 7 broadcast (Weinstein jokes that didn’t getting laughs during dress rehearsal were cut, according to The Times).

But the line between mocking Weinstein and adding to his accusers' pain is less clear than the boundary the movie producer allegedly crossed. 

CBS "Late Late Show" host James Corden discovered as much after making some Weinstein-inspired cracks at a charity event on a "beautiful" Friday night in Los Angeles.

The night was so beautiful, Corden observed, Weinstein asked it "up to his hotel to give him a massage." Corden later apologized after being slammed on social media.

Corden’s CBS colleague Stephen Colbert climbed out on a similar limb – assailing Weinstein’s “monstrous behavior,” while employing some of the more sickening aspects of news accounts as joke fodder.  

Samantha Bee devoted nearly six-minutes of TBS’ “Full Frontal” to the Weinstein case, noting women aren’t safe from harassment anywhere – including Antarctica. Seth Meyers briefly turned over his NBC program to three women from the “Late Night” writing staff to skewer Weinstein (Amber Ruffin, lambasting Weinstein’s excuse about him being a product of different workplace expectations of the 1960s and 1970s, asked, “Does he lose his s--- every time he sees a microwave?”).

“SNL” also addressed the Weinstein saga during “Weekend Update,” as Colin Jost scoffed at reports the Oscar-winning producer was considering sex addiction treatment. “He needs a specialized facility where there are no women, no contact with the outside world, metal bars – and it’s a prison,” Jost said.

It's a time to choose words carefully – unlike, say, NBC sports announcer Al Michaels, clearly no comic, who apologized Sunday after crassly comparing Weinstein's downfall to the New York Giants' poor season. 

But it’s not time for comedians to back away from lampooning those who abuse their authority – especially when the country is led by a self-styled entertainer who infamously boasted of accosting women.

As the fictional Debette Goldry underscored on “SNL,” some things never change – including the power of satire to root out the ugly truth

Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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