Is the Globe Kidding?
I’m about as interested in having comedy explained to me by the Globe as I am getting stock tips from a koala bear. Still, they insisted, and so I have no choice but to respond. Today’s Living/Arts story about the fine line between funny and offensive in comedy was a complete and utter disaster, embarrassing the Globe, demeaning the very notion of humor, and, more importantly, reestablishing Globe staff writer Vanessa Jones as one of the worst writers in the city.
Which is saying something.
Titled, “No offense, but…”, the piece is another bogus three-source trend job out of Jones (who last appeared on Boston Daily for this). Jones’ MO, typically, is to take some vague notion she has about racism or sexism, tie it to something that happened in pop culture two years ago, find three dubious, obscure sources who agree with her that something is “increasingly” happening, and ultimately weave an overlong tapestry of insulting bullshit.
She does that here with this graf:
The issue of cultural sensitivity has become an increasingly complicated one in the world of comedy. Comic Michael Richards generated controversy in late 2006 for silencing black hecklers with a racial epithet. The owner of Laugh Factory, the comedy club where the Richards incident occurred, swiftly banned use of the slur in comedy routines. The Comedy Central shows “Mind of Mencia” and “The Sarah Silverman Program” have faced criticism for incorporating blackface and ethnic or racial slurs into skits.
Okay, we’ll just sidestep the fact that there’s no real hook for this story, and that the uproar over Silverman pretty much came and went a couple years ago (and that later in the piece, Apu in The Simpsons is given as an example of comedy going too far), but you can’t ignore the fact that Michael Richards’ tirade wasn’t actually part of his comedy routine. He was being heckled, and, by the looks of it, he had a total nervous breakdown on stage. In other words: he didn’t do it to be funny. He did it because his flywheel warped. There’s a difference there.
But then, by the looks of this sorry piece, Jones wouldn’t know funny if it landed in her salad. In fact, beyond not understanding what’s funny, or what makes something funny, she doesn’t seem to understand why humor exists in the world at all. Witness the following:
During a recent performance in Westport, Conn., Dorchester comedian Deb Farrar-Parkman riffed on why she liked visiting her sister, who had suffered a stroke, in a rehabilitation facility. “They have some fine male patients,” Farrar-Parkman says, recalling the joke. “I’ve been asked out on two dates. A homeless guy and a guy in a wheelchair.” She continues, “I can’t wait to go out with the guy in the wheelchair, because the one thing I know about him is he’s got his own transportation.” The joke usually generates laughter because of the socially acknowledged pain of dating a guy who doesn’t own a car.
Some people fear that when comics don’t delineate boundaries, it gives the public the impression that it can freely utter offensive comments.
A joke and its effectiveness depend on the comedian, local jokesters say. A good comic walks the fine line of presenting a message about race, gender, sexuality, and other sensitive matters to an audience without seeming preachy.
On the first passage, two things: 1. I love when people explain jokes. 2. Who is Deb Farrar-Parkman? If this is such an “increasingly” national trend, why do we need an obscure local comic to exemplify it for us? This is the mighty Globe. We couldn’t get any A-listers in on this?
Further, the second passage is patently false; and in the third, note that in Jones’ world—and by extension, the Globe‘s—the point of comedy is to transmit Messages about Important Issues. Which, as anyone with anything resembling a sense of humor knows inherently, is not always the case.
But, of course, sometimes comics do tackle Important Issues, and this is where Jones’ thought-policing gets troublesome. She seems to believe that comedy is a vehicle for addressing hot-button issues, but she also contends that comics need to do so in a way that doesn’t make anyone feel uncomfortable. Uh… Apart from being a recipe for the mass death of humor, by this reasoning, Eddie Murphy, Andy Kauffman, Richard Pryor, et. al., are not “good comics.”
In fact, all that formula allows for is pandering. But then in the eyes of Jones, and the Globe in general, that’s the Ideal. Good lord.