Monday, January 17, 2011

Everybody’s a Comedian

by Jeff Huber

Few people abuse power and authority worst than an executive officer (XO) of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier who is a bully and a bigot and a mean spirited egotist.  I’m not sure if Capt. Owen Honors, the former XO of the carrier USS Enterprise who just got the deep six as the ship’s commanding officer (CO), was one of those, but he displayed most of the symptoms. 

I wasn’t sure if the affair of Honors (heh) was worth disbursing a thousand words on until I saw Jon Stewart’s Daily Show take on it.  As is often the case, funny man Stewart didn’t quite grasp the matter’s gravity, and when Stewart doesn't get something, his Generation X, Y, Z, etc. fan base doesn’t get it either. 

Capt. Honors (right) leads a
damage control party.
Many of these candidates for adulthood are in the military and they don’t see what the big deal was with the skits Honors aired on the ship’s TV station four years ago.  Heck, you see professional comedians like Jon Stewart do those kinds of things all the time.  The painfully obvious distinction they fail to make is that comedians like Jon Stewart aren’t executive officers of nuclear aircraft carriers.  And, oh yeah, from the looks of the video that’s been crisscrossing the information highway the past few weeks, Capt. Honors is no comedian.

In a more unfocused than usual segment on his Jan. 5 program, Stewart attempted a send-up of, well, one isn’t sure just who the satiric target was—Honors or the Navy or Navy brass or maybe the sad state of American humor in the major media.  Stewart’s bit, well, it bit, but he was on the mark in noting that Honors’ skits totally chewed it, man, and they mostly consisted of jokes stolen from Caddy Shack.  Honors at one point in the infamous video notes that professional comedians get a lot of laughs from dropping the f-bomb, so he and his zany band of merry maritime players do a bit where they drop the f-bomb a lot, almost as much as Stewart has taken to dropping it lately when his facial and vocal mugging fail to cover for the weak material he and his fleet of writers crank out.  In all, Honors’ comedic efforts were on par with the dreck we saw in the heinous Porky’s films and only barely superior to what Saturday Night Live has been shoveling at us for the past several years.  

But were XO Honors’ bad skits unfunny enough to warrant that CO Honors be fired four years after they aired?  Stewart implied that Honors was relieved of command for having tried to improve crew morale.  I’m not sure if Stewart’s understanding of the issue is that shallow (sure, John, and Hitler was just trying to improve the Germans’ morale).  But we can be reasonably confident that Stewart is unaware that XO Movie Night has been a tradition of most Navy aircraft carriers for decades—since 1981 that I personally know of.  And it’s a dead cert that Stewart doesn’t realized that Honors is one of the first, if not the first, CO of a U.S. aircraft carrier to get reassigned to Naval Air Station Palooka over the skits he put on as XO of a U.S. aircraft carrier. 

Some who are critical of the decision to relieve Honors say it reflected the Navy’s overzealous sense of political correctness in the touchy-feely 21st century.  Let me tell you something.  In the late 80s, before we had women on Navy ships and things at sea were still as salty as a Philly pretzel, I did an unflattering impersonation of a Filipino officer in a skit on ship’s TV.  That skit darn near kept Lieutenant Huber from becoming Lieutenant Commander Huber.  If I had pulled one of the stunts Honors pulled week after week on his XO Theater, I would have been flown home from the middle of a deployment that day, not four years from that day

In his video, XO Honors makes what must be intended as a joke about how the CO and the admiral knew nothing about his little ship’s TV skits.  Ha.  Ha.  There’s no way the top brass on that sip couldn’t have known about Honors’ shenanigans, and they clearly approved of them if only tacitly.  I don’t even care to know who the CO and the admiral were, but it would be interesting to find out if they’re still on active duty and why nobody is grilling them about the Honors escapade.  That the Navy did nothing about Honors’ programs until the Virginian-Pilot did an expose on them four years after the fact reveals everything you need to really know about how seriously the service’s top leadership takes the Navy’s phony-baloney “core values.”  That Honors would likely have risen far higher than he did if the Pilot had not blown the whistle on him also tells you tomes about the Navy’s institutional atmosphere.

I’m perfectly willing to grant for the sake of argument that while there isn’t a funny bone in Honors’ body, there isn’t a mean spirited one either, and that he honestly thought everyone on board the ship understood that he was just fooling around.  But on a ship that big, much of the crew, especially the younger sailors who couldn’t know The Big XO very well, would likely think he’s as mean as Jon Stewart is when he has his Daily Show crew punk perfectly sincere little people who big-shot comedians like Stewart shouldn’t be picking on (what’s the point of telling truth to the powerless, Jon?)  If Honors thought the whole crew would perceive his slurs and obscenities in their intended jolly context, then he suffers from a clownish inability to make sound judgments. 

But given what we’ve seen of top military leadership throughout the New American Century’s Long War on Evil, being a clown who makes poor judgments qualifies one for accelerated promotion to the four-star level.  So yeah, why fire Honors? 

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) is the author of the critically applauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a satire on America’s rise to global dominance. 


  1. Jeff,

    "It also tells you the sort of institutional atmosphere that allows someone like Honors to rise as high as he did. I’m perfectly willing to grant for the sake of argument that there isn’t a mean spirited bone in Honors’ body, and that he honestly thought everyone on board the ship understood that he was just fooling around, but if he honestly thought that he suffers from a clownish inability to make sound judgements

    But given what we’ve seen of top military leadership throughout the New American Century’s Long War on Evil, being a clown qualifies one for accelerated promotion to the four-star level."

    Absolutely perfectly said. Perfect.


  2. Very perceptive catch on the shallowness of Jon Stewart's analysis. The undue influence he yields on our nation's yewts indicates just how important to call him out when he is off base (however well intentioned his motives).

    Life's a lot of laughs, but these ARE NOT laughing matters.

    Mark Ganzer

  3. "Honors is a native of Syracuse, N.Y., and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1983. He went on to fly the F-14 Tomcat and work as a test pilot before serving as XO on the Enterprise from July 2005 to September 2007."

    Yeesh, that should have been a clue. Any idea how long young pretty girls sufered humiliation in this town after that stupid Tom Cruise moivie? Friggin jerks.

  4. I don't want to say he displayed standard Tomcat Boy mentality but he did.

  5. Before I clicked on the Stewart video, I was thinking, "He's not going to be able to say the name 'Enterprise' without making some kind of cheap Star Trek-related jibe, is he?" Sure enough. I must be psychic or something.

    Somebody should tell Stewart the one about glass houses and stones. And thanks for mentioning the man's mean-spiritedness. I thought I was the only one who noticed that he can as big a creep as Hannity, when he puts his mind to it.

  6. Yeah, very mean spirited, something I find deplorable in a satirist.

  7. I have watched Stewart for a while off and on. I have noticed a number of inconsistencies that at first didn't bother me but nowadays do. He likes to make political statements in a roundabout way and if anyone accuses him of being unfair/unbiased or just plain accuses him of anything at all he plays his trump card and claims: "Well I am just a comedy show, you can't take me serious."

    I do wonder what your take on Colbert might be, is he a tougher nut to crack or am I just missing something???

  8. Well, when one of Stewie's kids goes on the read to ridicule little people who don't deserve to be ridiculed, they're imitating Colbert. And Colbert lost me for good when he acted like such a jackass in front of Congress. That kind of crap didn't do the migrant workers he was pretending to help one damn bit of good. It just pumped up Colbert's image to a core audience whose core values come, lamentably, from Colbert and Stewart.