Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Half-Full Glass

I'm sure you heard about this (from today's Philadelphia Inquirer):

Pa. lawmaker's blog: Funny - or offensive?
By Mario F. Cattabiani
Inquirer Staff Writer

His blog is laced with references to pornography and strip clubs, a lust for whiskey and women, and disdain for President Bush and CĂ©line Dion.

Then there are some politically incorrect quips about Palestinians and "a third-world type" who cleans hotel rooms.

It's not the work of Howard Stern, or even a college kid with too much broadband.

The author of - a collection of humor columns - is State Rep. Daylin Leach, a Democrat from Upper Merion.

It's all meant in good humor from an elected official and self-described frustrated comedian.

Written over the last eight years, the columns - which he signs as Dutch Larooo - touch on everything from the birth of his daughter to his 21/2 years in the statehouse. The title of one: "Legislating while drunk."

It's observational humor, the Montgomery County representative said.

"I respect my constituents and all people enough to think that they are not going to think this is real," said Leach, 44. "It's just a joke. It's like Woody Allen marrying a sheep. I don't think he has an attraction to sheep. It was funny."

Some aren't laughing.

"How did he ever get elected in the first place? He needs help," said Diane Gramley, president of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania, an anti-obscenity group. "He's fixated on pornography and strip clubs. It should be a real eye-opener for his constituents."

The writings reveal a little-known side of Leach, who has earned a reputation in Harrisburg as a bright and independent-minded legislator. The blog also vividly illustrates what can happen when you put your thoughts on the Internet for everyone to see.

Many of Leach's writings have some reference to body parts, sex or pornography, or a combination of the three.

"We've all seen porno movies. In fact, we've all seen 5 or 6 porno movies a week since we were young boys growing up in Allentown," one reads.

Leach, a father of two, makes several references to young girls, including this passage about legislation he was backing: "The age of consent would officially be lowered to 'When Poppa ain't around.' "

He also quips about renewing his subscription to Hustler's Barely Legal and about knowing very little Italian.

"I've just learned the very basic things you would need to get by in Rome. I can say 'Hello,' 'Goodbye,' 'Where's the bathroom,' 'Is your sister really twelve?' "

Leach has tried his hand at stand-up and was a member of a comedic troupe years ago. "I don't have a sitcom, so it tells you how good I was," he said in an interview.

He said he started writing humor columns about eight years ago as "an outlet," and e-mails them to about 2,000 friends and acquaintances.

About a year ago, Leach started posting his "vents" online.

"I think we want, in society, to have elected officials who are not all the same all the time. And we should want them to occasionally let their hair down," he said.

"This is my private life. This is something I do. It's not obscene. It's not particularly offensive."

His columns, many written before he took office in January 2003, skewer a broad cross-section of America. He attacks the powerful and famous.

On Bush: "If he can become president of the United States, then there is no reason that the dumbest of you can't become Absolute Omnipotent Dictator of the Universe."

Dion, his most frequent foil, "has a voice like a thousand rabid monkeys trapped in a cement mixer."

He jokes about fictional exchanges with famous folks.

Pat Buchanan got a "little huffy," Leach wrote, "when I asked him if he'd ever been to a transvestite bar called the Bunny Hutch." A comment he made to Kitty Dukakis at the 1988 Democratic Convention - "Let's see the Ta-Tas" - spawned the low-cut sweater craze, he wrote.

He also pokes fun at those without any power. In one entry called "Travel Tips," Leach wrote:

"It may be easy to romanticize sleeping in a teepee, braving the elements and mixing with the dung beetles, but trust me, having a cozy bed and a third-world type who cleans your room and you can call 'Consuela' (regardless of her real name) goes a long way towards helping you forget any pending disbarment proceedings back home."

One column in particular has some Arab Americans fuming.

He wrote this about bachelor parties in different cultures: "The Palestinians like to welcome the bachelor to marital bliss by holding him up in the air and cheering, then strapping several pounds of dynamite to his chest and having him blow up a school bus (the groomsmen all chip in for the dynamite).

"Palestinian women are troubled by their future husband being splattered all over the ground, but grateful that he wasn't exposed to any naked women."

James J. Zogby, founder and president of the Washington-based Arab American Institute, called Leach's comments inappropriate and insensitive.

"This is outrageous. We've lowered the standards for our elected officials, but he fits even below those lowered standards," Zogby said.

Leach, who is Jewish, said: "I guess someone could be offended by that. I wrote it well before becoming a legislator. At the time, I had a law partner who was Arabic. It was not meant to be offensive."

His last posting chided the media for sending reporters to Seattle to cover legislators, including himself, as they attended the nation's largest convention for lawmakers last month.

It mentions that a reporter, whom it calls "Mario," would attend, and that knowing that they would be watched, lawmakers were given rules to stay out of trouble. One called for "no using tax dollars to get a haircut, or a tattoo or to get your jimmy pierced."

Such a volume of writings - there are more than 200 "vents" - could smell like red meat for a political opponent in next year's elections.

"In today's world, these are not funny things. Maybe if you are a professional comic on cable TV, you can get away with it. But not when you are in public life," Ken Davis, the Montgomery County GOP chairman, said after reading several entries. "If a candidate, Republican or Democrat, were to run against him, then they certainly would take a good, hard look at these comments."

Soon after joining the House, Leach wondered in a column whether his writings might affect his political future.

"After I was elected to the legislature, I was encouraged to put the Vent on hold for a while, if death threats can be considered encouragement. Some worried I might say something that would speed up the inevitable impeachment process. Others worried I would say something that might slow it down."

Mike Manzo, chief of staff to House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese, said he had read some of the columns and found them "downright hilarious."

"Daylin is one of the most genuinely funny people I've ever met," he said. "A lot of people will criticize him for this. But they just don't get his sense of humor."

Roderick Millwood isn't sure Leach has a future in comedy.

"I didn't see anything comedic there, and I was looking for something funny," said Millwood, general manager of the Laff House, a Philadelphia comedy club, who reviewed the site. "But he's free to come down on the last Wednesday night of the month, when we have open mike night, and give it a try."

A Leach Sampler

These are excerpts from State Rep. Daylin Leach's blog:

On giving

"I have found it rewarding to take time to do things for others. If Britney Spears needs a back rub, I'll give it to her. If Britney needs a big ol' spanking, I'm there."

On himself

"Do you remember how every elementary school has some kid who is so slow and pathetic that all the other kids beat him up. Well, in my school, that kid beat me."

Why we shouldn't execute Osama

"The minute we kill him we are sending him to paradise where 72 virgins await him (or 71 virgins and one girl who went horseback riding a lot)."

The political risks of S&M

"To me, being sat on by a morbidly obese, leather-clad dominatrix is not fun. But it would probably still be a bad idea to be photographed doing it."

Prepping for a marathon

"My training consisted of running through the streets of certain rural neighborhoods near the capital wearing a "Leave the Sheep Alone!" T-shirt. I thought being chased would motivate me to keep running."

A fulfilled life goal

"Get totally stoned on fine Lebanese Hashish with Henry Kissinger. Check."

On strippers

"Whenever Jasmine, Cocoa, Lolita, Puka-Puka or Clitoris (it's amazing how all the women with exotic names wind up working for strip clubs) came near you, you had to tip them to sit, to dance, to stop dancing, to leave, and to never tell you about their plans for medical school again."

On alcohol

"Specifically, I dreamt:... of a world where every Starbucks also served Whiskey - cheap, 24 hours a day - to absolutely anybody."

From "The Lost Poems of Osama Bin Laden"

Once I glimpsed a woman's foot
as I walked by the forge
I had to halt an execution
my loins were so engorged
OK, now that we've had the "sky is falling" news report, I should let you know that I just went to the site to find out more on this, and this is the message that appears:

There is a good chance you stopped by this site because of an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Thursday.

If that is why you are here, allow me to provide some context.

Other than my family, I've had two main passions in my life: one is politics and the other is comedy. Humor helped me get through a difficult childhood and has frequently enabled me to keep perspective whenever I get discouraged. I was a performing stand-up comic in my 20s and performed with a sketch comedy troupe in my 30s. As my legal career became more demanding, and as I got married and prepared to start a family, it became impossible for me to continue to find the time to perform.

To allow myself the opportunity to continue writing comedy, I started writing a column of mostly political satire called "The VENT," which I sent to friends and colleagues on my E-mail list every few weeks or so. As the years went by, more people asked to be added to the list, and some suggested I set up a website so they could read old ones from time to time. This is that site.

My comedy has always been first and foremost just that, comedy.

I was simply trying to make other people, and myself, laugh. The events portrayed in any VENT were fictitious and the people therein (except for the truly famous, like President Bush) may have been based in part on people I met, but they were all fictionalized.

I also acknowledge that my comedy is sometimes irreverent. All good political satire is. It expresses positions of contention and controversy in order to encourage the audience to look at their own conclusions. I certainly never meant to offend anyone - I have people of every description on my e-mail list, and not one person ever indicated to me that they were offended by something I wrote. Mostly, I think, because they know me and understand who I am.

I'd like to say a word about that. I got into politics because of a commitment to civil rights. On issues such as affirmative action, anti-discrimination initiatives, ethnic profiling, women's rights and gay rights, I don't think there is a more progressive voice in the Pennsylvania legislature. My wife and I named our first daughter Brennan after Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, who is my personal hero in part for embodying our nation's commitment to civil rights.

Any joke I made with a political point was made in furtherance of progressive values, even as I sometimes made fun of those who do not, in my judgment share those values. If anyone has been offended by anything I have written, I am truly sorry. I was trying to make people laugh and think, not upset them.

I was advised that I should temporarily take the blog down, due to the possibility of someone hacking into the site and modifying the content to reflect something that I did not say. I hope to have it back up soon in a secure environment.

Thank You,

Daylin Leach
Call me crazy, but these don't sound like the words of a hateful bigot.


Rep. Mark B. Cohen said...

Daylin Leach may or may not be a good comedian, but he is an outstanding state legislator. It is strongly in the interest of his constituency to re-elect him again and again.

Anonymous said...

Are you out of your mind ? This pig should have stepped down in disgrace and you know it. I don't what to be "Represented" by this creep. I guess we should just smile ans say it is ok because he... gee I can't think of a reason why its ok....Whould you let him around your young daughter, or son for that matter?

Drop the partisianship Rep Cohen.

Vote the Leach out, or we will be embarrassed for another 2 years.

doomsy said...

Gosh, Anonymous, thanks ever so much for that constructive and TIMELY comment (on 8/16/06)! I'm SO GLAD you actually took the time to read Daylin Leach's response in the post, though I'm sure you were so moved by it that you were unable to reply to what he said.

doomsy said...

And thanks for reminding me to add a link for Daylin Leach to this site, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Hey, if you were wondering who reported Diane Gramley's group to the Southern Poverty Law Center (to be added to their ever expanding list of hate groups)--that was me.

I live in the same town as that homophobic, pro-cencorship kook and see her drivel in our local rag's "Letters to the Editor" section on a weekly basis.

Anonymous said...

I forgot how refreshing Daylin Leach is compared to the drivel we're forced to listen to spewing out of Donald Trump's mouth. Thanks for the reminder to vote for Leach!