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
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!
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
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.