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BRIAN MCKIM has performed standup comedy in all 50 states. He earned a B.A. in Magazine Journalism from Temple University. Any resemblance to a living person is purely coincidental.


Brian McKim
Editor In Chief

"Reagan's Dick"

Perhaps the second-whiniest gang of comedians out there (after, of course, the alternative comics) has got to be the "political comics." Hardly a week goes by that I don't see one crying about one of several things.

"Kids today have the attention span of high-speed lint."

--Will Durst

Of course, it's always someone else's fault that they aren't regarded as highly (or compensated as generously) as rock stars. Either the crowds are too dumb or the networks execs are fascists or the truth is too heavy of a burden.

Some of the more fevered Noam Chomsky worshippers, like Janeane Garofalo, are convinced that there's a conspiracy, among unnamed parties, that is aiming to suppress political comedy. She actually said (we presume with a straight face, since we've never seen her wear anything but a condescending scowl) that, "Mainstream media wants to marginalize or ignore (political comedy). And mainstream media seems to marginalize all voices of dissent." Perhaps if Ms. Garofalo tried doing her "political comedy" while eating a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach, she might swiftly become the darling of "mainstream media" and would at least find an outlet for her blather on Fear Factor. Memo to Ms. Garofalo: Mainstream media is, by its very nature a marginalizer. If you truly desire to say something that is unique, or provocative, or interesting, why, oh why, would you think for one second that mainstream media would have anything to do with it? When was the last time you saw anything for the first time in your life on television or in your local paper? Where have you been?

The whining reached an ear-splitting pitch in a recent article in the San Jose Mercury News, an interview of Bill Maher by Mark de la Viña. The author sets the scene for Maher by bemoaning the lack of sharp political satire anywhere. ("While stand-up performers elicit laughs in clubs about the hassles of airport security these days, they rarely address the reasons behind the heightened vigilance," Yeah, sure! I get all my heavy thinking done when I go to my local comedy club. Escape? Escape is for pussies!) We must remember that the author also calls Saturday Night Live "once one of television's edgiest forums for political gibes" Huh? And, the writer sets up the woe-is-me tone for the interview by saying that "political comedians such as Maher learned that any joke remotely critical of Bush and his policies was verboten." See how cleverly he ties the Bush administration to Nazi Germany with the use of the cute little German word? See that? I think I saw this guy at the Jiffy Lube wearing his Cheapshot University sweatshirt!

Maher and Garofalo and all the other "political comics" remind me of the kid who appears in all the wire photos that come back from all the WTO protests we seem to have here in the U.S. every six weeks or so. You've seen him, he's in the front row of protestors, maybe in the second row, and his face is covered, from the cheekbones on down, by a calico scarf. It is a measure of just how goofy this kid is that he thinks it's necessary to hide his identity. Of course, he's taking his cues from the revolutionaries he's seen in footage from Nicaragua or El Salvador. There's just one big, fat difference: Here in the U.S. of A., it's not really necessary to hide his identity like his Central American brothers. It's slightly different here in America.

When was the last time you saw a group of weeping mothers, stationed outside the capital building in, say, Lansing, MI, clutching photographs of their loved ones who had been "disappeared" by jack-booted thugs? It doesn't happen. The nitwits who disrupted the Republican Convention in Philly a year ago last summer were scooped up, bussed to a holding tank somewhere, arraigned and subsequently released to the custody of mom and dad (and probably toted home in a Volvo 360S). No electrodes were attached to their tootsies... in fact, no charges were ever filed. But this is lost on Mr. Calico Scarf. He's got "Medium Cool" on DVD and he a vegan as well as an anarchist, so he's waaay out there on the edge. So, he might actually believe that if The Man sees him in an AP photo, their goons might come a'knockin and take him away in the middle of the night!

My point being that the protestors, and, by extension, the self-appointed voices of our generation (Maher, Garofalo, et al) are trying to fool everyone into thinking that they're engaged in a very high-stakes game. They fancy themselves on the cutting edge of free speech. They see themselves as highly visible Pez dispensers of cold, hard truth-- willing to say what needs to be said. They are, in reality saying nothing that's any more earth-shattering or liberating than that which is said in the letters to the editor pages of the New York Times Magazine. They like to fantasize that their phones are tapped and that they're on some sort of White House enemies list, just like in the good ol' days of Nixon and Hoover. Get over yourselves! Or run for office! Or write a book! Or try saying something that's truly funny and provocative. Have they all forgotten that they're standup comics? Garofalo's idea of being subversive is going on The View and recommending that all the housewives pick up a copy of the latest book by Howard Zinn! Whoa! Is this gal thumbing her nose at convention or what?! Give her the Abbie Hoffman Meaningful Prankster award! And how does appearing on The View square with the cultivation of an image as an earnest, truth-spewing intellectual? The View?! Would Frida Kahlo appear on The View if she were alive today? I think not. Salma Hayek, certainly. Not Frida.

Maher likes to say that ABC pulled the plug on his show because they didn't like what he said. Yo, Bill: If they were so pissed, how come they let you spray your drivel until the following June? How come it took nine months to bring the hammer of oppression down on poor, poor Bill Maher? If censorship truly existed in America, and if we were living under the truly oppressive regime that Paul Rodriguez imagines in his fevered brain, Maher would have been yanked off the air the next day following his infamous "cowards lobbing missiles" remarks and his bullet-riddled body would have turned up in Long Beach Harbor.

Instead, Maher grants interviews to dozens of carefully chosen media outlets (San Jose Mercury News?) and makes statements that are just as "brave" as those he uttered on ABC. And it's all so that he can drum up excitement over his new show for those corageous free speech warriors over at HBO! I smell Nobel Prize! Has anyone stopped to think that damn near everything Maher said up until the coward remark was perfectly acceptable to Sears, FedEx, Schering-Plough and General Motors? Who is the perfumed lapdog of the corporate sponsors now? If he was "cancelled" by GM and Sears, it is also true that he was sanctioned by those same entities. And I imagine that he made a great deal of money saying that which was not offensive to them. If he truly wanted to make points that were provocative and that would "open our eyes" there's plenty of ways he could do so. He could hide out in San Bernardino and broadcast over a pirate radio station. He could start a web site. He could Xerox the "Bill Maher Weekly Dose of Truth!" at Kinko's and hand it out at the entrance to the Rose Bowl Flea Market. But none of these would keep him in Armani, would they?

Truthfully, I get more yuks out of a half-hour of The McLaughlin Group than I ever did out of a week of Politically Incorrect. And the guests are more articulate. And far less paranoid.

Political humor is not for the faint of heart, or the whiny, or the angry. It takes skill, it takes brains and empathy with the crowd. It takes all the things that good comics possess. But since you're dealing with something that a lot of folks take verrry seriously, you gotta have all of those things and you gotta have a lot of each. Rare is the comic who can pull it off. But, if it doesn't go well, try not to blame everyone else. HOME Back to the Top