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Old 12-15-2008, 06:09 PM
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Default Paterson’s Office Is Not Amused by ‘SNL’ Skit

Paterson’s Office Is Not Amused by ‘SNL’ Skit
By Jeremy W. Peters NYT 12/1508 http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/15/ny...l?ref=nyregion

Gov. David A. Paterson’s office criticized a skit on this weekend’s “SNL” in which Mr. Paterson, who is legally blind, was portrayed as disoriented and buffoonlike.

The governor’s communications director, Risa B. Heller, said on Sunday that the skit amounted to nothing more than cheap ridicule — a surprisingly strong reaction considering that the governor is well known for making light of his vision problems.

“The governor engages in humor all the time, and he can certainly take a joke,” Ms. Heller said in a statement. “However, this particular ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit unfortunately chose to ridicule PWDs and imply that disabled people are incapable of having jobs with serious responsibilities.

“The governor is sure that ‘Saturday Night Live’ with all of its talent can find a way to be funny without being offensive,” Ms. Heller added.

In the skit, which appeared on the “Weekend Update” portion of the show on NBC, Fred Armisen portrayed a bumbling, lispy Mr. Paterson who referred repeatedly to cocaine use and compared his path to the governor’s office to “an actual plot from a Richard Pryor movie.”

Mr. Armisen, wearing a fake salt-and-pepper beard and a three-button suit similar to ones Mr. Paterson frequently wears, mocked the governor’s blindness throughout the four-minute segment. For most of the skit, he squinted his right eye closed and looked askance with his left eye.

The governor can see nothing out of his left eye and barely enough out of his right eye to make out large objects and see colors, he has said.

Rebecca Marks, a spokeswoman for NBC, said on Sunday night that the network was unable to locate anyone to comment on the skit.

Mr. Armisen first appears rolling his chair around aimlessly behind the newscasters’ desk. A “Weekend Update” host, Seth Meyers, then reaches out to steady Mr. Armisen and points his chair toward the camera.

“So have you heard about this guy Blagojevich? Boy, this guy is a real criminal,” Mr. Armisen says, to which Mr. Meyers responds that Mr. Paterson himself has confessed to wrongdoing — a reference to the governor’s admissions of past cocaine use and marital infidelity. Mr. Armisen then says: “But my crimes were merely crimes of the heart. And drug crimes.”

And at one point, while referring to Mr. Paterson’s decision about whom to choose to fill the Senate seat that Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to vacate, Mr. Armisen declares, “I’m tired of all these fancy two-eyed smart alecks from the big city running the show,” alluding to the governor’s reported interest in appointing somebody from upstate. The appointee doesn’t have to be blind, Mr. Armisen says, maybe “someone with a gamey arm, or maybe giant gums with the tiny teeth.”

At another point in the skit, he holds a chart, representing the unemployment rate, upside down. After Mr. Armisen leaves the desk — he first tries to shake Mr. Meyers’s hand but misses — he reappears on screen talking on his cellphone.

“Did you see me on TV?” he says, standing directly in the camera’s path, obscuring its shot.

Mr. Paterson is known for a having an irreverent sense of humor that is cheekier than most politicians would dare. And he has spoken at length about developing an ability to tell jokes at a young age as a way of making him seem more normal to his peers, who sometimes ridiculed him for not being able to see.

“I think people who have a good sense of humor do have in them a little bit of loneliness,” he said in an interview this summer. “When I was younger, I was certainly that way. So I think I used humor to entertain myself. That was my way of enjoying time, my way of finding the frivolity in situations.”

Speaking to reporters on Sunday night at the Waldorf-Astoria, where he was addressing a group from Yeshiva University, the governor was somewhat circumspect about the skit and avoided mentioning it directly. When asked if it had offended him, he kept any anger or embarrassment in check and deflected the question with an answer about high unemployment among the disabled.

“There is only one way that people could have an unemployment rate that’s six times the national average — it’s attitude,” he said. “And I’m afraid that the kind of third-grade depiction of individuals and the way they look and the way they move add to that negative environment.”

“I run the place that I work in so I don’t have to worry about being discriminated against, I think,” he said. “But the point is that a lot of people who don’t get promotions and don’t get opportunities and don’t even get work are disabled in our society.”

Nicholas Confessore contributed reporting.
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Old 02-06-2009, 06:14 PM
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Default NYC: A Governor’s Sense of Humor Is Put to a Rigorous Test

NYC: A Governor’s Sense of Humor Is Put to a Rigorous Test
By CLYDE HABERMAN NYT 2/06/09
from The New York Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/06/ny...l?ref=nyregion
Quote:
NYC: A Governor’s Sense of Humor Is Put to a Rigorous Test
David A. Paterson’s emergence as governor was an inspiration to many people with disabilities, especially the blind.

As surely most New Yorkers know by now, Mr. Paterson can’t see much. A childhood infection left him legally blind, with no vision at all in his left eye and no better than 20/400 vision in his right one.

But across the years he triumphed over affliction, aided mightily by his sense of humor.

Even though his ascension in Albany last year was a fluke — thank you, Client 9 — it gave the sightless new reason to take heart. Here was proof that being unable to see didn’t mean one was unable to succeed. By the same token, it has not insulated the governor from criticism, as in the debacle of Caroline Kennedy and the vacant Senate seat.

But we’re witnessing a creepy side effect to the Paterson phenomenon. Comedy writers with frat-boy sensibilities seem to feel they have a license to go for cheap laughs about blindness, as if Mr. Paterson were Mr. Magoo come to life.

Some news writers also suggest that the governor’s disability is being exploited in television commercials that attack him for health care cuts that he has proposed to help close a huge budget deficit.

The shabby blind-man humor comes by way of “Saturday Night Live.”

Granted, the show has a tradition of mocking politicians’ stumbles, figurative and literal. This goes back to its earliest days in the mid-1970s, when Chevy Chase built a career by sending up President Gerald R. Ford as a hopeless bumbler.

But a lot of people felt that “S.N.L.” crossed a line of decency in December when one of its people, Fred Armisen, made repeated fun of Mr. Paterson’s blindness. As “Paterson,” he held a chart upside down, rolled around aimlessly in a chair and wandered cluelessly into a camera’s path. The level of humor might fairly be described as sophomoric were that not an insult to sophomores.

Groups that deal with blindness were outraged by this “idea that blind people are incapable of the simplest tasks and are perpetually disoriented and befuddled,” as the National Federation of the Blind put it at the time. If Mr. Paterson shared the anger, he didn’t say so. But a spokeswoman for him issued a strong statement denouncing the skit as an insult to people with disabilities.

(O.K., we can hear some of you asking why the Paterson bit was any more offensive than the thorough “S.N.L.” skewering of Sarah Palin. The answer is simple. “They were picking on Sarah Palin for what she did, not for what she was,” said Carl Jacobsen, president of the New York State affiliate of the Federation of the Blind.)

You’d think there might be a learning curve at Rockefeller Plaza. Apparently not. Mr. Armisen was back as “Paterson” last Saturday night. This time, he pulled out a huge pair of binoculars to read a piece of paper. “Just kidding,” he said.

Yuk, yuk, yuk. Among those failing to see the humor was Marcie Roth, executive director of the National Coalition for Disability Rights. For her, it reflected a “ridiculous, ongoing, permissible bigotry.”

More nuanced is the case of the health care attack commercials that began this week, paid for by the state health workers’ union and the association of hospitals. It goes after Mr. Paterson personally, and conspicuously includes a plaintive appeal from a blind man wearing sunglasses and sitting in a wheelchair. “Why,” he asks the governor, “are you doing this to me?”

The inclusion of this man, Juan Pietri of the Bronx, led to acid suggestions in some newspaper articles that the governor’s critics were exploiting his blindness. Definitely not so, said representatives of the union and the hospital association.

Through them, Mr. Pietri issued a statement of his own asserting that “nothing could be further from the truth” than to say he was put in the commercial to highlight the governor’s disability.

To the relief of those groups, Mr. Paterson himself said he had “absolutely no problem with their ads,” and rejected any notion that they had hit “below the belt.”

But some still had questions about the propriety of including someone like Mr. Pietri. The commercial was clearly an attempt to “pull at the heartstrings of the public,” said Mr. Jacobsen, who is blind himself.

“The people running those ads probably feel that the most pitiful thing you can do is be blind and in a wheelchair,” he said. “Well, blind isn’t that pitiful.”

Carl R. Augusto, president of the American Foundation for the Blind, was less troubled by the advertising campaign than by offensive “S.N.L.”-style routines. But Mr. Augusto, who is also blind, figured than even the boobs on the boob tube will come around.

In time, “more and more visually impaired people” will become political and corporate leaders, he said, and then “I think the appetite to use their disability as a cheap shot is going to be lessened.”
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