Crossing the lines a few times too many

Dean Koontz’s now-infamous speech at the Men of Mystery event last weekend has been burning up the ‘sphere ever since. So naturally, I waited till a print newspaper picked it up before linking to it, because of how things seem to go around here:

Bestselling thriller writer Dean Koontz had told the anecdote dozens of times before: The author wanted his name removed from a film version of one of his books, so he sent a series of letters to the head of the Japanese company that owned the movie studio, mentioning World War II, the Bataan Death March and Godzilla.

For years, people would laugh at the story.

But after Koontz retold the anecdote on Saturday to a gathering of mystery writers and fans in Irvine — during which he referred to the studio executive as "Mr. Teriyaki" — and now the mystery writers group is speaking out against what it perceived as Koontz’s blatant racism, and a widespread debate has emerged on Southern California literary blogs about where humor ends and racism begins.

Among those who spoke out against Koontz’s speech were Lee Goldberg, Tod Goldberg and Rob Roberge, while Joe Konrath had a different take. Goldberg has also sent a letter to the LA Times to correct some inaccuracies, the most major being the implication that an organized group is against Koontz’s comments, which is not the case.

It’s interesting to contrast this with another dustup that happened when Gawker made a throwaway comment about Laila Lalami’s recent reading in New York for her debut HOPE AND OTHER DANGEROUS PURSUITS, which — even though far briefer — almost seems tackier than what Koontz said. Or Sarah Silverman’s new movie, where her humor is so out there that while it makes some people laugh, there are (at least to my mind) way too many instances where she goes way too far over the humor line into race-baiting.

Which, I suppose, illustrates how utterly fine the line between humor and tastelessness really is. I’m the first one to champion a movie like THE ARISTOCRATS, and have even said half-jokingly that I can only be friends with people who found the movie funny. I saw the trailer for Albert Brooks’ upcoming movie about his quest to find out what makes Muslims laugh, and thought it to be a great idea (though since it’s Brooks, the execution may lack somewhat.) But I wonder what my own reaction to Koontz’s speech would have been. And I suspect I might have found it funny at first (because they would have reminded me, at least in part, of Groucho Marx’s letters to movie studio heads) but by the end…maybe not so much.