It's OK to mock

Leno wins US legal ruling

Jay Leno has won an important legal battle for comedians working in the States.

The chat show host has successfully defended a legal action by a woman he mocked on-air.

And in its ruling, the New York state appeals court said there should be exceptions to civil rights cases when it comes to comedy.

Claire Walter had filed a lawsuit against the NBC host, claiming that her rights had been violated when he mocked an ‘unflattering’ picture of her on the Tonight Show in 2003.

Court papers claim he made jokes that she looked ‘big and scary’ and that customers of the car firm she worked for would not want their car serviced by someone looking like her.

Leno held up a business card featuring her unsmiling face and the text, ‘Thanks from Claire Walter, your friendly service advisor,’ and in a mock voice, meant to be Walter's, growled: ‘Want your car fixed?’

The 40-year-old sued claimed her right of privacy had been invaded, and because Leno had intentionally inflicted emotional distress.

But the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court ruled last week that an exception should be made to the civil rights law regarding comedy.

It ruled that the law’ privacy section applies only to the authorised use of photographs for commercial reasons – and not to ‘reports of newsworthy events’.

‘A performance involving comedy and satire may fall within the ambit of the newsworthiness exception even if the performance is not related 'to a "legitimate" news broadcast,' the appeals panel ruled.

Walter's lawyer Nira Kermisch said she was disappointed by the verdict.

‘Just because you're a comic doesn't give you the right to take someone who is an obscure person and make fun of the way [they] look,’ she told


Published: 28 Mar 2006

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