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When comics self-destruct – Marianas Variety

KATHY Griffin blew it big time. When she posed for a picture, holding up a bloody head of President Trump, she ought to have expected a firestorm. She got it, and it’s not going away any time soon.

Has she ruined her career? I sure hope so.

At best, Ms. Griffin’s comedy routines were amusing, but it was always at the expense of others. She mercilessly mocked famous people. Some had it coming, but most didn’t. Anyhow, stick a fork in her: she’s done.

Amy Schumer is another beaut. She delights in regaling her audiences with descriptive tales about her privates, in a blasé, off-hand way. Now Amy is also facing a backlash, and that is good news, because there’s a difference between being funny and shocking the audience.

Perhaps the most perverse of all is British comedian, Jimmy Carr. If Amy Schumer was a pin-prick, Carr is a bloodbath. What makes Carr so distressing he delivers wretchedly vile material with the charm of an English schoolboy. And yet, the audiences laugh wildly, but it’s an embarrassed laughter. Carr isn’t funny; he makes you wince.

Some years ago Michael Richards (who played Kramer on Seinfeld) launched into a tirade against Black people in a live, nightclub setting. He didn’t merely use the N-word, he repeated it constantly, using every racial stereotype he could think of. With this one performance, Richards destroyed his career, probably forever.

Lenny the great

The godfather of shock satire was the late, great, Lenny Bruce. Although he often used profanity, it was not for shock value — it was part of a structured routine, intended to make a satirical point.

One of Bruce’s better routines was entitled, “How To Relax Your Colored Friends At Parties.” Although he drew upon prevailing beliefs among some white people, it was funny and touching. Bruce dared say what some whites thought, but would never utter in polite conversation: “I understand all you people can tap-dance.”

Bruce played the routine with a Black jazz musician, who was an amiable straight man. The musician came across as a decent guy, while Bruce made a total fool of himself, saying things like, “Would you like some watermelon?” It was satire at its most illuminating, and the audience got it.

Bruce also did a revolutionary performance about Christ and Moses visiting a High Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York:

“And they wondered at the grandeur, because they had come through Spanish Harlem. And they wondered why were 40 Puerto Ricans living in one room, while the priest wore a ring worth eight grand?”

During Bruce’s routine Cardinal Spellman noticed Christ and Moses standing at the back, panicked, and called the Pope. “Yes, they’re here now, in our church. They’re standing in the back, way in the back. (pause) Of course they’re white!”

Bruce’s brilliant agenda was to burst the bubble of hypocrisy wherever he found it. It was satire’s finest hour. He once remarked, “I’m not a comedian. I’m Lenny Bruce.” Others referred to him as a great rabbi, a great teacher. Although this was true, he could be hysterically funny and touching in the same instant.

But, like Dr. Frankenstein, Lenny Bruce created a monster. Because Bruce sometimes dared to be profane, successive generations of comedians incorrectly assumed that it was OK to be profane for profanity’s sake. That, somehow, shocking an audience was more hip than getting laughs. This is not so: making people laugh is an art form; shocking them is a cheap trick.

Now, Kathy Griffin, Amy Schumer, and Michael Richards are reaping the whirlwind. It’s about time.

RUSS MASON
As Teo, Saipan

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