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CNN TALKBACK LIVE

Redneck T-Shirt: Funny or Offensive?

Aired June 26, 2001 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF FOXWORTHY, COMEDIAN: If you have a complete set of salad bowls and they all say, Cool Whip on the side...

(LAUGHTER)

FOXWORTHY: ... you might be a redneck. If you're wife says she's game and you shoot her...

(LAUGHTER)

FOXWORTHY: ... you might be a redneck.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BATTISTA: Jeff Foxworthy gets laughs with his redneck routine, but a T-shirt with similar observations was banned as offensive by a New Jersey high school.

Are redneck jokes another form of offensive ethnic humor?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FOXWORTHY: My definition of redneck: it's just a glorious absence of sophistication.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BATTISTA: Are redneck jokes funny or offensive? Are we becoming too politically correct to laugh at ourselves?

(APPLAUSE)

BATTISTA: We have a bunch of rednecks in the audience. No, I'm just kidding. Redneck jokes -- do they make you laugh or cringe? We are going to hear a lot of them today, along with other examples of not-so-politically-correct humor, including clips from "All in the Family."

Our first guest, though, is Tom Sypniewski. He got suspended from Warren Hills Regional High School for wearing a "You Might be a Redneck" T-shirt. School officials call the shirt's message racial stereotyping. Tom is suing the school, and he is joined by his lawyer, Gerald Walpin. We invited, by the way, school district officials to join us, but we did not hear back from them.

Before we get started, gentlemen, let's throw up a graphic here really quick of some of what was on the T-shirt that Tom was wearing to school that day:

"Top 10 Reasons You Might be a Redneck Sports Fan if...

9.) Your carpet used to be part of a football field.

5.) Your mama is banned from the front row at wrestling matches.

3.) You wear a baseball cap to bed.

1.) You've ever told your bookie, 'I was just kidding.'"

OK, Tom, now, my first question to you is, being a Jersey girl myself, I'm just sort of curious as to why a guy from Jersey was wearing a redneck T-shirt. I mean, what does that term mean to you and when did you become aware of it?

Tom, can you hear me? I don't think our guys up there in New York can hear us.

Tom, can you hear me?

THOMAS SYPNIEWSKI, HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATE: Now we can.

BATTISTA: Can you hear me now? OK.

SYPNIEWSKI: Yes.

BATTISTA: I sound like that commercial. Can you hear me now?

SYPNIEWSKI: We didn't hear you before, though.

BATTISTA: OK. OK, I was asking you why a guy from Jersey was wearing a T-shirt that talked about being a redneck. I was curious as to what the term meant to you and how you became aware of it?

SYPNIEWSKI: I've always listened to Jeff Foxworthy, ever since I was little. And to me, the term redneck is an outdoorsy type person, who -- I hunt, I fish, I help farmers and I listen to country music. So to me, that's what a redneck is.

BATTISTA: So this really grew out of being a fan of Jeff Foxworthy's comedy, and you did not consider it to be offensive or racist in any way?

SYPNIEWSKI: Not at all.

BATTISTA: So what happened when you wore it to school?

SYPNIEWSKI: I wore it to school for nine months prior to when I got suspended, and nothing ever happened. The day that I did get suspended, the security guard in school told me to go down to Mr. Griffiths' (ph) office, he's my vice principal, and I went down, he told me to take my shirt off, turn it inside out, or -- I don't think that they can hear me.

BATTISTA: We can hear you. Go ahead.

SYPNIEWSKI: OK. Turn it inside out or I'd be suspended for three days. He told me that I could think about that for a minute and he walked out of the room. I sat there for a second and I was like, I can't take this shirt off because there's nothing wrong with it. I told him I'd take his three-day suspension but I would be appealing it. I appealed the suspension and I lost to the school board and I served my three-days out of school suspension.

BATTISTA: What was his objection to the T-shirt itself? I mean, what was his problem with the word redneck?

SYPNIEWSKI: He told me that the word redneck meant a violent, bigoted person.

BATTISTA: OK, Gerald, let me get you in on this quickly. So you guys have turned around and sued the school. What sort of justice are you looking for?

GERALD WALPIN, THOMAS SYPNIEWSKI'S ATTORNEY: Well, we're looking for several items. One is an injunction against the dress code and harassment code as written, because they are vague. And have been -- similar ones have been clearly held unconstitutional by the courts previously.

Secondly, we are looking for an injunction to prevent it being applied to these three boys, that is Tom and his two brothers, for wearing this T-shirt. We are asking that Tom's record of suspension be expunged from his school record, and we're asking for damages, because of the fact that the school board, for reasons that I cannot fathom, when they decided to affirm the decision to suspend him, they issued a press release, which they distributed by fax to the media. But they only mailed it to Tom, so he didn't know about it until the media called him.

And that press release, basically, charged -- disparaged Tom and called him, in other words, a bigot. And that's as far from the truth as it could be. It is disparaging a young man who has shown great principle in standing up for what he believes, and standing up for the First Amendment to our United States Constitution. And those are the -- that's the relief we are seeking.

BATTISTA: Tom, let me ask you this. You said you'd worn the T- shirt before. Was it or was it not in violation of the dress code at the school?

SYPNIEWSKI: When -- I don't know. They told me the day I was suspended that it was in violation. But, yet, I wore it nine months, you know, nine months before and they never said anything.

WALPIN: You know, I have to just jump in, if you don't mind. I find it difficult to understand how a T-shirt that is sold at Wal- Mart, thousands of them sold, by Jeff Foxworthy, who is a well- renowned -- on media all of the time -- comedian, was recently in a President Bush program showing Americana -- how that could possibly be religious or racial stereotyping. That's what the dress code says, and that's all...

BATTISTA: I'm guessing it probably -- and we'll explore this further as we go along in the show, but I'm guessing it has a lot to do with a lack of common understanding, or common definition of the word "redneck."

But I'm curious -- well, I'm curious to ask Tom. I think what's interesting about this story is that once it became an incident like this, this then resulted in you becoming the object of some ethnic slurs. I mean, what happened there?

SYPNIEWSKI: Right after I got suspended, I received a letter in the mail saying, "You stupid, Polack." That's all it said. I mean, I'm Polish, yes, but I don't consider myself stupid. And yes, it kind of hurt. I brushed it off, but, you know.

BATTISTA: Did you get not get any support from other students?

SYPNIEWSKI: Oh, no, I had support from students. In fact, one of my friends, Adrian Perez (ph), he came with me yesterday to Newark and he spoke on my behalf.

BATTISTA: Let me add another...

WALPIN: I might say, by the way, that Adrian Perez is (AUDIO GAP) Tom has. Adrian happens to be both black and Puerto Rican. There is no racial animosity in Tom or any member of his family. They are true God believers and they believe that all people should be treated fairly based upon their own abilities.

BATTISTA: Let me add another voice to this conversation. Dr. Alvin Poussaint is a child and family psychiatrist and former script consultant to "The Cosby Show."

Dr. Poussaint, thank you for joining us.

DR. ALVIN POUSSAINT, CHILD & FAMILY PSYCHIATRIST: Thank you.

BATTISTA: What -- this term, redneck, what is it to you? Is it a racist term?

POUSSAINT: It's a racist term, or stereotype for poor whites. Particularly poor whites in rural areas of the South, and also implies that they are bigots. And it's used in a derogatory way, it's offensive. The dictionary, in fact, calls it an offensive term.

WALPIN: No, the dictionary calls it offensive only in slang.

POUSSAINT: Yes.

WALPIN: The actual definition in the dictionary -- Doctor, let's be honest -- had to do with its derivation, because good American farmers would work out in the fields, and when they would bend down, they would get a red neck from the sun. POUSSAINT: Listen, I know that. I know that. But what I'm saying is how it's been used in America. In fact, frequently, these people, the Southern rural whites, were scapegoated as somehow the prime movers in the bigotry and prejudice against black people in the South. When of course, we know people -- white people from all classes, upper class and so on, were bigoted and supported segregation. But frequently the so-called rednecks were scapegoated.

So it came to be an offensive term. When I hear it -- it's a term that I don't use, because I think it's offensive. To me, it sounds a little bit like "white trash" or "trailer trash." It's derogatory in that way. That doesn't mean that everyone knows that, and I know that "redneck" is widely used and a lot of people don't think it's derogatory, but often people who feel you're designated them a redneck are very offended by the term because it's stereotyping and it's negative.

WALPIN: Well, here you have Tom designating himself as a redneck. And there are many people who follow Jeff Foxworthy. Indeed, Jeff Foxworthy is on media and talks about rednecks.

POUSSAINT: Uh-huh.

WALPIN: And the fact is that Wal-Mart, I repeat, sold thousands and thousands of them, and you can be sure that if Wal-Mart had a single complaint, that if there was any sort of racial harassment involved, they would be questioning...

BATTISTA: I think that what are we not saying here, and Jeff Foxworthy will be joining us in just a few moments by the way, but Jeff -- nowhere in his humor does Jeff make any reference to rednecks being bigots. And yet what I hear Dr. Poussaint saying is that it's a common thought that if you are a redneck, you are a bigot.

POUSSAINT: That's right. That's right.

WALPIN: I don't think that that's true at all. I think that -- I think that that's something that some individuals like to think when they are paranoid about people being antagonistic. The fact is that in this country, it is not the basis, because somebody might take offense. That is the -- that is not a basis for the First Amendment to be pushed aside, and ignored.

POUSSAINT: No, the course -- the question, I -- I agree with you. I -- I think that the term is offensive, particularly to -- to the victims. The issue of First Amendment rights and freedom of speech is another issue. I myself don't think that he should have been suspended for wearing that shirt. In fact, if they wanted to talk about bigotry, they should have had a discussion about the whole thing because too many people use that term. It's widely used. It doesn't surprise me that Foxworthy uses the term and it's supposed to be funny and so on, because it has these different meanings.

I think the definition that the young man just gave that it means someone working in the sun and farming and so on, and their neck gets red because they're out in the sun is a valid definition. That's one of the definitions.

The other one is, and over the years, particularly during the civil rights movement, a lot of black people I know equated the term redneck with a white person who was bigoted. And that's the way that it was used. So I think it has these confusing and mixed meanings, but being bigoted and white and poor is one of the meanings.

BATTISTA: Let me get the audience in on this if I can before we go to the break. Let me take a quick phone call from Tennessee.

Marie, go ahead.

MARIE: Yes, I agree with Dr. Poussaint. I am from the Smoky Mountains and we're called rednecks, hillbillies, white cracker, white boy, poor white trash, and I find that very hurtful in the senses. But I don't think that the young man should be suspended. I don't think that he knew what he was doing.

BATTISTA: Let me go to Abby in the audience, she has a question for Tom.

ABBY: Well, I believe that stereotypes, if it's funny or offensive, depends entirely upon circumstance. So I was just curious: What is the racial situation at your school that they said that they had problems with for two years?

BATTISTA: Tom, do you have problems at the school?

SYPNIEWSKI: Minor problems. I mean, before the incident happened there were circumstances where kids were wearing Confederate flags to schools. And the point is that this shirt has nothing to do with the Confederate flag, it has to do with a comedian's routine that was put on the shirt. And I wore it to school, there was nothing racist about the school and I got suspended.

BATTISTA: I have to take a quick break here. The question is: Do you think that Tom should be allowed to wear his "You Might Be A Redneck" T-shirt to school? Take the TALKBACK LIVE online viewer vote, cnn.com. AOL key word: CNN.

How would you feel if someone called you a redneck? We will talk to Jeff Foxworthy right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BATTISTA: Let me get some reaction here from the audience. I have some e-mails that are just pouring in here. Michael in Pennsylvania says:

"I am a 14-year-old with a smart mouth and a fondness of redneck humor. I feel that you can tell those jokes with your friends, but you should be at least mindful enough to not wear this shirt promoting this humor in school."

Craig in Nebraska says: "Exactly what race is a redneck supposed to be? From everything I heard being a redneck can apply to anyone regardless of race. The most important message is that each one of us at one time and that we need to be able to laugh at ourselves."

Let me go to the audience here and Lawrence?

LAURENCE: Laurance.

BATTISTA: Laurance. You consider yourself a redneck.

LAURENCE: Yes, I do, because I was born and raised up in the northern United States of Minnesota on a dairy farm. And what he said, why he got suspended wasn't right, because people up north wear a lot more worse shirts than that.

BATTISTA: Okeydoke. Kerry in the audience.

KERRY: At first I didn't think that it was offensive, and then I went and listened to all of the different comments, and then -- I am from the South and I find it very offensive, because I am not a redneck.

BATTISTA: All right. We have a lot of high school kids in the audience here, if you can't tell. They are weighing in on this.

On the phone with us is the man who started this whole redneck craze, comedian Jeff Foxworthy.

Jeff, thank you for joining us.

FOXWORTHY: My pleasure, Bobbie.

BATTISTA: What has this become here? I know that you are aware of this story. Let's ask you first how you define a redneck.

FOXWORTHY: Well, my definition: It's always been a glorious absence of sophistication. And I can tell you how the whole thing got started. As a comedian, I grew up in Georgia and obviously, have a pretty thick accent. And I found a couple of years into comedy, when I started going up to work in New York City or Chicago, you know, the only advice I got was, hey, listen, I don't want to hurt your feelings, but you need to take some advice and lose that stupid accent. And I was pretty stubborn about it.

And it was always good nature. But they would kid me, because I always wore blue jeans and cowboy boots and drove a pickup truck and they said: "Foxworthy, you are nothing but an old redneck from Georgia."

And then one particular week I was working in a comedy club just outside of Detroit, and it was after the show and they were kidding me about being a redneck. And this comedy club was attached to a bowling alley that had valet parking, and I went up to the window and I said, "If you think you don't have rednecks, look out the window. People are valet parking at the bowling alley."

And it was just one of those things. I never thought of it being a hook or a bit, and I just went back in and I always started the bit saying, a lot of people throughout the country believe that everybody from the South is a redneck. I have traveled the country. There are rednecks everywhere you go. And it had nothing to do with money, it had nothing to do with race. It was this glorious absence of sophistication.

Now, most of the jokes came from my family. You know, things like, if your working television sits on top of your non-working television, you might be a -- that was my grandparents. They had a console, it died, they went out and bought another TV.

BATTISTA: I think part of -- obviously you know that part of the perception is, though, or misperception, whatever, is that if you are a redneck, you are also a bigot.

FOXWORTHY: Which, you know, it's -- I mean, I can understand that some people would think that. You know, I had somebody say in print a few years ago that you have taken this term and turned it from an insult into kind of a badge of honor. And I am certainly not a racist, and I am not a bigot and never did anything in the jokes that implied that.

I mean, I have Chris Spencer, who happens to be black and used to open for me for years, was the host of "Vibe." Chris asked me one time, he said, "Hey, me and a couple of the Wayans brothers want to do a book 'You Might be Ghetto If...' Do you care?"

And I said, "No, I don't care, as long as you help me write them."

And the funny thing was, we would sit backstage and come up with them, and half of them, he would be going, "That's ghetto."

And I said, "No, no, no, that's redneck." You know, things like if your mother has never had her entire foot in a pair of shoes -- and so, I mean, I took it as a term that people had called me and -- and it's funny.

You know, I get asked in print media all the time, people say: "Is anybody offended by this?"

And I said, "You know, it's the opposite. The more guilty people are of these qualities, the better they like it." I had people that bring me the books, and they've had them, you know, checked off in there, the ones that they have done.

And so, I mean, I find the whole thing humorous, and I think through the course of history, words change. I mean, because back in the '60s during the civil rights movement, I can understand that this was a term of insult, but I think things changed through the years, and I don't think that it is anymore, and I certainly have never intended it that way.

BATTISTA: Dr. Poussaint, can you be comfortable with that or no?

POUSSAINT: No, I think that some people find it offensive, and I think it is because of the connotations of the term. I think generally refers, you know, it's like you are a country bumpkin, you're not too smart, you're stupid.

I am not saying that Foxworthy believes those things, and I think one of the things with comedy, I think that he's -- in fact, it's a bit satire of what he is doing. He is taking it and he's making it funny, he's making up funny connections. In fact, I may not relate at all to the idea of -- of a redneck, but yet the humor is tinged with these people are not sophisticated, as he put -- as he puts it himself. So I think it's controversial. It's an issue from the victim's standpoint.

FOXWORTHY: How can be it controversial if it's self-inclusive, though?

POUSSAINT: Well, see, you have to look at it from the point of view of the victim. The young lady in the studio had said that it offends her, and the woman who called in from Tennessee who says it offends her personally.

FOXWORTHY: And the man -- and the gentleman from Minnesota who said that it did not.

POUSSAINT: Well, that's why I am saying that it's controversial. You have people on two sides of the issue, and some people are offended by it and feel victimized by the term.

WALPIN: Let's get back to Tom, though. You see, it's basic to our country, the fact that some people find an idea or a joke, a thought, offensive is no reason to prevent someone from using it.

POUSSAINT: The First Amendment...

WALPIN: And that's the First Amendment.

POUSSAINT: The First Amendment issue is fine. I think you are right on target with that.

WALPIN: You are in agreement with me?

POUSSAINT: Yes, I am not in disagreement about that.

WALPIN: OK. And that's the issue that Tom was sanctioned for doing what was purely his own expression of humor, his own self- deprecating expression, and for the school board -- and that's the important precedent for the future -- for the school board to have suspended him is the opposite type of civic lesson that they ought to be giving.

POUSSAINT: And the other thing, I don't think it's very educational just to suspend a student. I think that Tom had a particular interpretation of redneck. I think it should have been handled through discussion. He may have been surprised, in fact, that it's been used in a derogatory way. Maybe Tom would have said, well, if I am provoking people, maybe I shouldn't wear the shirt. I don't -- I think just to suspend him -- and talk about it, and...

WALPIN: You know, nobody was provoked by it. The doctor, except for the assistant principal, no one in the nine months was provoked on it, and I will tell you the day after he was suspended, Tom's brother wore it in middle school. The middle school principal called the principal of the senior school and they both agreed there was nothing wrong with it.

BATTISTA: I have to jump in here, gentleman, quickly.

POUSSAINT: Well, that is why there is a difference of opinion.

BATTISTA: I'm sorry, and we will continue to watch this case, by the way. We are going to springboard off Tom's case when we come back and expand the conversation. Jeff will stay with us. Dr. Poussaint will. But Tom Sypniewski and Gerald Walpin, thank you both very much for joining us.

WALPIN: Thank you for having me.

SYPNIEWSKI: Thank you.

BATTISTA: By the way, one of the most brilliant uses of ethnic humor was pumped into living rooms all over America for years. Could "All in the Family" make it today? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BATTISTA: Welcome back. It's kind of interesting that we are doing this topic today untimely, because family, friends and fans are paying their last respects today to actor Carroll O'Connor. Funeral services are being held in Los Angeles.

And for many, O'Connor's most enduring character will always be the endearing bigot, if you will, Archie Bunker. Archie called like he saw them, making few apologizes while making us laugh at ourselves.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "ALL IN THE FAMILY")

CARROLL O'CONNOR, ACTOR: If God had meant us to be together, he would have put us together. But look what he's done. He put you over in Africa, he put the rest of us in all the white countries.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMMY DAVIS JR., ACTOR: Well, you must have told them where we were, because somebody came and got us.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "ALL IN THE FAMILY")

O'CONNOR: You don't know nothing about lady liberty standing there in the harbor, with her torch on high, screaming out to all the nations in the world: "Send me your poor, your deadbeats, your filthy," and all the nations sent them in here. They come swarming in like ants. The Spanish PRs, your Japs, your Chinamen, your Krauts and your Hebes...

(LAUGHTER)

O'CONNOR: They all come in here and they're all free to live in their own separate sections.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROB REINER, ACTOR: Listen to me, it's in the Bill of Rights!

O'CONNOR: From the mountains...

REINER: Why do you think we broke away from England to begin with, huh?

O'CONNOR: ... from the prairies...

REINER: Because we didn't agree with them! We demanded freedom!

O'CONNOR: ... to the oceans wide...

REINER: If guys like you would all listen to reason...

O'CONNOR: God bless America.

REINER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) You're totally close-minded!

O'CONNOR: ... Polack!

REINER: ... your president! Not anymore, I'm leaving!

O'CONNOR (singing): God bless America...

REINER: You're prejudiced!

O'CONNOR: Get away from me.

(singing): My home sweet home!

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BATTISTA: All right, joining our discussion on politically incorrect humor now, comedians Pat Cooper and Judy Tenuta. Judy's CD, by the way, "Attention Butt-Pirates and Lesbetarians," and "In Goddess We Trust," were nominated for Grammys, and she will be headlining with Elayne Boosler in Las Vegas and Paris July 3-7.

Welcome to both of you. Pat, good to see you again, also.

PAT COOPER, COMEDIAN: Thank you.

BATTISTA: And Jeff is still with us on the phone. Dr. Poussaint is still with us. Let me ask the two of you: A lot of comedians build their acts around ethnic humor and racial stereotypes, this kind of thing -- is there anything wrong with that, Pat?

COOPER: Sense of humor is the greatest thing we can ever live with. You take a sense of humor away from us, we might as well die. When do we start laughing at each other? It's wonderful.

And the Carroll O'Connor, "All in the Family" thing opened our eyes, that opened our ears. Hey, wait a minute, let's start laughing at each other a little bit. Let's not take each other serious. We can call the president of United States a moron, that we can say, but we are not allowed to kid each other.

And then, again, it's how you use words. Is there anger in your words or humor? If I say to a man, why do Chinese people eat rice, how dare you say that! Well, you do eat rice. That doesn't mean I'm offensive toward you. Give me a break! Lighten up! It's wonderful. Where does the Constitution begin and end? You have the Constitution for the left, the Constitution for the right, then you got a gray area where nobody knows where the hell we are going. Why don't they make up their mind: Where are we going? Who is right and wrong? That's what I want to know.

BATTISTA: Judy, when do you cross the line from funny to offensive?

JUDY TENUTA, COMEDIAN: First of all, a lot of -- comedy has to be little bit of offensive anyway for people to really laugh at it. You know, I live here in California, I can't even called my stalker a stalker. He's an admirer that sleeps on the lawn. You can't call fat people fat, they're omni-present. You can't call gay people gay, they are lighthearted Americans.

I'm not an accordionist; I'm a squeezebox engineer.

BATTISTA: You are saying we're too politically correct.

TENUTA: You have to draw the line. You have to be so careful, walk around on egg shells. But like you said, I had an album called "But Pirates And Lesbetarians," I mean I guess you could take offense at that, but I have a lot of gay fans and I say things like, every straight man should go into the close with a gay man until he learns how to dress. You know, so....

BATTISTA: Dr. Poussaint, I got an e-mail here a few moments ago from Jon in New York that says: "The Constitution does not grant us the freedom from being offended. I'm offended by many things, but I look and ignore them and go on with my life." Does he have a point?

POUSSAINT: Well, it depends on how offensive it is and it depends on whether you are the victim or not. I remember with all -- "All In The Family" -- I remember that show came on in the 1970s where people in the civil rights moment in the country were trying get white Americans not to use particularly derogatory terms against blacks, which were so prevalent at the time. So it was hard for me when Archie Bunker used those words to see it as funny. You understand what I'm saying? It was too close. At the same time I understand that Archie Bunker was satire in a lot of ways. It didn't just poke fun at one group, but everyone in many different ways.

I also think Carroll O'Connor was a tremendous comedian, very funny, and that role was the pinnacle I think in his career, but yet, people were offended by that show. But at the same time, there was not even uniform opinion in the black community.

In 1972 the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association For The Advancement Of Colored People gave that show and Archie Bunker their Image Award for improving race relations in the United States, even though there was no proof it was improving race relations or anything else. In fact, some people said it was reinforcing and teaching, particularly children, a lot of bigoted terms that in fact they didn't know existed.

BATTISTA: Let me bring a couple more voices in, on the phone with us is comedian Paul Rodriguez. He was introduced to Carroll O'Connor by (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and he just finished shooting a movie about Muhammad Ali with Will Smith in Africa.

Paul, thanks for calling in.

PAUL RODRIGUEZ, COMEDIAN: My privilege, Bobbie, to speak to you, and my condolences to the family of Carroll O'Connor. I heard about his death in Africa. And I remember speaking to him about that, and at the beginning of the show, he was receiving tremendous amounts of hate mail, and I asked him if it bothered him, and he said it only bothers me that they don't understand that this is exactly what goes on, the dirty little secret that goes on in lot of people's homes that he brought out into the open air, if you will.

I couldn't agree with Pat Cooper more. You know, America is a country made up of many, of the malcontents of the world. We are all immigrants. We all come from someplace else. It would behoove us for us to lighten up and realize, that humor by itself is the only saving grace. (UNINTELLIGIBLE), a great poet said, that laugher is the language of the soul, and I solely believe that.

POUSSAINT: I would like to ask a question of the comedians, is something about American culture: Why is so much of American humor put-down humor, the kind of put-down humor of people ethnic or some other way. When I...

COOPER: It's not put-down...

POUSSAINT: Frequently, when you use a lot of ethnic humor, it's put-down humor, you are using the ethnic group as a way to get a laugh, calling them names, making fun of their culture, and so, stereotyping them. Why is this so much a part of comedy in the United States? Maybe it's everywhere, I don't know, but it's a curiosity to me as looking at it as a psychiatrist. FOXWORTHY: If I may, Doctor, I grew up with a dirt backyard. Sinks turned upside down in the backyard for crickets to grow under for my granddad to fish with. Our mailbox on the side of it had the letters M-A-L-E. My uncle did that as a joke and nobody got it.

Right now, as I'm talking to you, I'm...

BATTISTA: Let me..

FOXWORTHY: Wait -- I'm wearing blue jeans and T-shirt and have a pickup truck with two tackle boxes and a couple fishing polls in the back, and I live in Georgia. What would you want me to call myself?

BATTISTA: You guys are killing me. I'm pushing a break here, so I will let the other three answer when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BATTISTA: Let me get the other reactions. The doctor had posed a question about why the comedy of today, so much of it is put-down comedy.

Go ahead, Pat.

COOPER: Let me ask you a question: My mother one time told me paint the apartment. I painted it black. She come home from work that night and she opened the door. She thought she went blind. Does that mean I hate blind people?

(LAUGHTER)

TENUTA: No, not at all.

COOPER: So, there you are. Have a sense of humor. Lighten up in America.

TENUTA: Right. That's right.

POUSSAINT: ... particularly the ethnic type of humor that goes on. And I'm not accusing whites, anybody. Black comedians participate in the same thing. It just seems to be part and parcel of American comedy for some reason. Is that because bigotry is kind of floating around in the culture and they can tap into to for laughs?

BATTISTA: Well, I think a lot of it -- doesn't a lot of it have to do with where the comedy came from, how he lived, his experiences?

TENUTA: Yes. Yes, for example...

BATTISTA: So oftentimes you're just poking fun at them.

TENUTA: Like Jeff was saying, Jeff is from the South. So, you know, he's making fun of driving a pickup truck and everything like that. So, an also, comedy is a release. We're supposed to catch people by surprise and then make them laugh at their differences. RODRIGUEZ: Absolutely. I agree with her. I come from an immigrant Mexican-American family. And what would the good doctor like me to talk about? Chinese people, other people? What I would recommend to the good doctor is that perhaps his patients, instead of seeing him they should go to the nearest comedy store and get a big laugh. That would extend your life.

And, doc, with all due respect, I realize that humor has been used in many offensive ways, but, you know, Richard Pryor, who was one of my biggest heroes, after he came back from Africa, he refused to use the word nigger, yet now it's become practically an adjective if you watch BET.

POUSSAINT: Yes, but that doesn't mean it's good or right, and it doesn't mean it's not offensive.

RODRIGUEZ: It doesn't mean it's wrong, either.

POUSSAINT: Well, it's wrong to me. I find it offensive the "n" word. And many, many other black Americans do.

RODRIGUEZ: I find offensive for people that -- they even use the acronym "n"-word. Who are we kidding ourselves? We know this word.

POUSSAINT: You can say it if you want. I don't like saying the word, because I don't like putting it out there. So -- sometimes I do.

RODRIGUEZ: Sometimes, when you use a word enough, you take the poison out of it.

POUSSAINT: No, no.

COOPER: Absolutely.

POUSSAINT: No.

RODRIGUEZ: You take the meanness out of it.

POUSSAINT: If you go around and you use the word kyke, you do not take any -- the sting out of that word.

RODRIGUEZ: It is when we hold these things under...

BATTISTA: Let me ask you this. Jeff, you had a television show, so let me ask you this: Do you think that there could be a show, or is there one today, that is that similar to Archie Bunker? Or have we -- are we beyond that now?

RODRIGUEZ: Yes, the news.

(LAUGHTER)

POUSSAINT: There's something that I can think of worse than Archie Bunker in that sense. FOXWORTHY: No, I don't think there's a character like Archie on. I think that we have become so -- trying to be politically correct that we don't celebrate any of our differences, and that's kind of the joy of people against each other, is -- when I call myself a redneck, this is the way I am. It is an attitude, and that doesn't make me a bigot, and it doesn't make me any different than Paul. Paul and I are friends. We have worked together. We just grew up in a different way.

RODRIGUEZ: Absolutely.

FOXWORTHY: And our differences is, to me, what makes it appealing to each other.

POUSSAINT: But I don't know in the way they use ethnic comedy that you're celebrating differences. I don't think that Archie Bunker was celebrating differences. He was putting things out there. He was putting out things that people didn't know, perhaps. And he was a good comedian, but I don't think he was celebrating differences. That was not the tone of the show.

BATTISTA: I have to jump in here because we are completely out of time, and I do apologize that we've lost some time in the show. It was a great discussion. I thank you all for being with us.

Pat and Judy...

TENUTA: Thanks, Bobbie!

BATTISTA: Paul, Jeff, thank you very much.

FOXWORTHY: God bless. Take care.

BATTISTA: We'll see you again tomorrow at 3:00 for more TALKBACK LIVE.

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