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Dear Jay: Since When is a Double Murder Something to Make Jokes About?


Dear Jay Leno,

Goodness knows I've tried to understand this fascination with the O. J. Simpson trial from your perspective.

You are, after all, a comedian and the host of the "Tonight Show" no less. The trial and the resulting circus must be a veritable comedy gold mine for a skilled monologist like yourself.

There's just one thing that has bothered me all along: The situation isn't funny.

Oh, I know you've said that you're not making fun of Mr. Simpson or the murders but of all the peculiarities surrounding the court proceedings.

In fact, in a particularly strange turn, one of the principal people that you skewer, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito, actually got you to perform for the sequestered jury.

And it isn't as if you were the only person who has scored some yuks at the expense of the trial. Is there a comedy club in America, or a cable television comedy show or morning radio program, where some jokester, far less skilled than you, hasn't copped a few laughs at the whole surrealistic experience?

Why, E, the entertainment network, is covering the trial, with Kathleen Sullivan, who used to be a respected newswoman, anchoring in a breathlessly tabloid manner. ESPN, which at last check was a sports network, runs frequent trial updates that are so thorough that Judge Ito himself cited it as the most accurate source of trial news.

Larry King and Geraldo Rivera have gone O. J.-mad and, supposedly, the ratings of the tabloid news shows like "Hard Copy" and "A Current Affair" have shot up since they've been providing regular coverage of the case.

Your competitor, CBS' David Letterman, who I must confess captures my attention most evenings, took what appeared at the time to be a courageous stand against cracking jokes about the trial.

In one show, Mr. Letterman cut off the noxious shock jock Howard Stern, who attempted to tell O. J. jokes during a guest stint, saying he just didn't find much humor in double murder.

But even Mr. Letterman, whose ratings have fallen in recent months, is now telling O. J. jokes, and poking fun at Judge Ito.

Still, Jay, you and your network, NBC, do bill your show as the "home of O. J. humor," and those production numbers with an actress playing prosecutor Marcia Clark and those "Dancing Itos" -- dancers dressed to look like the judge -- kind of put you right out at the forefront.

Heck, you even got one of the first "interviews" with house guest Brian "Kato" Kaelin, though you said later that that might not have been such a good idea.

Mr. Kaelin has demonstrated no skill beyond taking advantage of an unfortunate situation. Last Sunday, Mr. Kaelin, the guest of a local radio station, attended an Orioles game at Camden Yards. He drew some boos and the Orioles showed remarkably good judgment by turning down his request to throw out the first pitch. Another clown, Ronald McDonald, got the honor.

When you get right down to it, Jay, you're no better than Mr. Kaelin. That goes for you and all the other comedians, entertainers and so-called news-gatherers who have taken the gruesome murders of two people and turned them into a depraved form of entertainment.

Maybe you have forgotten, Jay, but here's a reminder of what is at the heart of this whole carnival of callousness: the victims, Nicole Brown Simpson, the mother of two small children, and Ronald L. Goldman, a restaurant waiter trying to do a good deed.

Tell you what, Jay: When you find a legitimately funny aspect to double homicide and the pain it causes to friends and families of the victims, give them a call. Right about now, they could really use a good laugh.

Yours truly, Milton Kent.

Milton Kent is a sports-television columnist for The Baltimore Sun.

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