Colbert’s Reagan In Hell Joke Was Gross And Offensive And He Has Every Right To Say It

Stephen Colbert took a short break from mocking President Donald Trump last week. “The Late Show” host attacked President Ronald Reagan instead.

And Colbert did so in a way that was cruel and factually wobbly.

The far-Left host brought up Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s bruising battle to become the next House Speaker, noting how Fox News host Sean Hannity wondered what Reagan might make of the kerfuffle.

Turns out Reagan has other, more pressing issues on his mind in the afterlife.

Uh, where am I? Everything was so dark for so long, and then there were these demons dancing around me chanting ... "you should have addressed the AIDS crisis when you had the chance." Then I woke up all of a sudden. Mommy!

Colbert’s “Reagan in Hell” shtick was prime clapter – meant to evoke applause from his audience without actual laughs. And, on that level, it worked.

It also mocked someone who can no longer defend his record and continues a mischaracterization of the truth. Reagan couldn’t wave his finger and make the AIDS crisis disappear, nor did him uttering the word in public earlier than he did suggest some unforgivable dereliction of duty.

His White House record also belies the attacks.

…federal anti-AIDS spending grew dramatically throughout Reagan’s term. The $8 million that Reagan approved in 1982 rocketed to $2.3 billion in 1989. The average annual increase in federal expenditures on HIV/AIDS under Reagan was 128.92 percent. If he had been happy to watch gays succumb to AIDS, he surely could have kept that growth rate somewhere south of 125 percent.

The shtick still proved angrier than most Colbert monologues, the kind of material that might cause a Cancel Culture attack based on cruelty alone.

Except little of the kind happened.

Several conservative news sites noted the comments, framing them in a negative light. Fans of the late president likely recoiled, too, understanding Reagan’s legacy (ending the Cold War, restoring America to economic prosperity) far overshadows the Left’s AIDS narrative on the Gipper.

Yet the minimal response is, for a change, refreshing.

Colbert Is A Comedian And Make Jokes

Comedians are allowed to tell jokes, both softballs and more targeted jabs. George Carlin didn’t pull punches on stage, and while not every joke landed some lacerated larger truths with humor and insight.

Comics need the rope to do just that. And, if audiences think they routinely go too far, they’ll let them know it by staying home.

Or, in the case of Colbert, giving Greg Gutfeld’s top-rated show a look.

The comedic playing field, alas, is far from equal in this arena. Most mainstream comics won’t touch Democrats with jokes, unless the gags are toothless and unable to impact their polling numbers. We'd cite a few offensive jabs at Democrats but good luck finding any.

Low-rated talk show host Samantha Bee once effectively shamed TBS into pulling a joke aimed at Hillary Clinton. The bit compared the former Secretary of State’s laugh to that of a hyena.

TBS quickly apologized for the allegedly offensive gag, calling it a “poor attempt at humor.” Saying a U.S. president is in hell seems a bit more mean-spirited, no?

Jokes, even those aimed at the Beltway denizens, can be cold, cruel and laugh-free. We have the right to be offended, but comedians have a similar right to share offensive punch lines.

Maybe, someday, Colbert will tell an offensive gag that’s both accurate and funny.

And liberals should remember that the next time Dave Chapelle, or any other comedian, says something that offends them.

Written by
Christian Toto is an award-winning film critic, journalist and founder of, the Right Take on Entertainment. He’s the author of “Virtue Bombs: How Hollywood Got Woke and Lost Its Soul” and a lifelong Yankees fan. Toto lives in Denver, Colorado with his wife, two sons and too many chickens. Follow Christian on Twitter at