If Stephen Colbert calls out a joke for going too far, then it must be bad.
On Monday night, actor Sean Penn appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. The outspoken liberal talk show host, Colbert, warned the outspoken liberal Hollywood star that he couldn’t “make jokes” about assassinating President Trump. Making a reference to a character in Penn’s new novel, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff, who wants to assassinate the fictional president, Colbert asked Penn, “Have the Secret Service contacted you?”
Colbert defended his query: “Because that’s the sort of thing you can’t make jokes about. Like that’s the sort of thing that they take very seriously.”
For his part, Colbert was referencing the Secret Service investigation of members of Hollywood who have also joked about the assassination of the president. Kathy Griffin, Johnny Depp, and Madonna have all been investigated after saying or posting images that hint at the president’s demise.
In Penn’s novel, a character tweets to the fictional president that “You are not simply a president in need of impeachment, you are a man in need of an intervention. We are not simply a people in need of an intervention, we are a nation in need of an assassin.”
On the show, Penn, smoking a cigarette (and theoretically breaking the NYC fire code by doing so on stage), admitted that the novel was a sort of “venting.”
He called his novel “inclusionary,” and then said, “For those who may find a different opinion with the politics they perceive it to represent, it could be the conversation once a year with the drunken uncle. You don’t want to spend all year with him.”
Penn tried to link his novel to the current political environment and the March for Our Lives, saying that “these kids… are stating their case with incredible sobriety and articulate words, but in such an inclusionary way, where you feel like there are reasonable people who have been on the other side of this conversation who are going to listen to these kids. And you think to yourself, thank God.”
In the past, the actor has been incredibly and vulgarly outspoken about Trump and conservative politics, and has expressed support for socialist leaders from Venezuela. Washington Post writer Mark Athitakis, in his review of Penn’s novel, wrote that “Sean Penn is not up to it as a novelist” and criticized his rambling writing style.