Sunday, September 17, 2006

What’s Worse It Isn’t Funny

In memory of S. H.

It was in the racist, sexist, homophobic, and deadly tedious Andrew Dice Clay that I first noticed that phenomenon of the Reagan era, comedy that isn’t funny. After noticing him I began to see a lot more of it about. Maybe it was bound to take those of us brought up on Imogen Coca, Sid Caesar, and Eve Arden longer to understand that this was supposed to be comedy.

That it was Clay, a man whose consciousness is firmly grounded in that moment that puberty struck him, who first called it to attention isn’t surprising, thinking about it. That is if thinking about something so devoid of content can be called thought. Children who are suffering the derangement of puberty are usually confused about the difference between something that is embarrassing and something that is actually funny. Puberty being what it is, the topic is bound to be sex, anything generally “down there”.

Once the ability to get attention by saying or doing things that are embarrassing is discovered and reinforced by “Stinky” and “Turd-head’s” wet-their-pants level of appreciation, the bathroom humor habit can become ingrained. Even achieving the traditional age of majority might not ensure that the habit of early adolescence gives way to an adult level of amusement.

Moving up in years and perhaps having finally experienced sex himself he needs new material. If the cultural milieu hadn’t already provided the budding stand-up man with these, the jerk moves on to racism, cultural and religious stereotypes, and other edifying topics that can shock without the exertion of thought. And thus we have the media careers of Rush Limbaugh and other up-and-comers now beginning to populate the news divisions of our networks. Can the “towel head” level of hee-haws be far behind on the Evening News?

The problem of whether it is to be regretted or rejoiced at that the bigoted creeps don’t have the intellectual maturity to sustain that most challenging of all creative activities, to come up with a good joke, I haven’t been able to crack. Having a president who thinks gas jokes are the height of humor does worry me quite a lot.

At exactly the same time that these unfunny people began flourishing, the war against ‘political correctness’ was starting. The effort to make it possible for the fellows at the club and office to tell racist and sexist jokes without fear of an unamused reaction was interesting only for one thing. It was joined in so quickly, so vehemently and in such numbers by what passes as our intellectual class that I’ve got to think there’s more there than just a matter or freedom of expression. People who had never, in decades long careers as public scribblers ever been anything but Watch and Ward* men were now flaming free expression men. Notice, that was free expression, something they had always vigorously distinguished from free speech as a matter of principle. Not that they’d ever spoken up for those of us who want to speak on the topic of a living wage before. Ah, but I’ll get off-topic if I go there just now except to speculate that the coincidence was no coincidence.

By chance Rusty Warren, who I hasten to mention wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, also came to mind this week. Most famous for her “Knockers Up” routine she shocked and titillated many a staid and buttoned down man of the 50s and 60s with her energetic sex comedy. Mae West on uppers. That’s what they were watching while we were watching Ernie Kovacs and That Was The Week That Was. It wasn’t my taste but she could be funny.

Suspecting she might not be with us anymore I was surprised and a bit nostalgic to find she has a web site which I haven’t had the nerve to look at**. The one comedy record from the early days of her career which I was exposed to didn’t exactly make me a fan. Though that one song entitled with a word that I will not use was very funny in context. It can’t really be called shock comedy in today’s sense of the phrase. Brash it was and in those days, a brash woman talking about sex was shocking to her audience. I hope that in an effort to up-date her act she hadn’t given in to Reagan-Bush era style shock jockery and I’ll bet she didn’t. Unlike Clay, she could be smart and funny and she wouldn’t be afraid of vaginas.

* Anti-smut campaigners of a bygone era.

** I looked at it last night in the interest of research and discovered that she does, indeed, have a sense of humor, if one not to everyone’s taste. Wikiing her I found out that one of her songs is used as the theme for the Randi Rhodes show. The Air America station here comes in about as well as an old ship to shore so I didn’t know.

I make no judgement over whether her material is feminist, not being the right gender to do that. Her bawdy humor, while rooted in an earlier sensibility, doesn’t strike me as self-hating. It was my old friend S. H., a lesbian, who in a “You won’t believe what my father listens to,” demonstration, first subjected me to one of Warren’s LPs. The one with “I’m Gonna Get Some” on it. We’d gotten drunk on his wine that afternoon

People who had never, in decades long careers as public scribblers ever been anything but Watch and Ward men were now flaming free expression men

The attacks on "political correctness" (which got to the point where it became de facto politically incorrect to be anything but rude) came along with an emphasis on balanced journalism, which was being pushed by the same people who had just undid the "equal time" rules.

In both cases, what was billed as a matter of "free speech" was really cover for a very ugly reaction.
Being the ever so suspicious type, I figured that it was a necessary part of their long campaign to fragment the left's coalition. Republicans have all the money they need to come up with that strategy and I always figure if it occours to me someone else must have thought of it too.
I followed a link in your comment on the Atheist Aphorisms post. I did manage to crawl all the way through your essay, but failed to see a cohesive point.

I must say though that having an opinion and writing it down is a good thing. I just wish you had a more comprehensible writing style. I will check out some of your later though to see how is has matured.
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