PBS again must tiptoe through a political minefield as it broadcasts the annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
This year it was Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s turn to be feted at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts ceremony.
She’s best known these days for her work as vice president Selina Meyer on HBO’s Veep, for which she already has been awarded six consecutive Emmys, as well as her nine years playing dance-challenged Elaine Benes on NBC’s Seinfeld.
But the Washington D.C. native also is a graduate of elite Holton-Arms School, the same Maryland college prep attended by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who claimed she was sexually assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh during her time at the school.
Kavanaugh has since been seated on the Supreme Court but, during his confirmation hearing, Trump mocked Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, imitating her:
“I had one beer. Well, do you think it was — nope, it was one beer,” Trump performed at a campaign rally, to a crowd that laughed and clapped in approval of his performance.
“How did you get home? I don’t remember. How’d you get there? I don’t remember. Where is the place? I don’t remember. How many years ago was it? I don’t know.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know,” the President continued. “What neighborhood was it in? I don’t know. Where’s the house? I don’t know. Upstairs, downstairs — where was it? I don’t know — but I had one beer. That’s the only thing I remember.”
Asked, after Kavanaugh was confirmed, about having mocked Blasey Ford, Trump responded dismissively, “It doesn’t matter. We won.”
Louis-Dreyfus, in turn, trashed Trump at the Mark Twain ceremony yesterday (for a Nov. 19 broadcast), as she recalled her high school ambition of becoming a dramatic actress and appearing in Holton-Arms’ production of Serendipity.
“I can remember every single aspect of that play that night, so much so that I would testify under oath about it. But I can’t remember who drove me there or who drove me home,” she quipped.
While the actress did not hesitate to poke the bear in the White House, it may make things awkward for PBS, which has edited controversial content out of the ceremony in the past.
Just last year, PBS and Mark Twain Prize producing station WETA mostly disappeared Sen. Al Franken from the ceremony celebrating David Letterman. Franken had been accused of sexual misconduct, later stepping down from his Senate seat.
In a statement, PBS called last year’s broadcast an “updated” version of what took place, explaining Franken’s presence would “distract from the show’s purpose as a celebration of American humor.”
PBS had defended that rewriting of the event, saying, “every year, this program is edited for both length and content to keep it entertaining and focused on its intended purpose as a celebration of American humor.”
Other comics attending this year’s feting of Louis-Dreyfus also rushed to relevant #MeToo places PBS may have preferred they not tread. Late Show host Stephen Colbert kicked off Sunday’s ceremony referencing last year’s decision to yank the 2009 Mark Twain award from Bill Cosby, who has been convicted of sexual assault and sent to the slammer.
Colbert displayed a sign on stage, declaring “167 day’s since the last Un-Twaining.”
Later, Keegan-Michael Key, in costume as Mark Twain, roasted previous award recipients, but dismissed Cosby quickly saying, “It’s OK, he’s not watching,” because, he speculated, PBS is not popular viewing in prison.
PBS will have plenty of Louis-Dreyfus material, including her heartfelt comments about undergoing treatment for breast cancer, and her remarks about the man for whom the award is named:
“As a great fan of the work of Mark Twain I was so sorry when I recently learned he was dead. My thoughts and prayers go out to the whole Twain family. Especially the wonderful Shania.”