Note to Leno: W.Va. won’t be your b*tch anymore
For one magnificent moment after the Orange Bowl on Jan. 4, West Virginia University and the entire state of West Virginia were the talk of America. Sports fans were in awe of the Mountaineers, who set record after record in one of the greatest football games in college history.
We West Virginians should have known the hillbilly bashers wouldn’t let us bask in the glory for long, and sure enough, the predictable slam came less than 24 hours after the final whistle.
“And West Virginia beat Clemson in the Orange Bowl last night by a score of 70-33,” Jay Leno said in his “Tonight Show” monologue the day after the game. “West Virginia scored 70 points? Huh, West Virginia? They don’t score that high on their SATs.”
Leno apparently holds to the comedic philosophy that when all else fails – and the “Tonight Show” has been one big fail after another for the past two years -just tell a West Virginia joke.
He has done it at least twice before. After Starbucks opened its first West Virginia store in 2003, Leno took aim at one of the oldest and lamest stereotypes about the Mountain State: “The great thing about drinking Starbucks coffee in West Virginia is that you don’t have to worry about staining your tooth.”
Then in 2009, after a West Virginia legislator proposed a ban on Barbie dolls, he recycled the same stale humor. “They want to make it illegal to sell Barbie dolls in West Virginia because they say the dolls give girls unreal expectations,” Leno quipped. “See, apparently in West Virginia, dolls that have all of their teeth are not considered realistic.”
Leno hasn’t yet sunk as low as Vice President Dick Cheney, who scored a cheap laugh in 2008 by characterizing West Virginia as a state full of inbreeding rednecks. But he’s sliding toward that gutter. His latest jab alienated the West Virginians who still watch Leno and further infuriated those who long ago tuned out the “Tonight Show.”
It’s not that we can’t laugh at ourselves. Comedians like Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy are rich men because we do just that. My friends and family in West Virginia regularly email me hillbilly jokes, and I have a whole section of my blog dedicated to redneck humor.
What we West Virginians hate are elitists who laugh at us rather than with us. They see truth in jokes that are supposed to be hyperbole rather than a statement about reality. That’s why so many West Virginians flooded Leno’s Facebook wall and Twitter page after his post-Orange Bowl potshot. We lodged hundreds of complaints, calls for boycotts and the one thing Leno’s joke writers surely expected least – eloquent defenses of our heritage, our culture, our people and our beloved Mountaineers.
I especially enjoyed the retorts that put the lie to Leno’s punch line about uneducated West Virginians. The state’s SAT scores have hovered at about 1,500 in recent years, typically ranking us just below Leno’s current state of California and higher than his home state of New York. West Virginia University also has had 24 Rhodes scholars, a tally higher than many top colleges.
Other Leno critics gleefully noted that he should have aimed his humor about poor education at a much easier target – ESPN’s Brad Nessler.
While announcing the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 3, the geographically illiterate Nessler said Clemson would be playing “another team from the state of Virginia, West Virginia,” in the Orange Bowl. His gaffe spawned a flurry of Facebook images noting that West Virginia has been separate from “East Virginia” since 1863.
But instead of poking fun at an actual, nationally televised demonstration of ignorance, Leno repeated a ridiculous stereotype that unfairly mocked WVU and its loyal fans. Why let facts get in the way of a “good” West Virginia joke?
The Lenos and Cheneys of the world are the reason that now-Sen. Joe Manchin spent millions of dollars of West Virginians’ money as governor to try to dispel myths about the Mountain State and its people. It was a waste of money because the jokes keep coming. They always will.
But that’s OK. We West Virginians don’t need the affirmation of entertainers or politicians or anyone else who finds joy in insulting us. Most Americans voted against West Virginia before the Orange Bowl, and as our Mountaineers boasted at the end of the game, most Americans were wrong.
They always are when it comes to Almost Heaven.
A Paden City native, Glover is an editor and writer in Washington, D.C. He blogs at The Enlightened Redneck and was interviewed as an expert on rednecks by BBC’s “The World Today.” This column originally appeared in the Wheeling Intelligencer/News-Register.