The Lileks Zone

Mr. Grant, You Have To Put Some Back

File this under “Our Ideological Opponents are Incapable of Art or Anything Approaching It Because They are Dumb Sex-Hating Suspicious Morons Without Nuance: A writer at the HuffPo doesn’t think there are any funny people on the right. He has theories, too!

 

Comedy is inherently subversive.

 

It’s “subversive” only to the extent it believes that soaking strawmen with kerosene and throwing matches is proof of spontaneous combustion. Progressive comedy exists in a tight narrow boxes that proscribe the limits of subject material, according to your membership in various groups. Exemptions are made for people whose misanthropy is all-encompassing, and tend to shout.

 

Comedy is often a coping mechanism for adverse situations

 

The “adverse situation” here is living in a big country and realizing that someone in Plano, Texas is laughing at Sasha Cohen’s portrayal of a gay person for all the wrong reasons. He goes on:

You don’t have to look too far or too deep to realize that comedy speaks to unfairness and injustice.

Based on the comedy I hear on my satellite radio channel, this unfairness often involves some woman who does not understand her man’s need for access to a wide variety of females, but I’ll get back to that in a moment.

If you haven’t experienced them, if there’s no struggle, there’s less need to find a redeeming quality to your situation by injecting humor into your life.

When I hear the word “struggle,” I reach for my whoopee cushion. The word “struggle” in its modern sense – screwing up your face with REALLY SERIOUS ANGER as you pound out a comment on HuffPo – has no place in the discussion of comedy, unless you’re talking about funny struggles, like Harold Lloyd struggling to Not Die.

It is easier to sell to the 99% than the 1%...Comedy is part of entertainment, and entertainment is a business. As a numbers game, its flat out more profitable to mock the establishment when the rest of us will be buying tickets to your shows.

 

As I said, I listen to comedy channels on XM radio. No one mocks the establishment as it currently exists; they mock an idea of the establishment, a fantasy of uptight repressed white men in short-sleeved dress shirts whose greatest fear is that women will stop shaving their legs, and what this might do to sales of Tang. The only time modern comics will assault the Establishment is when they’re angry they can’t buy weed at the 7-11.

There are two comedy channels, by the way. There’s RAWDOG, which is for people who cannot express themselves very well, swear a great deal, regard women as hectoring faithless harpies, and recount their witless observations to a room of drunks who hoot and holler every time their own plotless existence is validated with an emphatic profanity. Then there’s the Clean Comedy channel, where you will find actual comics who craft quips – Jeff Foxworthy, for example –  or construct elaborate narratives that build and pay off. Bob Newhart is still good. I never laugh at Jerry Clower, a suthin comedian what told tales of his unca Cleetus WHEEEE that man could hunt, but it’s a pleasure to listen to that bygone style. And it’s instructive to hear the audience respond. They had patience.

 

Tradition…Let’s face it, the tradition of Card-Carrying, Left-leaning, Pinko comics is a great one. A kid aspiring to comedic greatness can look to Charlie Chaplin, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Janeane Garofalo, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Marc Maron, if they care to lean left.

 

Hmm. Well. Lenny Bruce had his moments, but the influence was toxic; people took the wrong lessons. I’ll swear and be brutally honest! No. Carlin is an interesting case; I’ve listened to a lot of Carlin. I practically memorized AM / FM when I was in high school. He had a brilliant skill for skewering the sunny uptalk of 60s radio and commercial culture, and when you’re 14 it’s SO BRAVE! It worked because he came out of that industry, knew the tropes and tones. But then he became the Oracle, and the more he came to believe his oracular status, the more tendentious he became. When he fastened on a particular absurdity, he could be brilliant – but towards the end, the concerts were instances of the audience engaged in onanistic self-congratulation, believing that laughing with Carlin somehow insulated them from being the people he was talking about. He hated everyone.

Hicks had his moments, but again: the audience was getting a contact high from a guy who burned with anger that some idiot out there believed in God.

Garafalo: I thought we were talking about comedians.

Bill Maher: So there was a scientific experiment that implanted “Chomsky for Dummies” into the cerebellum of a ferret. Who knew.

Jon Stewart: funny guy; I suspect some times he feels a larger social obligation to STIFLE, as Archie Bunker would say, and it gripes him.

Charlie Chaplin: Yes, he was a leftie, and aside from “The Great Dictator” – which you could read as “leftie” in the sense it was anti-fascist – his politics are mostly absent from his greatest work. His speech in “Monsieur Verdoux,” is lefty enough, in the sense that it’s cut from the same dun-hued bolt of fatuous moral equivalence you find by the yard in any sophomore bong-session.  If the left remade “City Lights” today, the Tramp would go to Washington to demand Federal funding for stem-cell research to cure the flower-girl’s blindness. “The Kid” would be a brief for national day-care. “The Circus” would protest the cruelty of using monkeys in tight-rope acts.

The truth…it is undeniable that the Right seems to be in a high speed dive towards absurdity so transparently errant, that it makes for simple fodder to those looking to mock. As Rory Albanese of The Daily Show pointed out during our panel,” Santorum is Anti-College! How can you not make fun of that?”

Go ahead; have fun. And realize that you’ve just said higher education is off-limits as a subject of comedy. If you can’t find humor in stories about colleges having classes on Zombie Apocalypse Preparation or the kicking out Christian groups for wanting to restrict memberships to Christians, or find the humor in the endless parade of humorless grievances that flutter around like sodden moths in the hothouse of academia, great. Leave that to us.

This isn’t to say the Left isn’t funny. Tom Lehrer still makes me laugh. He’s a brilliant lyricist and master of genre parody, and there’s a bright, crystalline intelligence that delights even as it appalls. Ricky Gervais is a tiresome atheist who’s probably dependent on his writing partner to make his ideas gel and breath, but I’ve split my sides over the radio shows and podcasts he did with his team. I’ll bet everyone who wrote and acted in the Mary Tyler Moore show “Veal Prince Orloff” episode voted for Carter; doesn’t stop it from being eye-wateringly hilarious.

But why? Was it subversive? Yes: it played against the idea that a confident, capable career woman could manage a small dinner party. Was it a coping mechanism for adverse circumstances? Absolutely: there was the unexpected guest Rhoda brought, and then Mr. Grant took half the veal. Mister Grant you have to put some back. Was it easier to sell to the 99% than the 1%? Of course: we’ve all had a party that went awry, because we couldn’t hire pros and had to rely on a friend with her own agenda. Was there Tradition in the vein of old leftist comedians? Sure: at any moment, Phyllis Lindstrom might flounce into the room and complain that Lars had cut up her credit cards. (Phyllis was a liberal all the way, but the good kind. The rich kind. The useful kind.)

In short, absolutely everyone involved in this scene would have voted for nationalized health care and a unilateral nuclear disarmament. And this is still funny, because you can’t tell that from this.

 

Note: Ted Baxter was the idiot, of course, the empty suit, the miser, the buffoon. You never knew how he voted, except, well, you knew. But when the show ended, what did we have? Unlike Mary, Ted got married; unlike Murray, he wasn’t tempted by another woman; unlike Lou, his wife didn’t leave him to “find herself” when the kids were gone. Ted adopted a Vietnamese child, had another with his wife, and kept his job.

That last point was intended as the bitter, ironic punchline: all the good people got fired. The idiot stuck around. But when I was doing the TV news show for our paper’s online video, I would describe myself as playing Ted Baxter, and people who got the reference would nod: you poor man.

And I’d smile: yes. If you think so.

 

(PS: When I did a mockumentary on the opening credits of the Mary Tyler Moore show for public TV many years ago, we reenacted as much as we could. We found the original car Mary Tyler Moore was washing, and I washed it. It belonged to a local politician, who was the first – and, I believe, only – transgendered person elected to the City Council. Trust me when I say I don’t intend this to be insulting. But isn’t that . . . funny?)

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