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« Kurt Vonnegut has come unstuck in time | Main | "It's the Lord, Noah." »


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harry near indy

sadists, and masochists who are secretely sadists, would laugh at the suffering of those weaker than themselves.

iirc, there's a scene in huck finn where huck sees some locals in a small town tie firecrackers to the tail of a cat or a dog, light the firecrackers, then laugh like hell as the cat or dog runs around -- probably in fear and pain.

same old stuff today.

the better form of humor will always be the smaller and weaker taking it to the bigger and stronger, and winning that fight.

people could look at vonnegut the same way -- for what is bigger and stronger than fate and its associate, death?

Kevin Wolf

As Mel Brooks would say, putting on his best Germanic accent, "Vell, see, now ve're in da ballpark." I love talking about this stuff. (And The Driving Instructor is my favorite Newhart routine, so that's a bonus.)

I read Maha's post with interest but I think I'm with you on your "clarification," if you will.

But I'd add that, IMO, by the mid-70s the TV variety program, which often featured or was even hosted by comedians, was already on the way out. I think that may have done more to change the complexion of comedy at that time than any other social force, such as feminism.

By chance I've recently watched some old Flip Wilson Show DVDs and have been trying to piece together a post of my own about that. I can say that the two women comics featured in these particular episodes, Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller, both used the exact same type of humor as the men Maha finds so outmoded - only with reversed gender. It's all husbands this and that. There's the housework, of course, that these women are clearly expected to do but you need only take one look at Rivers and Diller to see that ain't how they're spending their time; it's become an abstraction.

Re any Imus connection, I'd say many comedians, even those who work blue or sound mean, are typically dealing with their own inner demons. The need for rehab, which often comes, is real and physical. The humor is pointed inward as much as out. (I liked Maha's acknowledgement of the Rodney Danerfield type of comic.)

With Imus and a lot of the politicians who we saw in the 2006 election cycle, the "humor" is definitely pointed outward and the later "rehab" is actually an attempt to rehabilitate their images. I'm thinking, if Imus is an accurate reflection of the zeitgeist, that perhaps most people these days are getting sick of his brand of "joke."


My big problem with this whole controversy is I never thought of Imus as a comedian or a social satirist. I guess that just comes from not having listened to him much, except for a few of his msnbc broadcasts. I thought of him more in the news/political opinion context and, I have to admit, I found it entertaining when he called bullshit on political figures. So I find it hard to compare him to the comedians (or rappers) against whom he is so often measured. Now maybe there shouldn't be a context in which something is acceptable or not, but there are some situations that call for personal moderation and some where anything goes. I wouldn't want my ten year old daughter listen to Bill Hicks or Bobcat Goldthwaite (an excellent cd by the way), nor would I think it is appropriate to hear Jim Lehrer call Bush an idiot.
An old story, true, but the blurring of news and entertainment is the area of interest here for me.


I hasten to remind you as you go down the happy memory lane of comedians who were quite successful -- at least two names -- Don Rickles and Fat Jack Leonard.

Ken Houghton

And here I was going to ask why you excluded Greg and Lenny from your list.*

Rickles made his living by insulting anyone and everyone. Imus panders to the straight white male)—not by elevating us, but by belittling teh gay, teh non-white, and teh female.

*And that I assume I can type "Greg" and your readers will know I mean "Dick Gregory" probably shows my age.

Jim Tourtelott

The demise of Imus reminds me of A Christmas Story and a real radio genius, Jean Shepherd. At one point, Shepherd says that in the kid's world, you were either a bully, a toady, or one of the nameless mass of victims.

Imus, hat and all, is the spitting image of the bully with the green teeth and the coonskin cap. The toadies, in this case, are the "luminaries" of politics and news who would routinely show up to suck up. and the Rutgers team collectively is Ralphie.

Who that has seen that movie doesn't love the moment when Ralphie beats the bully senseless?

velvet goldmine

I understand that your list is based on the standup acts, and not the personal lives and lawsuits of the comics, but I really cringe to see Cosby as an example of a non-misogynist.

Sure, Bill Cosby loves women. He gets women. He feels women.... Especially when they lie back and let those roofies work their magic.


Shepherd says that in the kid's world, you were either a bully, a toady, or one of the nameless mass of victims.

Brilliant. Watch out for the ones with yellow eyes! Too bad you can't see them on radio.

Ken Houghton

I have to agree with velvet goldmine; go back to those old Cosby albums and you'll find the contrast of the woman preparing to go to Lost Wages with (iirc) "slap some Ban [Right Guard?] under his arm, write an IOU to his body" or "My wife is urping [pregnant] again. Yes, I know we have four daughters but as my high school football coach said, 'You keep running that play until you get it right!' "


Pryor owed a lot to Bill Cosby, too. His early standup was very much modeled on Cosby's non-racial style.

Two other important, but very different African-American comics: Nipsey Russell & Dick Gregory. Both were part of the era where comedy went from joketelling to story telling. Russell was the more gentle of the two and was the first African-American to have a recurring role on a tv show that wasn't a servant (he was a cop on "Car 54, Where are You"). He had a very gentle style, but knew how to use it to make a point, as during the riots of the 60s. Gregory was/is an angry man and took on race and war very directly. It's difficult to know how much this cost him his career as a comic or how much he felt he had to liberate himself from the entertainer role. He definitely was one of the people who gave us the Richard Pryor we remember.

Joan Rivers was very different from Phyllis Diller, who essential did the female version of a conventional male comic's act. Rivers had improvisational experience from Second City and clubs in Greenwich Village--her style was more truly confessional than Diller and she made no effort to come up with some sort of persona. Rivers was definitely part of the wave of new comics in the 60s, rather than an ajunct to the old era, as was the case with Diller.

What's also missing here is that perhaps with the glut of stand-up venues, a lot of humor has reverted back to the predictable and the schtick. Ancient racial jokes from the Def Jam crowd. Tired male-female jokes from so-called "blue collar" comics Jeff Foxworthy, along with his "You know you're a redneck.." drek. The subversive streak that has often characterized gifted outsiders is totally missing from these so-called "blue collar" guys (Foxworthy is from a middle class family and lives in an vanilla upscale suburb of Atlanta). And it's also worth mentioning derivative, unfunny observational comics like Ellen Degeneres. The only worthwhile thing she ever did was her "coming out" show. Unfortunately, she's no funnier as an "out" lesbian than as a closet case.


Winters was part of that new crowd (Sahl, Berman, Bruce, Nichols & May) that started coming in in the mid-'50s. I was in high school and college in that period and those comics, along with Tom Lehrer, had a special appeal to us. We all wondered how and why anyone had ever laughed at the old Borscht Belt types. Unfortunately, that golden age was brief, and we're back where we started.

Ken Turetzky

Here's something new on Mort Sahl, who's turning 80 on May 11.

Mort recently appeared on the Schnauzer Logic podcast. I recommend the interview. Download here.

Summary: Mort Sahl = intellectual crack

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