The above article at Salon is about how Jimmy Kimmel as been taking on the anti-vaxxers. This is a subject that’s so stupid that only a comedian could really do it justice. The link is worth going to just to see the video. At the end of it there is a PSA featuring Doctor’s telling people to get vaccinated that is pretty hilarious: “Remember that time you got polio?” another doctor asks. “No, you don’t, because your parents got you f—king vaccinated.”
John Oliver takes on big tobacco. Oliver is someone that enlightens while he entertains, a hilarious teacher. I wish the real news communicated as much as he does and that it was even 5% as entertaining to watch. I’m glad that he out there amongst us.
I only just found out about Jon Stewart’s decisions to retire from The Daily Show tonight. I realize many of you have probably already heard about this. I don’t need to be the one to tell most of you that we have been lucky to have him on television since 1999. The Daily Show has been a place we could go to laugh and remain sane in these years of insanity. Not only is his own contribution tremendous, but without him we would have never had The Colbert Report. I have only seen one episode of The Nightly Show, but hopefully that and whoever takes Stewart’s spot will keep this kind of truth telling comedy going.
I think the most important thing Stewart is done is helped people decode the bullshit that is cable news. It’s true that many people before Stewart knew that something in our media wasn’t right, but sometimes it helps to have someone that can adequately verbalize what you feel. Night after night he was not only able punch through the mask of talking head absurdity, but provide people with the tools to do it themselves.
Why is it that, so often in our society, comedians are the only ones that can get at the truth? If we had a mainstream news media that was actually doing its job, Stewart wouldn’t have been needed. However, many of us unfortunately know that he, or someone like him, was needed. Because he could do what he did through humor, he was able to get away with things that others could not. One of my favorite quotes, that I have probably used too frequently here is Oscar Wilde’s quote, “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.”
Hopefully there will come a time when someone like Stewart isn’t needed, when we can actually trust television media to give us an accurate picture of what is going on in the world. I don’t think that time will be soon though. In the meantime, lets be glad that he was able to slip unnoticed through the gates, in this kingdom of madness.
Above is Jon Stewart’s famous Crossfire appearance. Crossfire was a show on CNN. It was a typical cable news program where you would have one rightwing pundit and one leftwing pundit debating the issues, without any kind of real insight give. There also was no weight given to either argument, letting the viewer know if one or both were at all rooted in fact. Jon Stewart went on and at the time did the unthinkable: He told the truth about why this kind of show was so meaningless. Crossfire didn’t last much longer.
Although I haven’t watched Saturday Night Live with any kind of regularity for years, there was a time when I watched it almost every weekend. This was back in the 90’s when Phil Hartman, Chris Farley, David Spade, Chris Rock and others were cast members. However, as SNL is celebrating its 40th Anniversary, I have caught some of the retrospectives and remembered how much of an impact SNL has had on our culture. It’s hard for me not to look at Clinton and not remember Phil Hartman, or to not associate George W. Bush with Will Farrell’s impersonation. Dana Carvey also did a fantastic job parodying the first President Bush.
However, even as a kid I remember thinking that Lorne Michaels, SNL’s longtime producer, was a strange bird. He produced a major comedy show, yet he rarely even cracked a smile, at least when appearing in front of the camera. The above article is an interesting look at Michaels. A small sample:
But if there is now a somewhat gentler version of the driven young visionary of the ’70s, that does not mean writers and performers do not still experience the intimidation factor. Tina Fey felt it. “It was like The Paper Chase,” she says. “People endowed Lorne with all this power. People wanted his approval in a personal way, but you literally needed his approval to get airtime — and many people lost their minds in pursuit of it.” Indeed, as often as SNL has broken stars, it has left other performers broken. Michaels likes to say that until a performer is asked to stand on stage live in Studio 8H, nobody knows how good they really are.
“It is inherently built on competition and disappointment,” says Fey. “It’s a very competitive environment, which I always enjoyed because I have that part of myself. Lorne does step back and let things play out.”
Reality is stranger than fiction. The state of Alabama is now appointing attorneys for the unborn. The Daily Show does a great job showing how absurd this is. When she pulls out the final doll at the end I finally lost my shit…
Anyone that knows this record doesn’t need me to explain why I included it. However, I see this as a great comedy record. Like many comedies it takes horrible realities to such extremes that it exposes truth, while at the same time making you laugh at the absurdity. Lets take the famous, or infamous, song Fuck tha Police:
You’d rather see me in the pen
Then me and Lorenzo rollin in the Benzo
Beat tha police outta shape
And when I’m finished, bring the yellow tape
Those four lines both expose truth and take violence to a comedic extreme at the same time. It’s the fact that many white people would rather see black males in prison than driving around in a Mercedes Benz. And then in the next two lines Ice Cube is bragging about beating a cop to death with maniacal glee. So it is truth hidden in the guise of absurdity. (And unfortunately this song still seems relevant to our daily headlines.)
For all of this records violence and insanity, I have a hard time taking it too seriously removed decades from its release. Ice Cube is in children’s movies and Dr. Dre is a respected CEO. I think of it along the lines of something like George Carlin’s Life is Worth Losing, where he talks about some of darkest subjects ever and twists them until they become funny. But while Carlin is making you laugh, he is again making you see truths that evade us in everyday conversation. (It’s not as smart as Carlin is, but then no one really is.) Unfortunately many of the groups that were influenced by this seemed to lack NWA’s knowing sense of humor. For all this records absurd violence and gritty reality, there is the sense that they are having fun. And it is precisely that fun that makes this record fire on all cylinders for me. They’ve driven straight over the edge, and are having a laugh in free fall.
For the first week of 2015 I am writing pieces about records that I can only describe as “batshit insane”. These are brilliant albums that are so dark they cross the threshold into a knowing comedy. If you want to understand exactly what I mean in more detail read the first paragraph from the start of this series:
I love records that one can only describe as sounding “batshit insane”. Where the artist seems as if they are out-crazying the din and the whirlwind of the Great Void. Albums that trump death, even if the artists are alive and the albums don’t even have death as a central theme because, even if it is subconsciously, they know it is out there and they seem not to give a shit. I am reminded of the character at the end of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle who dies, “lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who.” I also think of George Carlin, putting on a show making the batshit insanity of this world hilarious, and then ending his set by standing on one leg with his arms outstretched, daring to be smited. These are albums where artistic fear is not only not present, it almost seems as if the artists are daring you not to like them. Albums like this make me laugh out loud and warm my heart to its very foundation. I could be having the worst day possible and when I put one of these records on I think, “Thank God they are out there.” I wanted to write about several of these records to start 2015 out on the right foot. My goal is to post at least one record a day for the next week. I’m just having fun, like a child skipping through a field.
So let’s, for the sake of argument, agree right now that there is definitely a God. Now let’s also agree that he created everything that ever was and ever will be. He created all life and all mater. He created everything from the stars in the sky to the lowliest microscopic life form on earth. Are you going to tell me that an all powerful and all knowing supreme being, the kind of which we have just described, didn’t also create humor?
As an agnostic who doesn’t claim to have any secret information about what happens when we die, I don’t pretend to know if there is a God or an afterlife of any kind. If I make a joke about religion, I don’t see how it can cause any harm except to the people that are too tight assed to laugh at themselves. If there is a humorless spiteful Old Testament God, well then trust me, a few jokes aren’t going to save me from eternal hellfire. If there is no God, then there is no hell and therefor nothing to worry about.
But again, if there is a God, can you tell me that He/She invented everything in the universe except humor? Almost everyone loves Don Rickles. People actually ask to be made fun of by him, as it is seen as an honor. Do people have thicker skin or a better sense of humor than an all knowing and all powerful being? Is God really such an egoist that he can’t take a couple jokes by a temporary being of mere flesh and blood? Could God not handle the Don Rickles treatment?
The more you think about the God that seems to dictate the lives of fundamentalists, who really worship a God much closer to the vengeful humorless God of the Old Testament than the more loving one of the New, the more ridiculous and absurd it becomes. And the absurd and the ridiculous are a great jumping off point for jokes.