Did Letterman cross the line with the Palin joke?

June 16th, 2009 by elizabethpace Leave a reply »


David Letterman is funny, we all know that, right? So why was he apologizing–again–to Sarah Palin last night? 

Maybe it’s because what he and his staff writers thought was hilarious…wasn’t. At least it wasn’t to the women in his audience, let alone the women who were the butt of his joke. And there in lies the dilemma many of us have in reaching our target audience. What works for men, may totally miss the mark for women — and vice versa.

If you missed the story, Letterman’s June 8th monologue included a joke about Palin’s daughter being “knocked up” by Alex Rodriquez during the seventh inning stretch of a Yankees’ game.  Letterman said he thought that he was joking about Palin’s 18 year old daughter Bristol Palin, but the daughter at the Yankees game was 14 year old, Willow. Either way, it was offensive to women.


Letterman and his writers failed to recognize a key gender difference: men often bond by bantering, teasing and using derogatory nicknames; women don’t and never will. 


As discussed in The X and Y of Buy, you have to know your target audience if you want to close the sale. This is as true in advertising and TV as it is for closing a consulting contract or a major Cap X. 


Does that mean that women don’t have a sense of humor? Absolutely not! I haven’t talked to one woman (of either political persuasion) who didn’t think SNL’s Palin – Clinton spoofs this past fall were hysterical. But Letterman stepped over the line–the unwritten female line–between humor and personal unprovoked bullying. 


A few months ago, Rush Limbaugh seemed surprised by the gender difference in his audience — 72 percent of his listeners are men, only 28 percent are women. Most women view personal derogatory comments i.e most of Limbaugh’s diatribe and Letterman’s recent jab at Palin and her daughter as bullying.  


I am a fan of David Letterman, but he crossed the line.




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