Comedy of Errors

Comedians and the corrections beat

Jay Leno has made amusing, mistaken, and otherwise notable newspaper headlines a staple of his show. Recently, his rivals got into the media mistake act. This could either be a disconcerting example of kicking newspapers when they’re down, or perhaps it’s late night comedy’s way of reminding people that newspapers are still relevant. Either way, it’s been an amusing few weeks.

Last week comic Andy Kindler appeared on Late Show with David Letterman. Kindler, an occasional correspondent for the show, makes a habit of calling out other comedians and the industry as a whole during his annual “State of the Industry” address at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal.

I interviewed him a couple of years ago and listened to him launch bombs at Larry the Cable Guy, Wayne Brady, and Will Ferrell for his role in Blades of Glory. “I love Will Ferrell, but I don’t want to see Will Ferrell holding up the guy from Napoleon Dynamite while on skates,” he said.

Of particular note is the fact that Kindler had nothing but nice words for Letterman when we spoke. But that didn’t appear to be the case when he was interviewed by a fellow Montreal journalist just a couple of months ago. The Gazette of Montreal quoted Kindler as saying, “Bottom line is that Letterman is unwatchable now.”

As soon as he took his seat next to Letterman, Kindler began explaining that he had been misquoted. Letterman even pitched in by holding up a copy of the article in question. Here’s the full bit, which starts at about the 1:30 mark:

For his part, the writer that misquoted Kindler (disclosure: he’s a friend of mine) had published a correction in a subsequent column before Kindler went on the show:

Because of an unfortunate static disruption while recording an interview with comic Andy Kindler for my column of Jan. 21—about the death of political comedy with the departure of Dubya—a key word, “not,” went missing. The Kindler quote should have read: “Bottom line is that only Letterman is not unwatchable now.” And not: “Letterman is unwatchable now.”

Kindler’s concern over this omission is not unwarranted: he is an occasional correspondent for Letterman’s Late Show. “The ironic part of this mix-up is that David Letterman is one of the few people whose comedy I have unconditional love for,” Kindler says. “I think that’s the proper context for the word ‘irony.’ If it’s not, that would be ironic.”

However, and not surprisingly, Kindler still stands by his statement that with little to mock about Barack Obama for the time being, he will start focusing more on Jay Leno, “the next big threat facing our country.”

But Kindler’s frustration was tame compared to Conan O’Brien’s reaction to the New York Times. In early February, O’Brien lost it over a correction he spotted in the paper:

An article on Tuesday about a newly discovered form of boron misstated the number of pure forms of the element. It is four, including the new one, not three.

As noted by CJR’s Curtis Brainard, O’Brien proceeded to reprimand the paper for its careless error. O’Brien brought out a visual aid to explain the four forms of boron and concluded that the Times should “Stick to wine reviews and profiles of Liev Schreiber because when it comes to science, you’re nothing but a bunch of boron morons!”

Here’s the full performance:

Kenneth Chang, the Times writer responsible for the error later proudly declared that, “in 2009, 100 percent of the corrections generated by my articles have showed up on late-night television. (Okay, I’m one-for-one, but I can aim for Letterman or Colbert next.)”

Judging from recent events, he’s got a decent shot of making it happen.

Correction of the Week

A photo caption on Tuesday’s Page A8 said a student was performing the Heimlich maneuver on a dummy. The student was actually playing around and pretending to choke the dummy.— The News Tribune (Washington State)

Fuzzy Numbers etc.

Kanaan Marcelino, 19, was arrested by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department on suspicion of having unlawful sex with a minor more than three years younger than he is. A news brief in Tuesday’s Local section incorrectly said Marcelino was arrested for engaging in sexual acts with a minor 3 years old or younger.—Fresno Bee

Parting Shot

A reliable source: Research for our feature article about Kalgoorlie’s 1934 race riots led us to write that British miner Charles Stokes was shot in the stomach (The race riots that split a town, West Weekend Magazine, March 14). A reader has told us that Mr Stokes, whose dying words were “a ding got me”, was in fact Australian-born of an English mother and he was stabbed, not shot. The reader should know. She is his daughter.—The West Australian

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Craig Silverman is the editor of and the author of Regret The Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech. He is also the editorial director of and a columnist for the Toronto Star.