The Opie and Anthony Show Is Gone, and Only Anthony Cumia’s Racism Is To Blame
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For the details of what led to the firing of Anthony Cumia by SiriusXM, go here.
Back when Opie and Anthony were on WNEW in New York City, probably around 2002, they did a bit involving one of their long-suffering producers that was so shockingly offensive that you couldn’t help but laugh at it. You laughed not always because it was funny — maybe more because you couldn’t believe they were somehow getting away with it.
In the bit, O&A turned their show over to producer “Black Earl” Douglas, who was pitching his own “black rock radio” show on WNEW and needed to make a demo reel for it. What followed for the next 30 minutes was poor Earl being relentlessly mocked by both the hosts (who took over “producing” duties and constantly interrupted Earl with clips of racially charged lines and insults from Blazing Saddles, Caddyshack and Hardcore) and the callers Earl had misguidedly chosen to solicit (one of whom asked Earl whether he planned to steal anything from the studio before he left). It was crass, brutal, and juvenile — and it was also damn funny. As Earl said several times during the bit, as his attempts at making a serious demo tape were frustrated again and again by the hosts’ antics, there was nothing personal about the attacks — it was merely his turn “in the barrel.” The show held no sacred cows and made a contact sport of ridiculing everything and everyone; why should Earl be any different? Besides, everything Opie and Anthony did, no matter how seemingly awful, was with one goal in mind: making people laugh.
The Opie and Anthony Show‘s philosophy has always been rooted in the comic sensibilities of the Northeast. Listen on any given day and a parade of high-powered comedians come through, all of whom expect to have their balls busted in one way or another and to be afford the opportunity to bust everybody else’s balls with impunity. No topics are off-limits and nobody can ever count on being treated with kid gloves. While they may have access to hundreds of thousands of people through a satellite transmission, Gregg “Opie” Hughes and Anthony Cumia, along with Jim Norton, treat their show like it’s an intimate Friar’s Club roast: you know what you’re getting when you walk through the doors and you’d better be ready for it. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. If you’re easily offended, get out quickly. For everyone else, you’ll be accepted based on how well you can take a beating and then turn around and hand one out. If you survive your time “in the barrel,” you earn the respect of everyone on the show — hosts, regulars, and listeners alike. Show weakness and you’re toast.
Here’s the thing, though: when the intent of that willingness to offend and be transgressive is to get laughs, you can make a good argument that almost anything should be on the table and very few boundaries should be drawn, since the goal of great comedy is often to push the envelope and upset the established order. But late Tuesday night, Anthony Cumia’s long-standing flirtation with racist rhetoric and tendencies, which had in the past been the butt of jokes both coming from him and aimed in his direction — the late comic Patrice O’Neal, who was a friend of the O&A show and a staunch defender of it, joked that Ant’s retrograde racial views were endearing — boiled over into outright, indefensible hostility. There was no benign intent in Anthony’s vicious, corrosive Twitter tirade. He wasn’t trying to get a laugh. He was enraged, not only at the black woman who he claimed had attacked him without provocation on a New York City street, but at what he believed — what he believes — the violence says about a vast swath of black people in general.
Make no mistake here: If what Anthony says is true and he was physically assaulted for no greater offense than snapping a picture of a woman who happened to walk into the frame, then his initial unrestrained online fury at his attacker may have been understandable. Sure, he was startlingly profane and used language overall that many would call misogynist, but had his anger been directed at no one other than the person supposedly responsible for sucker punching him, it’s doubtful anyone would have called for his head. The assault probably would’ve been a bigger deal than his response to it. But Ant didn’t stop at verbally bashing one person; he used the attack on him as an excuse to indict an entire race of people and as proof that what he’s apparently thought about African-Americans for years is true. He called them savages; called them animals; said “they’re not human.” And when he did that, he left himself no place to hide and no way to claim that he was just kidding around. His racism was blatant, ugly, and despicable. Whether you think SiriusXM should have fired him, as it did on Thursday night, the fact is he left them absolutely no choice. Yes, his comments really were that inexcusable.
Anyone who’s listened to Opie and Anthony for a long time, as I have, could imagine that there might eventually come a day when Ant would do something to get himself kicked off-air. He’s always been a reactionary asshole, but just within the past couple of years it feels like something has changed — like his beliefs and behavior both on-air and off have become more caustic and not as easy to chalk up to amusing misanthropy. He’s entitled to his views, as are we all, but particularly on Twitter he’s become an unstoppable geyser of paranoid resentment and bigoted, hyper-conservative antagonism — and it’s infected his performance on the show as well. I don’t have to agree with your politics to think you’re brilliantly funny — and Ant is absolutely hilarious — but when you begin abandoning humor in favor of regularly raging against whatever bizarre injustices you believe are being committed against wealthy, heavily armed white people like yourself, it becomes exhausting.
The crew of the O&A show often talk about serious topics, and there isn’t a thing wrong with that, but recently when that happened Anthony could exclusively be counted on to stake out the insufferable angry-white-guy position. It used to be that he’d exaggerate already exaggerated stereotypes — as the show did constantly, often even self-deprecatingly — for the purpose of humor. But more and more lately, the humor fell by the wayside and what was revealed appeared to be the very sincere white supremacist beliefs at Anthony’s center. It became such a regular feature of the show that last year comedian Bill Burr called Ant out on it during an on-air appearance.
As news of Anthony’s firing has spread, fans of his have come forward in droves on Twitter to announce that they’re canceling their SiriusXM subscriptions. While no one’s sure exactly what’s going to happen to the show — whether Opie and Jimmy will somehow continue on without Ant — there’s little doubt it can ever be what it once was after this. Say what you will about Anthony Cumia, but for 20 years he’s been an indispensable half of the marquee; it simply can’t be the same show without him. Maybe the fact that George Zimmerman’s brother, Robert, is one of those commenting on SiriusXM’s decision to fire Anthony and offering him support will make it clear, though, just how stridently Ant’s politics had become a feature of his on-air personality. He didn’t simply defend the actions of George Zimmerman, calling his shooting of Trayvon Martin justified, but when the verdict came down acquitting him, he reveled in the way that it devastated and outraged many in the black community. It may have been that point where I made the decision to start listening less and less, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Still, there are enough die-hard O&A fans that they’re now promising a boycott of SiriusXM and are writing about this supposed injustice under the hashtag #IStandWithAnthony.
But this wasn’t an injustice. Anthony dug his own hole on this one and pulled the dirt in on top of himself in big, heaping handfuls. This wasn’t political correctness run amok. What Ant said was fucking contemptible and while he’s entitled to say it, SiriusXM isn’t legally obligated to put up with it. This isn’t a First Amendment issue, regardless of what the amateur constitutionalists among the O&A crowd think. What Anthony did was not only stupid and hateful, it was selfish, because despite his rage at the time and the hubris he’d accumulated from years of basically being unkillable in radio, he had to understand there was a chance that his tirade might cost not only his job but the jobs of his partner for 20 years and everyone else associated with the show — including people like producers Sam Roberts and Erock, who can’t afford to be unemployed as Opie and Anthony probably can. In Anthony’s mind, it was more important to personally vent his outrage against black people on Twitter than to concern himself with the potential consequences for his friends and co-workers. Oh yeah, and for his fans — the people who enjoy the show and who don’t want to see it go away.
While Ant has repeatedly claimed to be defiant and without regret when it comes to this whole thing, he just deleted almost every one of his tweets prior to this weekend — not just the ones that got him fired, all of them. (On July 4th, however, he posted a pic of himself with both a black friend, Carlton, and trans porn star Bailey Jay; on YouTube he posted a clip of himself singing Ebony and Ivory with Carlton.) This could be because he doesn’t want online news outlets suddenly going back through his timeline looking for more proof of his racism or it could be an attempt to reset everything — a futile wish for the ability to erase the recent past. Either way, the damage is already done. Ironically, Anthony probably has a future ahead of him in conservative radio if he wants it, which is the direction it seemed like he was heading anyway. But for somebody who spent years listening to him and his on-air partner and who enjoyed their gleeful but harmless offensiveness in the name of making people like me laugh, it’s just fucking sad that this is how it all ends. No matter what happens next, the Opie and Anthony Show is gone. And for that there’s nobody to blame but Ant.
Update 7.7.14 It looks like some form of the show will go on. This afternoon Opie tweeted this:
Update: 7.9.14 Jimmy Norton is standing firmly in Anthony’s corner, expressing love and loyalty to him, but the fact that he and Opie are forced now to try to move on without him is apparently not going over well with the die-hards.
— Jim Norton (@JimNorton) July 7, 2014
I don't think the fans are being dicks, I know you're very frustrated. @OpieRadio and I are unable to change the situation, not unwilling.
— Jim Norton (@JimNorton) July 7, 2014