Hank Williams Jr. had a pretty good gig back in 2011. Come up with a few lines to "All My Rowdy Friends Are Here on Monday Night" for ESPN's primetime football game each week. Get paid. Stay relevant.
Then the country musician went on "Fox & Friends" to suggest that a Republican speaker playing golf with a Democratic president would be like "Hitler playing golf with (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu." Obama and Biden were "the enemy," he blurted in 2011.
As Williams tried to weather the requisite social media backlash, ESPN remained non-committal about whether Williams' song would open the following week’s "Monday Night Football" broadcast.
"I have always been very passionate about politics and sports and this time it got the best or worst of me," Williams tried to explain.
ESPN put him on ice. Do not collect $200. Go directly to broadcast jail.
Six years later – within the past couple of days in fact – the network finally granted Williams parole. He will lend his voice to pro football's opening weekend. That’s assuming he doesn't say anything between now and then that bothers anyone.
Kathy Griffin's ticket to the cable wilderness will last until at least the first moments of 2018.
And she had a pretty good gig, too: Bundle up for CNN's version of New Year's Eve at Time Square. Come up with comedy bits to make co-host Anderson Cooper squirm and giggle. Count backwards from 10. Watch the confetti. Get Paid.
Then Griffin posted a picture of herself holding a fake, bloody President Trump head on May 30. The blowback was fierce.
"I am sorry," she tweeted. "I went too far. I was wrong."
CNN didn't waste time pulling her from her high-profile, year-end assignment. Comedy venue managers across the country took her off their schedules.
Remember to leave a trail of breadcrumbs, Kathy. It's a long way back from where you're at.
Even the notoriously unapologetic Bill Maher had to start the month of June in full damage control. The comedian and host of HBO's "Real Time" on Friday uttered a racial slur – a very bad one – during an on-the-air but off-the-cuff exchange with Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse. Social media’s keyboard warriors once again took up arms. HBO issued a statement and the host called his use of the word “completely inexcusable," "tasteless” and “deeply offensive.” He’s right, on all three counts.
As of now, HBO seems to be a slightly-safe place for not-so-safe expression. They plan to have Maher and the next episode of "Real Time" on the air at the end of the week. But stay tuned: Maher's public relations hurricane is hovering just offshore.
So what have we learned here? Nothing we don’t already know: Don’t compare presidents to Hitler, don’t pretend to behead them in a photo shoot and don’t use the N-word. Ever. We know these things.
With more and more frequency we’re learning something else, too. “I’m sorry” isn’t good enough in today’s society.
So whatever you do, performing artists, don’t challenge us. Don’t provoke us. Because when you go too far – and these three did go too far – the sincerest of apologies just doesn’t cut it anymore.
The line you cross is now the edge of a cliff. We can’t move on with our day until you’re scrubbed from public view.
We get the artistic expression we demand.
And, we’ll be left with the artistic expression we deserve.