Pete Davidson, the comedian who was best known for dating (until recently) the pop star Ariana Grande posted a picture of the Republican candidate for Congress in Texas’s second congressional district, Dan Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL who lost his right eye to an IED while on active duty in Afghanistan. Crenshaw wears a patch over the eye. “This guy’s kinda cool, Dan Crenshaw,” Davidson said. “You may be surprised to hear that he’s a congressional candidate from Texas, and not a hitman in a porno movie.” The SNL audience roared. The joke itself might have been funny if it were part of a sketch in which the eye patch was only for costume, but real injuries and disfigurements are never funny to anyone. Then he really stepped in it with either an insincere attempt at an apology, or worse, tag line for the joke, when he added, “I’m sorry, I know he lost his eye in war, or whatever.”
Crenshaw had the right response. He didn’t call for Davidson to get canned or for advertiser boycotts. “I want us to get away from this culture where we demand apologies for every time a person misspeaks,” he said. “I think that would be very healthy for our nation, to go in that direction.” In a tweet, he wrote, “Good rule in life: I try hard not to offend; I try harder not to be offended. That being said, I hope @nbcsnl recognizes that vets don’t deserve to see their wounds used as punchlines for bad jokes.” Crenshaw was wounded on his third tour of duty when he was hit by the explosive blast. Initially, he was blinded in both eyes before doctors managed to save his left one. He deployed twice more in non-combat roles and received the Purple Heart, two Bronze Stars (one with valor), and the Navy Commendation Medal with valor. This year he received a master’s in public policy from Harvard.
There is one thing I disagree with in Mr. Crenshaw’s response, though I imagine he was trying to be as conciliatory as possible. “War or whatever”, as well as the entire joke, was not an example of “misspeaking”. It was an example of overbearing condescension, disrespect and lack of self-awareness. And the audience laughed. Was it because Mr. Crenshaw was a combat veteran, an elite soldier or a republican? Or all three? Mr. Crenshaw doesn’t need me to defend him, and the fact that I am also a combat veteran–Vietnam–doesn’t make it any more offensive to me. I don’t get offended personally about anything, and generally don’t sympathize with those who do. That being said, I hate the term “whatever“, even though this so-called comedian suffers a common malady debilitating to good sense. It’s called alimentary canal reversal, ACR, and the main symptom is that what should come out one end of the digestive system comes out the opposite end. Is this grand joke the product of a team of professional writers, or a thoughtlessly tossed off show of underlying contempt? Like most ACR utterances, it leaves a stink behind.
Oh yeah, Petey, your pathetic attempt at humor helped Mr. Crenshaw win his congressional election. Thanks man.
Addendum to post: After winning his election, Crenshaw was invited to go on SNL to hear Davidson’s apology in person, and that visit created one of the finest, most hopeful moments in TV that I can remember. First, Davidson was sincere, he really got that his joke was rotten. Crenshaw was hilarious, roasting Davidson with his own jokes. But the greatest moment was what Crenshaw said. I paraphrase: When you want to thank veterans, don’t say “thank you for your service.” Say “never forget. Your father was a hero too, he died saving others on 9/11. We will never forget.” For a little while, this exchange brought us together.