Excuse me for laughing

Oct. 18, 2001 at 12:20 PM
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NEW YORK, Oct. 18 (UPI) -- Well, excuse me for not beatin' myself over the head with a frosted falafel, but I think it's just FINE to be clownin' around, makin' jokes, arguin' over whether we're gonna get anchovies on the pizza, and ratin' the top 10 topless bars in the country. (I still say Numero Uno is Baby Doll's -- and NOT the one in Tampa, the one in Dallas.)

I'm a little ticked off, frankly, that there are so many comedians and pop-culture writers rippin' their flesh in public, agonizing over "the death of irony." (That one comes from Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, who throws Hollywood parties and invites Anna Nicole Smith. Now THAT'S ironic.)

Newsday columnist James Pinkerton went so far as to call the events of Sept. 11 "a crushing defeat for irony, cynicism and hipness."

Pardon me, Jimbo, but there are still a few Doritos in the bag and we intend to get crumbs on the bed.

The most amazing display of self-loathing came from Vincent D'Onofrio, the actor. Here's what he said to the New York Observer: "As an actor, I feel completely insignificant. I feel completely useless. I feel like a fool. I feel that what I do for a living has so little to do with anything that is good for us as a people. I can't believe that anything I have done or will do as far as my acting will ever help anybody or ever serve us in any way that is helpful. I just feel silly."

Remind us not to appoint you to the National Endowment for the Arts, Vince.

Can you imagine members of the Group Theater, the most famous acting company in American history, saying, "Oh hell, tell Clifford Odets we don't need a play this year. Everyone's so DEPRESSED. I guess that's why they're calling it the Depression."

Can you imagine Norman Cousins canceling all his Norman Rockwell covers on the Saturday Evening Post because Pearl Harbor got sneak-attacked?

Can you imagine the Rat Pack canceling at the Sands during the Cuban Missile Crisis? Hell, those guys would do EXTRA SHOWS if they thought it would cheer people up.

Can you imagine Lenny Bruce deciding to NOT SAY SOMETHING?

And then there's the whole Bill Maher controversy. On a show called "Politically Incorrect" ... HELLO! THE NAME IS A CLUE! ... Maher said that the terrorists obviously weren't cowards and that it's MORE cowardly to lob missiles from a thousand miles away. Besides being more or less TRUE -- which ought to count for something -- it's almost exactly the same thing that French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister John Major said about America in 1995. The French and the British both had troops on the ground in Bosnia. The United States kept agreeing with them, saying yes, the Serbs are terrorists, and yes, they're committing genocide on an unarmed civilian population. But we also said "no ground troops, no ground troops, no ground troops," almost like a holy mantra. Instead what we would offer is "air cover." Chirac and Major both came within an iota of actually USING the c-word for our foreign policy in the Balkans. So it's not exactly a new idea, and if Maher failed, he just didn't get it across in a funny enough way. He IS a comic, after all.

What's really strange, though, is not so much what Maher said, but the way he weenied around during the week AFTER the comment.

There were plenty of us willing to defend him, including the guests on his own show, but he wanted to apologize publicly, rend his flesh, and talk about how horrible he felt for possibly hurting his country, because "I love my country." (Yes, he actually said that.) The only thing he hurt was the inflated self-importance of Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, who singled him out in a press conference, saying we can't have people making "those kinds of remarks."

Well, YES WE CAN. We can have MILLIONS of people making those kinds of remarks. We're the country that laughs and jibes and has word-jousts. We're the country that assumes our leaders are exaggerating, frosting the cake a little too thickly, avoiding the real topic, covering their hineys. Talk about a bully pulpit -- using the power of the White House to heap abuse on ONE comedian?

Unfortunately, Maher didn't want to tough it out. His advertisers were deserting him in droves and ABC was pressuring him to make nice with the White House, and if anything, the whole affair just demonstrated that there IS no political incorrectness at the networks, because Madison Avenue ultimately controls content.

This is the dirty little secret of advertising-driven TV, and it explains why there was no outcry when certain print journalists made similar remarks.

"Saturday Night Live" said they wouldn't be doing any Bush impressions for the foreseeable future. Somewhere there's a talented impressionist going completely NUTS when he sees, day after day, Bush saying, "Make no mistake! We will defeat the EVILDOERS." At one point he even said "We will eliminate EEEEEVIL in the world." He's starting to sound like Donald Pleasence in "Halloween," and we can't PARODY that?

Thank God for the Friars Club. They went ahead with their Hugh Hefner Roast and were as obscene and abusive as ever, and Gilbert Gottfried, bless his heart, even made a World Trade Center joke. A few of the Friars grumbled and shouted "Too soon!" But then Gottfried took a moment and recovered.

The real satirists, the real artists, the real comedians are like the Delta Force. They say things that would get them the death penalty in Afghanistan. Why fight for it if half the guys in the business have already surrendered their arms?

(Joe Bob Briggs writes a number of columns for United Press International and may be contacted at joebob@upi.com or through his Web site at joebob-briggs.com. Snail mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas 75221.)


Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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