Why LEO took the Reader's Choice Award away from Amiri King

Oct 12, 2016 at 10:12 am
Why LEO took the Reader's Choice Award away from Amiri King

Before this last weekend, I had never heard of the winner of our Readers’ Choice award for best comedian. I had not seen or heard him perform. I also didn’t know that, from now on, we will have to vet the winners of our awards.

But here we are.

It turns out that, like Donald Trump, the winner of LEO’s Readers’ Choice for best comedian has been posting misogynistic, racist slurs on social media. It is our fault that we announced him as the winner last week and last year. Our comedy critic had written that he had an army of fans on YouTube and was edgy and even “hysterical.” But if we had done due diligence, we would have seen the hate-filled, wrong-headed vitriol that he passes as comedy. Certainly, he got the most votes, but what if, for instance, white supremacist David Duke had won? We would have stripped him, too, of any award.

Here’s the good news:

Now, we get to talk about it! When the kerfuffle started last weekend with people questioning how we could allow such a bigot to use Readers’ Choice as a platform, we deliberated and decided to take away the award. Let it spark a discussion, which is what we try to do at LEO. And yes, a discussion, if you can call it that, ensued. Judging by his fans’ obscene, vile and aggressive attacks on LEO’s Facebook page — we know we did the right thing.

Oh, and one unexpected benefit: a significant boost of clicks on our website.

To recap, the Readers’ Choice Awards is the chance for our readers to vote for the best local restaurant, bar, attraction and, yes, comedian. Our goal, like with the rest of the publication, is to allow the community to express its opinions, even when they differ from our own. That said, our name is on the awards, and we refuse to associate ourselves with anyone who targets women, minorities and innocents, in general, with ad hominem insults and veiled threats. You can explain why you believe the Black Lives Matter movement is wrong, but we do not want to see a meme about killing its members.

Certainly, the question can be asked: Does that mean we have to approve all winners?

No. Not all winners. There are several with whom I disagree, and I would prefer others had won. That brings us back to the hypothetical question regarding David Duke. There would be no discussion — we will never give that sort of person a voice in LEO without appropriate context and discussion to explain our decision.

Now, I don’t know this so-called comedian. I don’t know if he’s racist and misogynistic, or all of that. I don’t care what motivates him. I don’t care if he means to be offensive so he can incite controversy; a lot of comedians are offensive. “Family Guy” is a favorite, and every episode includes a cringe-worthy, offensive moment.

But his posts are not funny, not satire and not witty or clever. They are cheap shots at black Americans and women, and crude, thoughtless commentary on Trump’s inexcusable bus-sex-video rant.

Yes, political correctness has gone too far in some ways. But being politically incorrect just for the hell of it isn’t comedy. It’s a lazy, patronizing way to get attention from whoever is left to support Trump — playing on their contempt for others and fears of the future.

We knew when we stripped him of the award, we had kicked a hornet’s nest. We knew it could affect the perception of the awards’ legitimacy. We also knew he would undoubtedly poke fun at us and rally support from followers, which he did: A legion of out-of-staters fell in line and defended him. If he and his supporters think they can ever be taken seriously or broaden their reach outside of their dense bubble — by appealing to the lowest common denominator — that’s fine with us. If their only defense of his actions is to further endorse offensive, deplorable statements, it only reinforces our decision.

You can continue to watch his YouTube channel. Much like voting for Trump, we support your right to be as wrong as you’d like. We simply are explaining why we retracted his recognition, and we are apologizing for missing this in the past.

We do the best we can do. And we know not to take ourselves too seriously. Sometimes we’re right, and we apologize when we’re not, but one thing is certain: We know when something’s funny, and when it’s just plain ignorant and hateful.