Talking Penis Gets the Chop

Matt O'Conner
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — An appeals court has upheld an indecency conviction against a man who exposed his penis in a comedy segment on public access TV.

In 2000, Timothy Huffman, host of cable channel GRTV’s “Tim’s Area of Control,” ran a segment in which he drew a face on his penis and used it as a sort of ventriloquist’s dummy to create a character called Dick Smart.

In the skit, Dick Smart, who sounds vaguely like Rodney Dangerfield, performs a stand-up comedy act, telling Rodney jokes such as, “I was in the army, you know. I didn’t do much, you know. I just hung around.”

“I thought it would be good exposure,” Huffman said of the skit, adding, “Pardon the pun.”

But Michigan authorities weren’t laughing. After the segment aired a second time, the district attorney’s office filed indecency charges against Huffman. The unemployed father of five was found guilty.

The judge ordered him to spend a day in jail and pay about $1,000 in fines and court costs. He also was given one year of probation.

But Huffman contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, which helped him file and appeal on the grounds that his satire, however crude, was an act of expression, not obscenity, and should have been afforded First Amendment protection.

Huffman said he believed prosecutors targeted him because he is a “low-life scapegoat” with a criminal history who lacks the resources to defend himself.

He went so far as to ask in court why prosecutors had not gone after Steven Spielberg following the release of “Shindler’s List,” which also contained male frontal nudity. One prosecutor got a few chuckles from the courtroom when he replied, “You’re no Steven Spielberg.”

A three-judge appellate panel agreed and upheld the lower court decision.

Huffman said his next move will be an appeal to the state’s Supreme Court.

“I’m truly trying to stand up for the Constitution,” Huffman said. “It’s a matter of principle.”

Until the Supreme Court decides otherwise, however, Dick Smart’s comedy career is on hold.