Friday, February 20, 2015

Stewart Vs Limbaugh

I had not thought of my "Not Funny" post as a Stewart vs Limbaugh discussion.  At least, if that was my motivation, it was dark to me at the time I wrote.  I was actually thinking of Eddie Izzard, Bill Cosby, Louis CK, and the Smothers Brothers.

But perhaps there is much that is worth exploring here, more than occurred to me at first go.

This is something in between an apples-to-apples, and apples-to-oranges comparison, so I don't want to get too hung up on small points.  OTOH, the small points may be the revealing ones here.  I would ask my very clever readers to go one direction or the other...

No.  I take that back.  There are smart people here.  Go where you want.  I think there is some general understanding of social criticism, humor, court jesters, and dominant vs outsider culture that is in this topic.  Perhaps we can be truly insightful and original here, discovering a truth that will be worth holding onto.

Not that anyone will listen, of course - don't be silly - but at least a few of us will see things more clearly.


Sam L. said...

I found Cosby and the Smos Bros funny. Pat Paulson, too. Their aim and aims were different.

I liked That Was The Week That Was, and Monty Python (many don't). George Gobel. Bob Newhart. WKRP. The Marx Bros. (Though I couldn't appreciate them until I was 30--too anarchic.) Others whose names just don't come up.

james said...

Trying to explain humor notoriously kills it. So I don’t know how useful this is, but one aspect struck me.

A large chunk of humor comes from finding oddities and inconsistencies in each other. The other tribe is always going to be a rich source of such things, because they don’t like good music, they value weird stuff, they dress funny, and what comes out of their mouths is “bar bar bar.” This doesn’t seem obviously bad. I think it was Ogden Nash who wrote “I will take all of my hard-earned money -- And bet it on the nose of the tribe whose men and women continue to think each other are funny.”

But in some hands it seems to get mean. Does it have to? Since using the same joke over and over has diminishing returns, the comic needs to vary it, and that’s hard. If he can goose your sense of intrinsic superiority over the other tribe he can get a little extra support for tired jokes. It seems like an easy path. If his audience acquires a taste for put-down humor his journey to the dark side will be complete.

(FWIW, I’ve not seen Stewart, and I’ve only seen Limbaugh once. On that show he was going after the New York superintendent of schools and some lesbian activist group. I’d heard of what the NY SoS had said, and couldn’t come up with a benign explanation, but Limbaugh’s use of snippet quotations rubbed me the wrong way—it wasn’t honest. You didn’t need dishonesty to eviscerate the SoS. FWIW, I don’t think Limbaugh was trying to be particularly funny that evening, so this is probably irrelevant. And, in case you wondered, we limited TV; at first by accident (Oldest Son came running downstairs), then by necessity (keep the environment calm for Aspergers kids), then by habit.)

Donna B. said...

Sometimes I think I don't have a sense of humor. I remember wishing the Smothers Brothers would just sing. I wanted to slap Archie Bunker and then slap Edith because she didn't slap him first.

One of the few times I remember laughing so hard I could not speak was when my 7 year old messed up a demonstrative Aggie joke by playing it "straight".

I don't like "angry" humor or "social commentary" humor, though there are exceptions. I can usually relate better to self-deprecatory humor since it's a bit like laughing at myself... or those I love dearly. Ron White is funny. So was Richard Pryor... sometimes.

Jon Stewart and Rush Limbaugh don't appeal to me because they are smug. They are like preachers trying to be funny, but ending up being mean.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Humor does need context. We laugh hardest when we are with a group, especially people we know. I think my younger brothers and my sons are the funniest people alive, and the humor of an evening often does not work in retrospect.

From what I can tell just perusing the site, Limbaugh does not much intend to be humorous now, so the ground has changed. I have compared him to Doonesbury in the past, and that may still hold, as Trudeau stopped being funny most of the time and just became angry. Unfortunately, that still works with an audience that was already with you. They laugh bitterly at things that aren't that funny, because they give voice to your values. There may be an automatic trend in that direction with topical humor, as performer and audience reinforce the need to get together and laugh, without necessarily having much new to say.

Donna B. said...

Context, yes. Also I admit to having an unrefined sense of humor. For example, I like Aggie jokes. And lawyer jokes.

One of my favorites from long long ago... during an era of 'other' terrorist fears:

Did you hear about the Aggie who burned his lips trying to blow up a school bus?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I don't think it's intelligence or learning that's lacking, and a surprising source agrees with me.

Of course, I'm prejudiced because he went to W&M, so I grant him more leeway on that than I should, perhaps.

But I think something else is in play here, something subtler. I keep trying to move to more general topics, but it may be significant that we can't do that. Great Cultural Archetypes may be in play, and we merely blown about by them.

Donna B. said...

He got some leeway from me too because of W&M. He was the commencement speaker at my daughter's graduation in 2004. Of course, I laughed. But I also noticed the smugness disguised as self-deprecating humor. With blame and anger as the cherry on top.

Texan99 said...

I don't think I was aware of Eddie Izzard until someone linked me to one of his gigs on YouTube last week, but I enjoyed his riffs on dangerous religions--something about Church of England vicars offering a "Cake or die" slogan. It was in line with jokes I enjoy in other venues about scary Lutherans and their 3-bean salads and youth car washes. Izzard's overall point seemed to be to get us to worry about Nazis more than the Church Lady, which seemed pretty conservative to me, despite the overall flavor of his schtick. Anyway, his delivery was funny.

The Marx Brothers make me choke with laughter every time. So does Bob Newhart.

As James said, "A large chunk of humor comes from finding oddities and inconsistencies in each other. The other tribe is always going to be a rich source of such things"--but one's own tribe, even one's own person, often is a delicious sort of the same thing. When Tim Allen cracks me up with fart jokes, I take the target as myself, not an out-group. "Madge! This is a bridge club, not a refinery!" Some of the best humor is at least reasonably self-deprecating. It shouldn't be false modesty; it can just be a human condition that the comedian expects us to share.

james said...

Self-deprecating humor can be a necessity sometimes :-) Bill Nye (a contemporary of Mark Twain, but without quite as keen an eye for people) used it a lot: possibly because he was in close contact with his readers. Objections to reporting seem to have sometimes been expressed more dramatically than is common these days. (For a short sample of his style there's this, collections are available on Gutenberg.)

Grim said...

Isaac Asimov wrote a huge book called "A Treasury of Humor" that is the funniest book about humor I've ever read. He doesn't shy from ethnic jokes at all: he just explains that all stereotypes are unfair, here's the stereotype about group X, and includes a huge number of Jewish jokes to make clear that all's fair.

One I remember he described as a true story about an awards banquet he attended.

"Accepting the award for so-and-so," said the toastmaster, "will be Miss so-and-so, by whom he has been so often anthologized."

My eyebrows shot up and I muttered facetiously to my neighbor, "Anthologized? Always euphemisms."

What I didn't know was that there was a live microphone immediately in front of my lips...

He describes the aftermath as involving an abject apology on his part.