20 September, 2006

If It's Funny, Is it Okay?

The plus side of having a TiVo is that you can watch a show at a more leisurly pace. Which is why I didn't watch Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip until last night.

First crack out of the box, I loved it. Yes, Aaron Sorkin is a brand. He's sort of like Ovaltine. You either really like him or you can't stand him. I happen to really like him.

One of the things I like about him is that he dares to show something different than a stereotype in his writing. He's very good at seeing both sides of the issue, and even when he comes down on the side opposite mine--which happened several times on The West Wing--I appreciate him for the gentlemanly way he handles things. Most of the time.

One of the leads on this new show is a comedienne on the late night variety show who is also a devout Christian. (I think she may be a take-off on the Christian girl from SNL whose name is either Victoria or Veronica and whom I don't care to look up right now.)


Spoiler Alert For TiVo Owners Who Haven't Seen The Show

In the pilot we find out that Harriet--the Christian--broke up with Matthew Perry's character because of an ongoing fight they had about her singing on The 700 Club. "You sang for a bigot!" he shouts angrily. "I sang for his audience" is her rejoinder. It's clearly a fight that has no end. But the part that made me take notice was a few moments later when she tells him that she supported a controversial sketch on their variety show called "Crazy Christians". Matthew Perry's response is this:

"The 700 Club is not a comedy show."

Which leads me to formally pose the question that has been in the back of my mind for some time now. Does calling something "comedy" make it okay? Granted, we didn't see the "Crazy Christians" sketch, presumably because we had to sit through Three 6 Mafia instead. But from the title alone it sounds as though the CC sketch may have been just as bigoted as Pat Robertson on his worst days. So is it okay if it's funny? Minstrel shows were often funny. Amos & Andy was often very funny. But were they okay? I'd endeavour to say "no". Broad stereotypes exploited for laughs now seem more than a bit crass.

I have to admit that as a more conservative person we don't use humour in the same way as the left. The left uses smarmy humour (see John Stewart) and the right uses bombast (see Rush Limbaugh.) Yet repeatedly the defence on the part of the left is "we're a comedy program", followed by a bit of eye-rolling at anyone who takes it all too seriously. I guess I don't see much difference between the two. Both Limbaugh and Stewart use oratorical skills in lieu of reasoned argument (bombast v. humour) to make a point. Yet one is supposed to be okay because we can laugh at it.

I've said before that the whole comedy thing reminds me of a cruel girl who was a year behind me in high school. Stephanie would say the meanest things to people and follow it immediately with "Just Kidding!" I think of Jon Stewart et . al. in the same way. Not all their stuff is mean, of course, but they often use humour as the sugar coating to make their barbs slide down. Maybe I've gotten too old, but I really don't think "funny" excuses everything.

8 Comments:

At 9:34 AM, September 20, 2006, Blogger dolphin said...

Generally speaking I don't see Jon Stewart exploiting broad stereotypes for laughs. Most of his jokes are aimed at specific individuals or specific viewpoints. I think it were not ok to laugh at ridiculous viewpoints or actions, comedy would just about cease to exist.

 
At 9:42 AM, September 20, 2006, Blogger Kat Coble said...

I'm not levelling a charge against all comedy. I'm just wondering if calling cruelty "comedy" makes it any less cruel.

Not all comedy is cruel.

But in the example from Studio 60, it didn't sound to me like the sketch was any less bigoted than Robertson on a bad day.

 
At 10:47 AM, September 20, 2006, Anonymous sbk said...

My teenaged daughter just got punished for pulling a "Stephanie" on her pre-teen sister. She was a bit stunned to discover she was cleaning toilets because "her joke telling skills were poor." Hee-hee.

 
At 12:16 PM, September 20, 2006, Blogger Sarcastro said...

Cruelty is one of the most important ingredients in comedy.

"Comedy always works best when it is mean-spirited." John Cleese.

 
At 12:21 PM, September 20, 2006, Blogger Kat Coble said...

From you especially I expected no other answer. ;-p

 
At 2:40 PM, September 20, 2006, Anonymous nm said...

Comment contains spoilers***

But the character (Harriet?) said the only thing that offended her was that there wasn't a role for her in the sketch. So presumably she found it pointed but not bigoted. And then we find out that the Matthew Perry character wrote it, and he's supposed to be the stuff as a comedy writer. So presumably it isn't supposed to be one of those blanket bigoted things.

 
At 10:08 PM, September 20, 2006, Blogger Lee said...

What I get from the Daily Show sometimes is the feeling that the humor crosses a line from satire to malicious.

It's a fine line, and subjective I'm sure.

But my main point is, I wonder how often some of the more regular folks who get interviewed by their "reporters," not the politicians or publicity seekers, but ordinary non-media savvy folks almost giddy just to be on TV, actually know what they're getting into. They may be silly folks, or wrong on an issue, but basically normal, decent people.

I unfortunately can't cite specific examples, but I've seen ordinary people get ripped apart in their "stories" in a way that I would only describe as mean.

All the while, the supposedly sophisticated audience rolls in laughter.

Am I alone in this?

 
At 10:10 PM, September 20, 2006, Anonymous tom said...

Comments contains spoilers:

I totally liked Studio 60. I was kind of leery about the sketch too. I think it's one of those things that will have to be seen before I can evaluate it more fully, but like you, I agree that bigotry cuts both ways. If one is a liberal and does not at least listen to let alone tolerate other viewpoints, that equals bigotry.

Signs that I think Sorkin may be recycling:
1) Bradley Whitford seems to be taking up the chemical dependency character that John Spencer had in the West Wing.
2) Matt and Danny are very similar to the leads on Sports Night.

By the way, Entertainment Weekly said that Harriet is based on Kristin Chenoweth who was on the West Wing but is also a Christian. She dated Sorkin in real life.

 

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