Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lewis Black, Meet the Westboro Baptist Church

Welcome to Kansas, Lew.

When comedian and Daily Show correspondent Lewis Black arrived in Topeka, Kansas Friday night, he tweeted, “I am standing on the edge of a life-changing experience.” The picketing of his performance at the Topeka Performing Arts Center by our old friends at the Westboro Baptist Church might not qualify as “life-changing,” but it certainly provided material for his Twitter feed (and presumably his performance that night). But why on earth was the extended Phelps family there?

If you visit their website (a notion that is, as always, heartily discouraged), you’ll find some clues. Black has his very own page on “God Hates the Media,” and while the unnamed author does grant that the topical comic is “extremely hilarious towatch” (hey, take your compliments where you can get ‘em), it seems that “his doom is coming” on account of the religious material in his act and his books. (They also mention that he’s Jewish. They do so several times.) So is that why they showed up to wave crude signs and sing second-grade-level song parodies at his show on Friday? No, probably not.

I had exactly one (1) encounter with the Westboro folks back when I lived in Kansas. This was around ’96 or ’97, when their notoriety was mostly local, and a few showed up with signs and children in tow to protest at a small, regional film festival at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. Confused, I approached one of the grinning women with the multi-colored signs. “Um, hi. What’re you doing here?”

Her smile was frozen. “We’re here to preach!”

This was an odd and frankly nonsensical answer. “Yeah, but… against what? This is just a student film festival.”

She didn’t skip a beat. “We’ll go preach anywhere there’s people to preach to!”

And that’s what commentators and reporters don’t get about the Phelps family when they write and talk about those horrifying protests at military funerals or concerts or schools. They try to apply logic and understand what the WBCers are doing and why they’re there. But you can’t use logic with attention trolls. They’re not actually protesting anything. They’re just going where there are people to “preach” to.

The next day, Black tweeted about his upcoming Vegas gigs. “I am at the Mirage next Friday and Saturday. Doubt there will be protesters.” Oh, Lewis. Don’t tempt these people.

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