There are fewer more sacred cows in entertainment than rock singer and indefatigable do-gooder Bono, but over the weekend he sustained a skewering courtesy of Bill Maher.
On his HBO show Friday night, Maher cited testimony from the U2 singer before a congressional panel on the subject of "Combating Violent Extremism," more accurately known as Islamic fanaticism.
Shortly before Bono's remarks (starting at 1:22:26 in this C-SPAN video) that were criticized by Maher, Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken described social media efforts against ISIS that include videos of defectors who describe the hellish reality of the death cult.
This was followed by Bono warning that what he was about to say could sound "a little bizarre" --
Just coming from observing this culture and how elusive maleness is, we forget how elusive maleness is in a world where materialism decides your machismo. If you have no access to material things, you exaggerate your maleness.
On the other hand, abundant access might well have the same effect. And how courageous indeed of the millionaire rock star to deplore materialism. Imagine no possessions, I wonder if I can, sang Neil Young in deftly paraphrasing one of Bono's spiritual predecessors. Back to Bono --
I think we have to think about, you know, man and think about that and, it's funny, you're going to (pause) don't laugh but I think comedy should be deployed because if you look at national socialism and Daesh and ISIL, this is the same thing, we've seen this before. We've seen this gig before, very vain, they've got all the signs up there. Really, it's sort of show business. And the first people that the Weimar, that Adolf Hitler threw out of Germany were the Dadaists and the Surrealists. It's like, you speak violence, you speak their language. But you laugh at them when they're goose-stepping down the street and it takes away their power.
So I'm suggesting that the Senate send it Amy Schumer and Chris Rock and Sacha Baron Cohen. (polite laughter from audience). Thank you.
Which led to the Pride of New Hampshire, Democrat Senator Jeanne Shaheen, telling Bono that similar suggestions had been made by other "experts" on "violent extremism," i.e., homicidal jihadists --
SHAHEEN: Actually, that's not the first time I've heard experts on how do we counter violent extremism talk about that.
BONO: I'm actually serious, not about these three characters.
SHAHEEN: No, and it is one of the things that I know we're looking at.
All of which made for a target too tempting for Maher to ignore --
This is important to me because I'm a comedian and I feel as a comedian I have to speak out when I hear my profession mentioned. Bono was testifying before Congress the other day. We could get into why Congress are star f***ers and they constantly need to hear from celebrities. I'm a U2 fan, I always liked Bono and I'm glad that he himself once said in a lyric, the right to be ridiculous is something I hold dear -- because I think he outdid himself. He was talking about ISIS and he said (quotes from Bono as transcribed above) " ... but you laugh at them when they're goose-stepping down the street, it takes away their power."
No -- it doesn't. It doesn't take away their power. He said, I'm suggesting that we send in Amy Schumer and Chris Rock and Sacha Baron Cohen. Yeah, I know them all -- guys, don't do it.
This prompted former Cruz campaign spokesman Rick Tyler to suggest that Maher himself should be among those deployed -- "Yeah, I'm not going," Maher retorted. "Why doesn't he go?"
Conservative journalism Mary Katharine Ham came to Bono's defense, saying that comedy "doesn't take away a machete, but it may take away a little bit of power. ... I do think that there's some truth to each joke being a tiny revolution, it can make a difference, and I do think that the freedom to tell those jokes and to make fun of even those groups that are very angry about being made fun of in equal measure is a powerful thing."
Maher remained unpersuaded -- "It makes a difference to us, not to them."
After a brief exchange between Maher and Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman, Maher pointed out a great 20th century comic's effort to mock Hitler saved not a single person in the death camps --
GOODMAN: What was he (the late journalist James Foley who was executed by ISIS) doing in Syria? He was bringing out the voices of people, the grassroots. What was he doing at the NATO summit in Chicago? He was following the soldiers who were throwing their medals back at the NATO summit, saying war is not the answer, it is only making things worse.
MAHER: War is the answer when you're dealing with with ISIS and by the way, this thing about comedians and Hitler, there was a comedian who made fun of Hitler. His name was Charlie Chaplin. I asked today, could we get a clip from his famous movie The Great Dictator? Show a little bit of that. It's famous, from 1940. There he is, playing Hitler, I love this. Still funny, Charlie Chaplin, all those years later. Yeah, that didn't stop Hitler. I think I should note that, that a coalition of Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers and Bob Hope did not stop one Jew from being pushed into the oven. So it's just a very dangerous idea this, that art can stop violence.
Last I heard, Bono's suggested comic trio of Schumer, Rock and Cohen have inexplicably not volunteered for service against the jihad. But in fairness to the U2 frontman, it is refreshing and altogether rare to hear anyone left of center mention that the Nazis were socialists.